HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Families of veterans are getting informed that a program that has helped them for years has some key changes, and that will mean more worry and more expense for them unless the Department of Veterans Affairs relents on the new restrictions.
“I feel like I’m collateral damage and my caregiver is collateral damage, and it’s unacceptable,” said a Hampton Roads veteran we are calling “Teresa.” She didn’t want to give her name for fear of retribution as she appeals her case. “I’m rated [for disability] at 100% for PTSD. It’s the max.”
But Teresa recently learned that she’s no longer qualified for her caregiver husband to receive a monthly stipend, effective in the fall of 2022. The benefit amounts to about $2,200 to $3,000 a month, and is pegged to the current GS-4 pay scale.
Teresa says the rejection on her assessment, which was conducted through the Hampton VA Medical Center, did not give specifics.
“When you’re a caregiver and you’re caring for a disabled veteran, you can quickly exhaust your employment leave. That stipend provided the flexibility for my caregiver to take care of me without worrying about the financial burden,” Teresa said.
Many veterans are getting disqualified from the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers because of what’s known as daily life activities. Some examples would be climbing stairs, walking, or bathing yourself. The veteran has to be unable to do at least one of those tasks 100% of the time.
“[The new rules] really take away the ability for a lot of veterans to qualify for this program,” said Renee Burbank, head of litigation for the National Veterans Legal Services Program.
A 2018 letter from the chief of staff at Hampton VAMC to caregiver families stated that it was not the purpose of the assessments to remove families from the program. However, Burbank says that’s exactly what’s happening.
“When VA published these rules, VA itself estimated approximately a third of the folks who were already in the program would become ineligible, and we’re hearing reports that it may be higher than that,” Burbank said.
Another veteran from Hampton Roads calls his disqualification devastating for him and his caregiver wife.
Like Teresa, he’s appealing.
“We all have a voice and all of our voices should be heard,” Teresa said.
Affected families have two ways to appeal. They have the right to request a review by the Veterans Health Administration, or they can appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Hampton VAMC officials say veterans determined to be no longer eligible for PCAFC after reassessment will receive at least 60 days advance notice of discharge (due process), and 90 days extended benefits post-Sept. 30, 2022. This timeframe provides benefits for an additional 17 months from Oct. 1, 2021. Legacy participants who disagree with a PCAFC decision issued on or after Feb. 19, 2019, can contact ct the Patient Advocate at Hampton VA Medical Center or utilize the appeals process mentioned above.