Problems surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs caregiver program are nothing new. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has analyzed the program at least three times.
In 2011, the Caregiver Program was established, originally to provide benefits to caregivers of post-9/11 disabled veterans, who often have to care for these veterans full-time. This program offered caregivers a variety of services, this includes a monthly stipend, training, counseling, referral services, and expanded access to mental health and respite care.
Per the GAO report, “in 2014, VHA obligated over $263 million for the program. They were asked to examine VA’s implementation of the Family Caregiver Program.”
It was estimated that the program would only have 4,000 caregivers approved, but four months before the estimated timeline the VA had approved about 15,600 caregivers. Suffice it to say, the VA was not prepared for the workload that came upon them.
The staffing was not the only thing that the VA underestimated, they also underestimated needs of the program’s information technology (IT) system called the Caregiver Application Tracker. It was difficult for the program to use the system to calculate statistics so that it would be easier for the program office to assess future workloads. The program office informed the GAO that they are looking into replacing this system but did not provide details.
By 2019, the GAO conducted another review after the ratification of the VA MISSON Act, an act that was to improve the VA Family Caregiver Program.
The GAO found that the VA had yet to replace the inadequate IT system. This system has limited data collection and reporting capabilities that would have been used to ensure that the program staff was performing their routine requirements.
The frustrating part about this fact is that if they had replaced the IT system, they would have been able to solve their workload issues to better support their veterans and caregivers. As a veteran who used to track multiple unit metrics or performance measures, I know these failures would have been easy fixes.
Most recently the VA Caregivers Program has been in the news because of the implementation of the new IT system, a change in participation requirements, and a review of all legacy participants of the program.
The VA estimated that its possible that up to 30 percent of the 20,000 participants may be found ineligible with new standards. But recently the VA stopped this processing because at the rate they were going, almost 90 percent of the participants would have been found ineligible. So, the VA is re-evaluating its standards of eligibility.
For those affected by this, I encourage you to contact your elected officials and voice your concerns.