VA Re-Evaluates Family Caregiver Program

May 29, 2017
Originally published on May 29, 2017 8:38 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The U.S. government says it will stop kicking the family members of veterans out of a caregiver program. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers support to family members who quit their jobs to look after wounded veterans, of whom there are many in this country. Last month, NPR News reported the government was unfairly dropping many people from the program, including Alishia Graham, who cares for her wounded husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALISHIA GRAHAM: It's not even like, oh, we dropped you a tier because we think he doesn't need as much help. No, we think he's totally fine, and he doesn't need any help. I'm insulted for him. I'm insulted for him because I know what he struggles with.

INSKEEP: Now the department has responded to that story by our colleague Quil Lawrence. It has stopped rejecting caregivers for now. No one else is being kicked off the program until the VA completes review. Quil Lawrence is here with an update on that story. Hi, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what kind of assistance has this been providing for people who care for loved ones?

LAWRENCE: It's set up for veterans who need care with daily living. They can't get through the day because they could be a danger to themselves or they can't complete regular daily tasks like eating or going to the bathroom. And it's a really popular program for these people, usually women, who've had to quit their jobs to work full time as their caregivers for their wounded veteran.

I've been hearing for over a year about people getting dumped from the program. And every time I sort of checked it out with VA and other organizations, they say no, we're growing the program. There are more people being added. Now, that turned out to be true.

But at the same time that the program across the country was growing as a whole, some VAs were dumping caregivers in huge numbers and that VA is sort of infamous for being erratic from place to place. While this program was growing, Fayetteville - which is where Jim and Alishia Graham go - had dropped hundreds of caregivers from the program over that same period of time.

INSKEEP: So this program effectively hires loved ones to be the caregivers for their loved ones, but some people are getting dropped. How did the VA explain that?

LAWRENCE: They didn't really have an explanation. They didn't seem to be aware of these inconsistencies from station to station. I mean, they - honestly, they didn't seem to be aware of their own data that I compiled.

INSKEEP: And what did they do after they found out from you?

LAWRENCE: Twelve days later, they suspended their revocations, meaning that they aren't going to kick anybody else off. And they suspended it for three weeks. And then they extended that another six weeks. I haven't been able to get them to respond to my request for clarification about what exactly they're evaluating during this time. And the key thing also is that their review doesn't seem to be helping people who were, you know, perhaps unfairly kicked off like Alishia Graham and her husband Jim.

INSKEEP: Oh, they're not going to review past cases?

LAWRENCE: Right. I mean, there's an appeals process that they can go through if they think they've been unfairly kicked off. But as far as I can tell from the VA, they aren't looking at people in the past who've been kicked off. They're just evaluating them for the future.

INSKEEP: How are veterans responding to this news?

LAWRENCE: Well, they were very happy when they heard that the VA was going to stop kicking people off because as I said, it's a very popular program. But others are worried about what happened when it resumes. I talked to a couple in South Texas, Ed and Karen Matayka. He's a double amputee. They were both deployed to Afghanistan.

They're both vets. He lost both legs to a bomb in Afghanistan. Their picture is actually on the Pentagon's caregiver resource book. They were on the front cover. And they've been told that their rejection letter is just waiting, and it's going to come as soon as this pause, this review, is over.

INSKEEP: Quil, thanks for following this story.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.