How Does the VA Caregiver Support Program Work?

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Every caregiver could use support, and the caregivers of veterans, fortunately, have a program to help. The program is called the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC).

Veterans who are injured in the line of duty to the country have resources available to assist them with medical care, mental health care, and caregiver support. The Veteran’s Administration also offers a wide range of support programs, but each program has eligibility criteria.

Jump ahead to these sections:

If you are a veteran, it is well worth the time and effort for you and your family to investigate VA programs to support your health and wellbeing. A seriously injured veteran requires extensive support, and caregiver duties can be complex and challenging. 

Most people say they would rather receive care where they live than go into long-term care, and this program makes that possible. We will walk you through what the PCAFC program is, what it does, eligibility requirements, and how to apply. 

What’s the VA Caregiver Support Program?

Family caregiver reimbursement is rare these days and usually depends on qualifying for Medicaid. The VA Caregiver Support Program does not use income or assets to qualify a family caregiver and veteran for the program. However, a veteran must have sustained a serious injury that requires significant assistance.

Veterans experience various catastrophic injuries, including traumatic head injuries, PTSD, loss of limbs, hearing loss, bullet or shrapnel wounds, mental health problems, and mobility problems. Taking care of a veteran can be a full-time job and requires a great deal of patience and support. 

The VA Caregiver Support Program offers support for caregivers of eligible veterans who were seriously injured during their service. One unique aspect of the VA Caregiver Support Program is that it recognizes and supports more than one caregiver. The Veteran can elect to appoint a primary family caregiver, who is the main caregiver, and secondary caregivers. Secondary caregivers are backups to the main caregiver if needed. 

These are some of the services offered under the program:

If you are the primary caregiver, you could receive these benefits:

  • A monthly monetary amount paid directly to you as the primary caregiver
  • Health insurance through the VA
  • Mental health counseling
  • Travel benefits when taking the veteran to appointments
  • Thirty days of respite care per year to get a break while the secondary caregiver or someone else steps in 
  • Caregiver education and training

If you are the secondary caregiver, you may receive:

  • Mental health counseling
  • Travel benefits when taking the veteran to appointments
  • Thirty days of respite care per year for the veteran while someone else takes care of the veteran 

One of the valuable pieces of the caregiver support program is a flexible definition of caregiver. The VA recognizes the reality of caregiving that caregivers are not always a spouse or immediate family member. The VA Caregiver Support Program recognizes spouses, sons, daughters, parents, stepfamily members, and extended family members as caregivers of the veteran.

Also, someone who lives with the veteran can be designated as a family caregiver, even if they have no family relationship.

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Who’s Eligible for the VA Caregiver Support Program?

Eligibility requirements for the VA Caregiver Support Program are strict. The caregiver and veteran apply together, and these are the veteran requirements:

  • The individual must be a veteran or a member of the Armed Forces undergoing a medical discharge from service.
  • The veteran must have a serious injury and a service-connected disability rating of at least 70%.
  • The injury was incurred or aggravated on or after September 11, 2001, or before May 7, 1975. 
  • The veteran requires personal care services for a minimum of six continuous months for the following:

An inability to perform activities of daily living, including:

  • Help with dressing or undressing
  • Bathing and hygiene
  • Grooming
  • Help with adjusting a prosthetic or orthopedic appliance
  • Toileting
  • Assistance with feeding due to swallowing problems, loss of coordination of upper extremities, or artificial nutrition
  • Help with walking, transferring, or going up the stairs

A need for protection, supervision, and instruction such as the following:

  • A veteran with dementia or some other cognitive impairment who needs step-by-step instruction to perform tasks safely, or monitored activities
  • A veteran with a mental health disorder or PTSD which requires someone to provide instruction or supervision to ensure safety 
  • The veteran receives care at home or agrees to do so once they qualify for the VA Caregiver Support Program (care through the VA Caregiver Support Program is not offered at a nursing home). 
  • The veteran agrees to receive primary care from a VA team of providers.
  • There will be no duplication of services. Once a family caregiver is designated, no other person or entity can provide those services.

How Can You Apply to the VA Caregiver Support Program?

