The average age of a U.S. infantryman serving in the Vietnam war was 22. Those young men experienced not only the terrors of war and the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that followed, but the effects of Agent Orange. Those who survived the war and its aftermath are now in their late 60s or early 70s, and many suffer continuing health problems from their service to their country decades ago. Fortunately, VA benefits for caregivers helping these veterans has recently been expanded.
Many veterans don’t suffer alone. They have spouses and families who care for them as they grapple with their health issues. And because those health issues make them more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID, family caregivers of Vietnam veterans are often hesitant to place them in a VA facility for care. They would prefer to provide care to their loved ones at home, and most Vietnam veterans who need assistance with activities of daily living (ADL) would prefer to receive it in their own home, rather than in a facility. Not only is there less risk of contracting a disease from the coronavirus at home, but veterans can be surrounded by the people they love in a familiar environment.
Unfortunately, providing the level of care needed can take a toll on caregivers. That’s why the expansion of the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) is such timely and welcome news.
The PCAFC is available to family caregivers of veterans, including spouses, sons, daughters, and extended family members. Stepfamily members are also eligible for the program, as are non-family members who live with the veteran on a full-time basis and are willing to be designated family caregivers for purposes of the program.
The veteran being cared for must be discharged from the U.S military or have a date of medical discharge. He or she must have a serious injury caused or worsened by military service, and must need at least six months of personal care services.
The program was originally for caregivers of veterans whose active duty was after September 11, 2001. However, as of October 1, 2020, the PCAFC will offer benefits to family caregivers of eligible veterans who suffered a serious injury during active-duty service on or before May 8, 1975. These benefits will allow family caregivers of many Vietnam veterans to continue caring for them at home and will relieve some of the burden on the caregivers themselves.
The assistance provided by the PCAFC lets veterans get the care they need in the comfort of their homes. Because home-based care is typically less costly than care in a facility, offering this assistance is a cost-effective measure for the VA as well.
A veteran can designate one primary family caregiver and up to two secondary family caregivers. Secondary caregivers provide backup and assistance to the primary caregiver as needed. Primary caregivers, because of their central role, receive more benefits under the PCAFC.
Primary family caregivers can receive up to $2,800 per month in assistance for caring for veterans who need help with activities of daily living (ADL). Activities of daily living include feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, and transferring from bed to chair. The monthly stipend can relieve financial pressure on primary caregivers who may have had to step back from employment to provide care for a family member.
Primary caregivers may also receive health care benefits through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), if they do not already have access to care under other insurance. They can also get respite care for the veteran, which is particularly important for primary caregivers who are managing the veteran’s care without the help of other family members.
There are other benefits available for both primary and secondary caregivers, including education and training. Training and education can make caregivers more confident in their role, as well as to help them understand the challenges they are facing and recognize when they need help to avoid burnout.
Primary and secondary caregivers also have access to mental health services and counseling through the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Protecting caregivers’ mental health benefits the caregivers, of course, but also enables them to provide better care for the veteran. And because caregivers frequently travel with their veteran when the veteran needs to receive treatment at a VA facility, they may also receive travel lodging, and financial assistance for these trips.
As with many government programs, there can be a bit of red tape involved in applying for caregiver benefits through the PCAFC. In addition, the caregiver and veteran must apply together. Among other details, caregivers will need to provide contact information for both themselves and their veteran, and will need to supply the name of the VA facility at which the veteran receives medical treatment.
If you would like to learn more about benefits available to veterans’ families, including the VA benefits for caregivers that will soon be made available to caregivers of Vietnam Veterans, please contact Gudorf Law Group.