WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials on Monday announced they will not kick any more individuals out of the department's caregiver support program while a full review of the benefit is conducted over the next three weeks.
The move comes two weeks after an NPR report that dozens of regional medical centers were cutting back on the number of families receiving caregiver benefits, possibly against VA rules.
In a statement, VA Secretary David Shulkin said the move is needed "to ensure we honor our commitment to enhance the health and well-being of veterans." The review will include a look at whether rules governing the program are being evaluated consistently, and whether officials are taking proper steps to explain changes to beneficiaries.
VA has made a variety of support services available to caregivers of veterans in recent years, but the most significant change is a monthly stipend awarded to some severely disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Those payouts can total several thousand dollars a month, designed to cover the lost income when a family member has to assume full-time caregiving duties of their loved ones.
VA officials said the review will not halt the processing of new caregiver applications. Cases where a stipend has been cancelled by a veteran’s death, at the request of a family member, or due to noncompliance with program rules will still move forward.
It also will not affect training and education programs conducted through VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
But cases where families saw their payout amounts lessened or eliminated completely due to bureaucratic decisions will be put on hold until mid-May.
Acting VA Under Secretary for Health Poonam Alaigh said in a statement that the goal of the review is to identify "process improvements and support services" for caregivers in the program.
Around 22,000 caregivers of veterans are currently enrolled in the stipend program.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.