Deal reached on family caregiver benefits



It also proposes full-day in-home respite care for veterans so caregivers can take a break.

For the live-in caregivers of severely disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the agreement provides VA health care for those who do not have other health insurance and a monthly living stipend to compensate them for what it would cost VA to provide similar care by contract.

Rates would be set by VA, and would vary based on the level of skill of the caregiver and by regional costs.

New benefits would take effect 270 days from the date the bill is signed into law, a delay intended to give VA time to fill in some of the details — like how much to pay and what kind of training should be provided to caregivers.

Free medical care and living stipends would not be provided to caregivers of veterans of other eras, at least not right away.

The agreement calls for caregivers of other veterans to receive information on how they might get health care and other help from public, private and nonprofit agencies if they do not have their own health benefits. But it holds out the possibility that they could also receive full benefits within two years if VA wants to expand the program.

Caregiver provisions are part of S 1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which also includes provisions to improve rural health care and women’s health; create a pilot project for family dental care for veterans and survivors; and offer readjustment services and counseling to any veteran. It also would require VA to provide mental health referrals to anyone separated from the service who is ineligible for veterans benefits — which could happen if a person received a bad-conduct discharge, for example.

The agreement, the result of negotiations that began last year, could be approved by the House of Representatives as early as Wednesday, but it remains unclear when the Senate will take up the package. The Senate had trouble last year passing its version of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., held up the bill while trying to force Senate leaders to cover the estimated $3.9 billion five-year cost through offsetting cuts in other programs.

In the end, Coburn backed down and voted for the bill, creating an expectation that he also will support the final compromise.


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