Nathan Huret • Aug 28, 2020
New Benefits Incoming for Veteran Caregivers
Military veterans with severe chronic diseases or disabilities have two options for care. They may be admitted to a VA hospital if they require specialized medical support. But for many American veterans, it is the spouse or a family member who steps into the role of a part-time to the full-time caregiver. Especially when the veteran is unable to conduct activities of daily living (cooking, cleaning, and self-care).
But what impact does that have on the household? Veterans have a standard monthly income established by their earnings and length of service. Additionally, if a veteran was wounded in service, they may be eligible for additional tax-free compensation for disability. But the compensation can be stretched to its limits when there are additional healthcare costs and expenses.
When a veteran needs a spouse as a full-time caregiver, the family can find themselves in a precariously low-income level, with a lack of resources. The spouse or partner cannot work full-time to supplement the household income. While there has been some support provided for caregivers, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced this year, that the caregiver program will be expanded.
The Problem of Limited Capacity at VA Hospitals
The Veterans Health Administration is the largest health care system in the country. Currently, there are 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,063 outpatient locations that provide VHA clinic services. That sounds like an adequate level of service until you consider that there are more than 9 million registered Veterans in the country.
Wait times for veteran healthcare services can vary. Emergency care can be accommodated in the same day for veterans, but other procedures such as evaluations, tests (MRIs or CT scans and other radiology), lab tests, and other services can be substantially delayed. This depends on the number of veterans residing in the state and the number of VA health service locations.
The US Department of Veteran Affairs does provide an online resource to help veterans navigate wait times. This page can be useful to determine how long it will be before a local VA hospital or medical clinic can schedule an appointment.
In 2014, the Fayetteville VA health facility was investigated for wait times that allegedly contributed to the deaths of veterans. But North Carolina veteran’s health care programs were not the only examples of extended delay times. In 2014 it was estimated that almost 58,000 veterans were waiting for care at VA health facilities. And an addition 63,800 veterans did not receive an initial appointment, even though they had enrolled in the VA health care system.
The Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center had 8,186 appointments that took longer than 30 days to schedule. The delayed appointments represented 17% of all healthcare appointment requests by veterans. This has also resulted in veterans and their families traveling extensively to other VA hospitals for treatments when they were unable to get an appointment in their home state.
After the issues came to light and the healthcare centers were Federally audited, the results were publicized by mainstream media. The Veterans Affairs department pledged to resolve administrative problems and delays for healthcare treatment. And it has been a Federal focal point since then.
If VA hospitals are experiencing a greater volume of healthcare requests, and as veteran populations age into retirement with chronic health problems, an improvement in caregiver resources may help address the problem. The majority of veterans would of course prefer chronic care in their own home. And that meant the caregiver support programs would have to be updated and improved. And that is what they did to address the problems.
Expansion of the Veteran Caregivers and Respite Program Announced
Caregivers of our wounded, chronically ill, or injured American veterans and their families have some good news on the horizon. Federal legislation has been proposed to greatly expand the services and support caregivers receive. This has the impact to dramatically improve life for veterans with serious chronic health, mental health disorders, and disabilities.
In 2020 there are about 20,000 veteran families to are enrolled in the VA Caregiver Program. In the past, this has been limited only to servicemen and women who left the armed forces after September 11, 2001. The new proposed law will extend that to any military duty officer who was also injured between May 7, 1975, and September 10, 2001.
To be eligible for this new caregiver program, the veteran must have:
- A military or medical discharge in good standing (honorable).
- The diagnosis of a serious injury that was caused by (or made worse by) active-duty services in the American military.
- Required six months or longer duration of continuous personal-care services.
The eligibility criteria are broad and inclusive for the majority of veterans who are receiving home care through a family member or spouse.
Support Program Partnerships to Bring Much Needed Help for Veteran Caregivers at Home
The program will go into effect in October 2022 after the legislation has passed. And it will provide some exciting new financial support for caregivers and veterans. Some of the changes and benefits will include:
- Free caregiver education and training. This would present veteran spouses the opportunity to retrain for a remote work-from-home career, that would allow them to make a part-time to full-time income while caring for their partner.
- Mental health services for caregivers. Counseling and support.
- Eligible caregivers may also receive a monthly stipend for supplemental financial support.
- Caregivers will have additional healthcare benefits and 30-days per year of respite care.
- Financial planning and legal services will also be included under the newly expanded program.
The free respite care benefits will roll out first in areas of California, Florida, and Texas, through a partnership between the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in August 2020.
To help caregivers cope with the difficulties of caring full time for their veteran family member, the Respite Relief for Military and Veteran Caregivers Program will provide respite relief. This will provide twenty-four hours per year of assistance at no charge to caregivers through an organization called CareLinx. This cooperative program will provide light housekeeping, grocery shopping, transportation, meal preparation, bathing and grooming, and other services to help caregivers in the service of chronically ill veterans at home.
Another source of support for caregivers of military veterans will be provided by hiddenheroes.org. This program will provide 16,000 veterans with more than 40,000 hours of home care (non-medical) at no -cost to provide support and relief for caregivers.
Why the Expansion of Veteran Caregivers Support Matters Now More Than Ever
The Veteran’s Affairs division is the Federal Governments’s second-largest employer. The budget for the VA in 2014 was $153.8 billion dollars. There are currently more than 21.6 million living veterans in the country who are retired from active duty. More than 6 million veterans seek healthcare services through the VA on average annually.
Right now, 47% of American veterans are over the age of 65 years. As the population of aging veterans continues to increase, accommodating each veteran in a long-term care facility (LTC) may not be possible. And the government is looking for ways to increase the viability of caregiver supports to safely provide for senior veterans who are able to remain at home.
The new expansion of support through various partnerships and provisions will help caregivers successfully provide essential health and emotional care of our aging veteran population. It will also help older military families reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for travel for procedures and overall healthcare costs.
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