Veterans Affairs officials said they are nearly finished with their review of families receiving caregiver stipends, but still do not have any timeline for when new eligibility criteria for the program will be unveiled.
That means for now, the department still has no plans to change any payouts for existing program participants, even as a significant expansion of the program looms this fall.
Department leaders held a meeting on April 28 regarding the current status of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Officials said the forum included “veterans services organizations, those who serve caregivers, VA staff, congressional partners and actual caregivers who are participants.”
VA Secretary Denis McDonough referenced the meeting during testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee the same day.
“We’re in constant communication with this committee staff and with your individual office staff about these issues,” he said. “And we’ll make a determination as to whether we need to issue new regulations or take some other step for continuation of the program.”
In late March, McDonough announced a halt on all expulsions from the program of “legacy caregivers” — post-9/11 veterans who were admitted to the program before October 2020 — in a dramatic reversal of department plans.
Since last fall, officials have been reviewing those approximately 20,000 families to see if they still qualify for the program (and its monthly stipend) under eligibility rules updated two years ago.
VA officials said their initial work found that nearly 90 percent of families would have been pushed out of the program under that review, a figure that McDonough called “too high.”
Officials have completed about 88 percent of the reassessments now, and expect to finish the rest in coming weeks. However, that information is being gathered to help shape future changes to the program, and will not be used to exclude individuals from the benefit.
About 33,000 veterans are currently enrolled in the program, designed to support and compensate full-time caregivers providing at-home assistance to severely wounded veterans.
The stipends vary based on where veterans live, but generally hover around $3,000 a month for the most severely wounded individuals and $1,800 for others in need of around-the-clock care.
VA officials declined to release specifics of potential changes discussed at the meeting last week, calling it one of a series of planning events designed to improve the program.
“We do not want to rush this process,” officials said in a statement. “Once we feel we have gathered enough information, we will be in a better position to provide more detailed updates.”
Leadership from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation — one of the outside groups involved — wrote on social media that the meeting was positive and productive, but said no timeline was given for when new requirements or additional reviews may be announced.
At least one major change is already in the works. Currently only veterans who served before 1976 or after 2001 are eligible for the benefit, but the program is scheduled to be open to all veterans starting this October, per orders from Congress.
In his testimony to lawmakers, McDonough acknowledged the stress the recent review placed on veterans’ families and promised that future changes would not come as a “surprise” to caregivers or Congress.
Lawmakers vowed they will be monitoring the issue in months to come.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.