VA Expands Aid To Cover Caregivers For Vietnam Vets During Pandemic
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding its family caregiver program to include veterans who served during World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam eras.
Currently, the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) only includes caregivers who provide care to veterans who were seriously injured on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Beginning Oct. 1, however, PCAFC will include caregivers of veterans who suffered a serious injury in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. The VA is also expanding its definition of “serious injury” to include illnesses and disease.
Nancy Switzer, founding president of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, has been advocating for the PCAFC to expand to help more veterans. Family caregivers of Vietnam Veterans need more help, said Switzer, a Rochester, N.Y., resident who cares for her husband, Rick, a Vietnam veteran who lost his leg below the knee while in the line of duty. He now has prostate cancer, Switzer said.
Established in 2011, the PCAFC provides support to family caregivers that includes:
- Caregiver training
- Enhanced respite care
- Peer mentoring
- Technical support
- Beneficiary travel
- Self-care courses
- Access to health care (if qualified) through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs
- A monthly stipend
The program expansion also involves a different way of calculating monthly payments for primary caregivers. Currently, the VA calculates stipends using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. After Oct. 1, the VA will calculate the monthly payment to caregivers according to a federal rate that’s based on where a veteran lives.
For example, according to the VA, the monthly stipend for a primary family caregiver to an eligible veteran in Dallas, Texas, who cannot perform daily living activities would be $2,803. The caregiver would receive nearly $1,752 a month if the veteran is able to perform daily living duties.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said PCAFC’s expansion ensures that the VA continues to meet the changing needs of veterans and their caregivers.
“The expanded regulation addresses the complexity and expense of keeping veterans at home with their families who provide personalized care,” Wilkie said in a news release about the expansion. “This will allow our most vulnerable veterans to stay with their loved ones for as long as possible.”
To qualify for the PCAFC, veterans must have a single or combined service-connected disability rating by the VA of 70 percent or higher, regardless of whether it resulted from an injury, illness or disease.
The VA assigns disability ratings based on the severity of the veteran’s service-related condition. The VA also uses the rating to calculate a veteran’s monthly disability compensation as well as eligibility for other VA benefits.
The veteran must need at least six months of continuous personal care services based on either a need for supervision, protection, or instruction, or the inability to perform daily living activities, such as bathing, grooming, dressing, toileting, feeding oneself, and adjusting any prosthetic or orthopedic device.
More veterans could be eligible for the PCAFC two years after the expansion on Oct.1. The Caregivers Act of 2010, under which the PCAFC was created, requires the VA to expand the program to all eligible veterans who suffered a serious injury in the line of duty, regardless of the period of service in which the injury was incurred.
COVID-19 Affects Caregiving
Caring for a wounded veteran is already difficult for caregivers and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic added another layer to the struggle. Like other adults over 65 and over, aging veterans with underlying chronic health conditions are vulnerable to the coronavirus disease.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Charles G. Byers, the Vietnam Veterans of America’s (VVA) advocate chair for veterans’ health care, said he has received many calls from spouses of veterans concerned about putting their spouse in a state veterans home and exposing them to COVID-19.
The VVA decided to examine the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on veterans and the circumstances contributing to COVID-19 deaths at state veteran homes. In a report released in August, the VVA found that 1,011 veterans died of COVID-19 in 47 of 157 state veteran homes.
“Images of overflowing emergency rooms, body bags stacked on loading docks, refrigerated trucks for morgues, and stories of patients dying without their families triggered memories of our own wartime experiences, and we recognized that today’s battlefield is the Covid-19 pandemic,” VVA National President John Rowan said in a statement when the report was released.
With the number of issues facing state veteran homes, and the expansion of the PCAFC, the VVA suggests caring for veterans at home may be best in some cases.
Byers said the PCAFC “saves money in the long run” because seriously injured veterans who would otherwise need expensive care in an institution can receive care at home.