After a yearlong delay, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) launched its new Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) on Oct. 1, starting the clock for expanding the program to veterans of all eras as mandated in the VA MISSION Act, which took effect in June 2019.
VA will roll out the program in two phases. October starts the first phase for eligible veterans who served before May 7, 1975. The second phase goes into effect two years later, capturing the remaining eligible veterans.
The old PCAFC program was open only to caregivers caring for post-9/11 veterans who sustained a serious injury as a result of their service – an injury limiting the veteran’s ability to perform regular activities of daily living.
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The new program is expected to provide more standardization and transparency for those applying for or enrolled in the program. One of the most significant changes to the program is the definition of eligibility for veterans: The new regulation expands PCAFC eligibility to include veterans with a 70% or higher disability rating assigned by VA that involves either a single or combined service-connected rating, no matter what the service-connected injury, illness, or disease.
“The expanded regulation addresses the complexity and expense of keeping veterans at home with their families who provide personalized care,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “This will allow our most vulnerable veterans to stay with their loved ones for as long as possible. Expanding the program and eligibility for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers ensures we can continue to meet the changing needs of America’s Veterans and their caregivers.”
VA initially was expected to launch the program at this time last year, but first had to implement a number of information technology upgrades to strengthen the program and to certify a caregiver record management system that is able to accept, track, and manage caregivers’ cases. VA was able to complete all the system upgrades for implementing the first phase and notified Congress in recent days of the system’s operability, a requirement for the program to go live.
Other enhancements to PCAFC include improving procedures for communicating with caregivers in the program, including procedures for notifying them in advance if they will be removed or discharged from the program and changes to how VA computes stipend payments.
VHA also has been ramping up operational capacity, bringing on more staff and conducting massive training across the system to educate caregiver support teams. The department has developed tool kits, instructional videos, and other resources like providing answers to frequently asked questions to help caregivers understand and navigate the new system.
Some readers may remember VA suspended discharges and reduced support under PCAFC in late 2018, including reducing stipends for households who relied on the support for income. MOAA and other veteran and stakeholder organizations pressed VA for improvements to program administration and to address ongoing inconsistencies in determining program eligibility. The secretary heard the message, and his staff has worked hard the last two years to gather feedback from stakeholders to develop and implement the new program to be more user-friendly and transparent to caregivers.
The PCAFC is a subset of a larger program of caregiver support services VA provides to veterans, but it is more specifically targeted at caring for and supporting the needs of caregivers. Under the PCAFC, caregivers receive:
- Monthly stipend paid directly to the caregiver
- Access to CHAMPVA health care (if eligible)
- Mental health counseling
- Caregiver training
- Enhanced respite services
- Certain beneficiary travel
- Ongoing monitoring of caregiver and veteran’s needs
VA General Caregiver Services and Other VHA Services
The broader program of caregiver support services generally available to all veterans includes:
- Training and education
- Caregiver support line
- Diagnosis of specific programs for caregivers
- Caregiver support program website
- Peer support mentoring
- Email listserv
- REACH VA for veterans with ALS, dementia, MS, PTSD, or spinal cord injury/disorders
- Self-care courses
- Home telehealth
- Respite care
- Home hospice care
- Home-based primary care
- Homemaker and home health aids
- Veteran directed care
- Adult day health care centers
- Skilled home care
- Other services
MOAA will be monitoring the PCAFC implementation and will look to our members, veterans, and caregivers for feedback so we can share the information with the secretary and his staff to let them know whether the program is working. Share your feedback by sending an email to email@example.com.
Resources and Information
More information on the PCAFC and caregiver resources can be found at the Caregiver Support website, including information on eligibility, how to apply, the program stipend, and other program information and services. Click these links for details:
- PCAFC website
- FAQs on PCAFC Expansion
- FAQs on PCAFC Changes for Current Participants (legacy participant/applicant)
- FAQs on PCAFC Eligibility
- FAQs on PCAFC Monthly Stipend
- Find a Caregiver Support Coordinator in your area