VA Works to Provide Post-9/11 Family Caregiver Benefits
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2011 A month after the Veterans Affairs Department began processing applications for primary family caregivers of eligible post-9/11 veterans, officials report steady progress toward delivering the new services and benefits.
VA began processing applications for new services May 9, four days after President Barack Obama signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 into law.
A month later, VA spokesman Drew Brookie reported 1,119 applications in process, with caregiver training programs already under way. Five caregivers have completed the training and require only a final VA home visit before they can begin receiving the new entitlements, Brookie said.
The new law provides eligible family caregivers who care for severely disabled veterans a monthly stipend, mental health services and access to health-care insurance if they are not already entitled to care or services under a health plan. Caregivers also qualify for travel expenses, including lodging and per diem when accompanying their family member for care, comprehensive caregiver training, medical support and respite care.
The benefits extend to family caregivers of veterans who have sustained a serious injury, including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or another mental disorder, incurred or aggravated in the line of duty after Sept. 11, 2001. The veterans must be unable to perform daily living activities on their own or need supervision or protection due to their injury or neurological impairment, officials explained. In addition, qualifying veterans must be enrolled in VA health services.
After 625 veterans and family caregivers submitted applications for the new benefits and services the first week VA began accepting them, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki encouraged others to follow suit.
“We are off to a good start, having helped hundreds to apply, but we know there are thousands more who will qualify and need to apply today,” he said. “I encourage eligible veterans and their family caregivers to apply now to receive the benefits they have earned.”
Of applications received to date, 92 percent have been from women -- about 67 percent of them spouses and 17 percent mothers, Brookie reported. Forty-five percent of caregiver applicants have been between ages 26 and 40, and 43 percent, between 41 and 64.
To date, the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in North Carolina, just outside Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, has received the largest number of applications, at 39, Brookie reported. The G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., follows a close second, with 31 applications received so far.
Other top-10 VA facilities, in order of applications received, are Dallas and Houston, both at 26; Atlanta, at 24; Augusta, Ga., Durham, N.C., and Washington, all at 23; San Antonio, at 21; and Denver, at 20.
Brookie described the steps VA is following to process applications and expedite delivery of the new benefits and services.
Within three business days of receiving an initial application, a VA caregiver support coordinator contacts the veteran and primary family caregiver to complete the application and schedule caregiver training.
A VA clinical team then coordinates a clinical eligibility assessment. This involves determining what help the veteran needs for everyday activities such as eating, bathing and grooming and whether the veteran needs supervision or protection, Brookie explained.
If the veteran meets clinical eligibility criteria, VA then provides primary family caregiver training. Caregivers have three ways to complete the training: in the classroom at a local VA medical center or community location, online via a security-protected website, or through self-study using a workbook and DVD.
VA has kicked off the training, providing its first classroom sessions for 12 caregivers June 9 and 10 for 12 in Washington. Additional classroom training tentatively is planned for Durham; Reno, Nevada; and Atlanta, Brookie said.
In addition, several caregivers are completing their training through the self-study option, which Brookie said is expected to be revised based on the input from classroom training.
The online training is scheduled to be live by June 25, he said.
After the caregiver completes the training, a VA clinician will visit the home to ensure the veteran and caregiver have what they need “to be safe and successful in a home setting,” Brookie said. Five caregivers are now awaiting their home visits, he said.
The home visit is the last requirement before the family caregiver begins receiving a monthly stipend, based on the level of assistance the veteran required, Brookie said. At that point, caregivers without health insurance may also begin receiving health insurance benefits through VA’s CHAMPVA program.
The stipend and health-insurance benefits will be retroactive to the initial application date, Brookie said.
Shinseki lauded the new benefits and services, recognizing the sacrifices caregivers make every day to help their loved ones who served in uniform. “They are critical partners with VA in the recovery and comfort of ill and injured veterans, and they deserve our continued training, support and gratitude,” he said.
Applications for benefits can be processed by telephone through VA’s Caregiver Support Line at 855-260-3274, in person at a VA medical centers with a caregiver support coordinator, or by mail or online at http://www.caregiver.va.gov, using VA’s new caregiver application, VA Form 1010-CG.
VA plans to report to Congress in the future on the feasibility of expanding the enhanced services to family caregivers of veterans of all eras, officials said.
Although some of the enhanced benefits are available to pre-9/11 family caregivers now, officials said many of the other newly enacted benefits will require new regulations to serve this population.