Veterans Affairs officials will extend caregiver benefits to “legacy” participants of the program through September 2025 under a plan announced Thursday, ensuring that thousands of families will continue to receive stipends for the next three years.
The move comes after months of controversy surrounding the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, designed to support and compensate full-time caregivers providing at-home assistance to severely wounded veterans.
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.
About 33,000 veterans are currently enrolled in the program. Nearly 20,000 of those are “legacy” participants, post-9/11 veterans who applied to the program before October 2020.
In a statement Thursday, VA Caregiver Support Program Executive Director Colleen Richardson said the extension “allows us to continue supporting this cohort of veterans and caregivers while VA separately conducts program improvement initiatives aimed at ensuring the [program] addresses the unique needs of veterans of all eras and their caregivers.”
Many of those families feared losing their caregiver benefits at the start of 2023, a deadline set by VA officials earlier this year as the cut off for individuals who no longer qualified for the program after eligibility rules had been updated.
Last spring, following public outcry over those potential program cuts, VA leadership announced they would re-examine changes to the eligibility rules and work to keep those families in the program. They also halted thousands of pending program dismissals until a full program review could be completed.
An internal review showed as many as 90% of the legacy families receiving VA caregiver benefits would have been kicked out of the program as a result of the earlier eligibility changes. Lawmakers harshly criticized those numbers, saying the large-scale dismissals went against the goal of helping veterans and their caregivers.
Along with the monthly stipend, the caregiver program provides training opportunities, respite care options, family counseling and other technical support.
“We will stop at nothing to make sure veterans and their caregivers get the support they need and deserve, and this extension is a key part of that effort,” VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said in a statement. “As I’ve said before, trust is earned, it’s not given. We hope we can earn the trust of veterans and caregivers through our continued efforts.”
Lawmakers hailed Thursday’s announcement as the right move to protect veterans’ physical and financial health.
“This is great news for veterans and their caregivers who can breathe easy knowing they will keep receiving the critical support they need and deserve under VA’s Caregiver Program,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.
“While there’s still work to be done, the Biden Administration’s swift action will ensure legacy veterans and their caregivers are not discharged from a program that has made a difference for so many.”
Holly Ferrell, executive director for Veteran Warriors, an advocacy group which works with more than 3,500 caregivers currently in the program, praised VA officials for “doing the right thing” with the changes.
“Our hope is slowly being renewed as we watch Dr. Richardson turn the caregiver program around,” she said. “She has done what no prior leader has; she has made it her mission to learn about the needs of those she serves.”
Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, noted that “this continues to be a difficult time for caregivers of all eras and there are still questions and concerns looming around the [program].”
But Schwab praised the extension as “a much-needed step” for veterans and caregivers.
Currently, the program is open only to veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty and only to those veterans who served before May 1975 and after September 2001.
However, the program is set to expand to veterans of all eras Oct. 1. VA officials said they remain on track to begin admitting those applicants next month.
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.