There are several ways you can apply to the VA Caregiver Support Program. If you have questions, call them at 1-855-260-3274. Here are the steps to take to apply to the program. You have the option to apply online, on paper, or in person at your local VA office. 

Gather your service records

Although the VA has copies of your records, make sure you meet the criteria for participation by reviewing your discharge and service records. The application form is called PCAFC-VA Form 10-10CG.

Access the online application

Find the VA online application here. Each time you need to add a new family caregiver, you and the family member will have to fill out another application.  

Download and print PCAFC-VA Form 10-10CG

If you or the veteran is not comfortable with or does not have access to the online application, you can print it and fill it out. Mail the form to:

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
Health Eligibility Center
2957 Clairmont Road NE, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30329-1647

Application intake

A member of the caregiver support team reviews the completed form and conducts a review of the application with you in person, via video, or by phone.

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Assessment

A member of the caregiver support team conducts a clinical and functional assessment of you along with getting your caregiver’s input on your needs.

Caregiver assessment

A member of the caregiver support team conducts an assessment of each designated family caregiver. 

Application review

A review is conducted of the application and medical records to determine the veteran’s and the caregiver’s eligibility.

Caregiver training

If your application is accepted, then you proceed with caregiver training. This training takes place online or with a workbook. Training includes caregiver self-care, caregiving skills, personal care, home safety, managing challenging behaviors, and learning to become an advocate. 

Home-care assessment

This assessment determines the wellbeing of the veteran and the competence of the family caregiver to provide personal care services in the veteran’s home safely.

Notification of acceptance to the program

Within 90 days of receiving the application, a member of the caregiver support team will call the family caregiver applicants and the Veteran to notify them of a decision. A letter is also mailed. 

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How much does the VA pay caregivers?

The VA pays caregivers based on a complicated calculation of whether the veteran is able to self-sustain in the community. Stipends will vary and are determined by the local VA. The number is based on the needs of the veteran and the total number of hours given each week. The number also takes into account the local salaries of home health aides. 

There are two levels of stipend, for which the VA gives examples on its website.

How can you apply to be a caregiver for the program?

The primary and secondary caregivers apply to the VA Caregiver Support Program together on the same form. These are the steps to take to apply to be a primary or secondary caregiver. You must be 18 years of age or older.

Assess your ability to be a caregiver

Assessing your ability to be a caregiver for a veteran is not a VA requirement but something you may want to consider doing before you apply. Compensation is a big benefit, but the tasks of caregiving can be exhausting and time-consuming. 

Talk with the veteran about secondary caregivers

Before filling out the application with the veteran, talk about who the secondary caregivers will be. Those caregivers will not receive compensation but are eligible for mental health counseling, travel benefits, and respite.

Apply to the program with the veteran

You and the veteran will need to apply together and participate in an application process to determine if you are both eligible. You both need to sign and date the application and answer all questions for your role.

Complete caregiver training

Complete caregiver training and demonstrate the ability to carry out the specific personal care services, core competencies, and additional care requirements. Caregivers who are enrolled in the VA Caregiver Support Program are entitled to further training, education, and courses through the VA. Also available is a Caregiver Support Line to get support. A Peer Support Mentoring Program allows caregivers to learn from other caregivers.

Participate in all reassessments by the VA. Reassessments include an evaluation of whether the veteran can function independently in the community. The stipend is intended for use for those veterans who need substantial assistance.  

Participate in wellness contacts which are conducted to review the veteran’s wellbeing and the competency of the services provided by the family caregivers. Wellness contacts will occur about every 120 days, and at least one wellness visit must happen in the veteran’s home. 

The VA Caregiver Support Program

The VA Caregiver Support Program is a valuable way to give veterans the care and support they deserve. Although the application process may take some time, it will be well worth it to receive a stipend for the compassionate care you bring to a loved one or friend. 


 Sources:
  1. “Veterans Disability Benefits.” USA.gov, 2021. usa.gov
  2. “The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.” US Department of Veterans Affairs, 2021. va.gov
  3. “Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Monthly Stipend for Primary Family Caregivers Fact Sheet.” US Department of Veterans Affairs, 2021. caregiver.va.gov
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