Veterans of all eras will be eligible for caregiver benefits starting Oct. 1, an expansion that is expected to add thousands of families to the program in the next year.
The move was originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but had been delayed two years as officials refined processing and support for the program. Currently, only veterans who served before May 1975 or after September 2001 are eligible for the benefits.
About 43,000 veterans are enrolled in the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers today. It is designed to support and compensate full-time caregivers providing at-home assistance to severely wounded veterans.
Dr. Colleen Richardson, executive director of the program, said officials expect to add about 16,000 more families over the next year.
“Our caregiver support line is ready, we will have double the number of staff on board in case anyone has any issues or concerns,” Richardson said of the Saturday start date for the expansion.
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 also provide training and medical support for eligible veterans and family members.
The PCAFC has been engulfed in controversy for much of the last year, since officials announced plans to review the cases of “legacy” participants (individuals who enrolled before Oct. 1, 2020) to ensure they still meet the criteria for receiving benefits.
Last spring, following public outcry over those potential program cuts, VA leadership announced they would re-examine changes to the eligibility rules and halt all program dismissals.
Earlier this month, officials said that all families currently in the program will be ensured participation until at least 2025, while new eligibility criteria is developed
At a press conference on Sept. 28, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said he is confident in the direction of the program but also understands the skepticism among some families.
“They’re in a posture of ‘trust but verify,’” he said. “And we are in a posture of wanting to walk the walk, and through execution earn that trust. It may be challenging, but we’re determined to do it.”
Richardson said officials plan on reaching out to existing families in coming weeks to ensure they understand the recent expansion and reassure them that the moves will not hurt their benefits.
VA officials have also hired more than 300 new employees in recent months to help with the anticipated additional workload. About 120,000 new applications are expected in the next year. Richardson said based on historical trends, about one-third of applications are approved.
Information on how to apply for benefits is available on the VA website.
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.