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Wolfsteller column: VA expanding caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans, as of Oct. 1

Do you remember a $52 billion piece of legislation called the VA MISSION Act? It was signed into law on June 6, 2018. It was the greatest reform to VA Health Care in history.

Two reforms within the multilayered legislation stood out to veterans and VA stakeholders like The American Legion.

One was an overhaul to VA’s community care program, which took effect June 2019, allowing veterans more choice to care in the community.

Jeremy Wolfsteller

The second major reform, taking effect Oct. 1, 2020, is an expansion to VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). This reform is expanding caregiver benefits to World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Persian Gulf War veterans.

The current Program of Comprehensive Family Caregivers is only available for post-9/11 veterans. I believe it was designed and implemented during the Global War on Terrorism, where a primary instrument of war used by the enemy was improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs. The use of IEDs left many men and women critically injured, resulting in amputations and traumatic brain injuries. Upon returning home, these young men and women struggled with their activities of daily living on their own and would need caregiver assistance.

VA’s eligibility criteria for PCAFC is that a veteran has sustained serious injury in the line of service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, require personal care services to perform one or more activities of daily living or require supervision and protection based on symptoms of residuals of neurological impairment or injury and require the assistance of a family caregiver to live safely in a home for a minimum of six months.

If approved for PCAFC, veterans can select one primary caregiver and up to two secondary caregivers. Secondary caregivers serve as a backup support to the primary caregiver when needed.

The services you receive will depend on whether you are the primary or secondary caregiver. Primary caregiver receives a monthly stipend (paid directly to you as the caregiver); access to health care insurance through Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), if you do not already have health insurance; mental health counseling; certain beneficiary travel benefits when traveling with the veteran to appointments.

Note for specific details, speak to your caregiver support coordinator and at least 30 days of respite care per year, for the veteran. Respite is short term relief for someone else to care for the veteran while you take a break.

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, the expansion portion of PCAFC under the MISSION ACT will start in a two-phase expansion. First, VA will be enrolling those seriously injured in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. Then two years after the first expansion, VA will further expand PCAFC to those seriously injured in the line of duty between May 8, 1975, and Sept. 10, 2001.

For those veterans already enrolled and receiving PCAFC benefits, they are considered “legacy participants” and will have one year to be reassessed under the new program. Between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, if veterans wish to stay in PCAFC, an appointment will be scheduled to be reassessed under the new eligibility criteria set forth in the final rule.

If you’re interested in this expansion or a legacy participant and have questions, please contact your local caregiver support staff and ask about PCAFC.

https://www.caregiver.va.gov/support/support_benefits.asp

Jeremy Wolfsteller is the Department of Minnesota service officer. His email is jwolfsteller@mnlegion.org.

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