WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials planned three-week review of the department caregiver program will now stretch into late June, to "provide clarity" on enrollment rules for the program.
Last month, VA Secretary David Shulkin announced the program review — and a halt to any new dismissals from the program — after an NPR report that dozens of regional medical centers were cutting back on the number of families receiving caregiver benefits, possibly against VA rules.
VA has made a variety of support services available to caregivers of veterans in recent years, but the most significant change is a monthly stipend awarded to some severely disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Around 22,000 individuals are currently enrolled in the department's caregivers stipend program, which awards payouts of several thousand dollars a month to family members of severely injured post-9/11 veterans providing full-time caregiving duties.
In a statement Thursday, Shulkin said the caregiver program "is making a difference in the lives of our veterans and the caregivers who support them, and we want to make sure the program is operating in the best way for them."
He also added that officials want to make sure that "existing resources go to those veterans who need them most."
That may include asking Congress to broaden the caregiver program to the families of veterans from other eras, a proposal that veterans groups have backed in the past. But the idea comes with a price tag of billions of dollars in coming years if other eligibility rules aren’t tightened.
Shulkin said earlier this month he hoped to find a compromise where those families of older veterans could be included in the caregiver stipends but without adding to the overall cost of the program.
VA officials said the goal of the extension is to provide more time to find those answers. The final report is now set for the week of June 19.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.