In drafting legislation that would expand comprehensive caregiver benefits to severely injured veterans of all past wars, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, directed staff this month to start with the proposal announced by VA Secretary David Shulkin this month.
Shulkin said he supports extending caregiver benefits - which includes a monthly stipend, access to health care insurance, caregiver training, stress counseling and a period of paid respite away from caregiver responsibilities - to people caring for veterans catastrophically injured in wars back to World War II.
However, as a condition for making benefits available to veterans injured before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Shulkin wants Congress to narrow eligibility criteria. Post-9/11 veterans now qualify for the comprehensive benefits if their physical or mental injuries prevent them from performing one or more activities of daily living. It's a level medical experts describe as Tier 1.
Shulkin proposes that Congress align the VA plan's eligibility criteria with other caregiver programs that provide benefits only if those injured cannot perform three or more activities of daily living, a Tier 3 threshold. He described this as a "more clinically appropriate criteria" than the Post-9/11 law mandated since 2011.
Shulkin said the 26,000 caregivers now drawing benefits under that law, however, should be protected from the changes for as long as they meet the looser criteria. He also said the law should more clearly spell out that veterans are eligible for caregiver benefits if they suffer severe cognitive dysfunction.
"I think that's something we could carry to the Congress and get passed," Roe told Shulkin.
If the VA program is expanded as Shulkin envisions, an additional 40,000 veterans would be eligible, he said. If Post-9/11 benefits were extended to older generations unchanged, 188,000 veterans would be eligible.
VA spent $500 million last year on its comprehensive caregiver program. VA and veteran service groups both contend caregiver benefits save the government billions of dollars because home care avoids the greater cost of sending severely injured vets into nursing facilities.
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