With about two months left until a congressional deadline, Veterans Affairs officials said plans to expand the caregiver support program to veterans of all eras remain on schedule, even if fixes to other aspects of the program are still in limbo.
Currently, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers — which provides a monthly stipend to qualified full-time caregivers of seriously ill or injured veterans — is open only to veterans who served before 1975 or after 2001. But per a mandate from Congress, the program must be opened to all families by Oct. 1 of this year.
In comments to reporters on Wednesday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said department leaders are on track to do that.
“We’re going to expand in October,” he said. “We’re committed to that. It should have already been done by now, but we’ll get it done by October.”
About 33,000 families are enrolled in the 11-year-old program. Doubts about VA’s ability to expand it have surfaced in recent months amid other caregiver program turmoil.
In 2020, in anticipation of the upcoming expansion, VA officials rewrote eligibility criteria and reviewed about 19,000 legacy participants to see if they still qualified for the benefit. Specific payout totals based on where veterans live, but generally amount to about $3,000 a month for the full level two stipend and $1,800 for the partial level one stipend.
In the spring, following months of outcry from advocates that too many families were being purged from the program, VA leaders suspended all program dismissals. Officials later acknowledged that under the new eligibility criteria as many as 90% of the legacy participants could have been stripped of caregiver benefits.
Since then, McDonough has publicly vowed to rewrite the eligibility criteria to better reflect the needs of injured veterans and their families. However, no timetable has been set for when that work will be completed.
“We still don’t have those new criteria established, but the establishment of new criteria will not impact the launch of the expansion,” he said.
VA officials have said that once those criteria are developed, they will be applied to existing program participants to see if the program participants still qualify for stipends. However, all current participants are guaranteed to continue receiving benefits until April 2023, under past promises by leaders.
Outside groups have complained that even after McDonough announced the pause in program dismissals, local officials have continued to review families cases and warn that they could lose eligibility in the future, even though the new program criteria still have not been developed.
Past analysis of the program have estimated that the upcoming expansion plans could nearly double participation in it.
More information on the program is available at the VA web site.
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.