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Caregiver Stipend Program for Recent Veterans Creates Confusion for VA Health Providers, Beneficiaries Cont.
Disparities in the Rating Process
Debbie Schultz, of Friendswood, TX, was one of the first caregivers to apply for benefits from VA in May. Her son, Steven Schultz, USMC (ret.), was injured by an IED in Fallujah in 2005. She told the House VA Subcommittee on Health that she and her and her husband, who had a 15-year old son and an 18-year-old daughter, were preparing to become empty-nesters. Instead, they became Steven’s primary caregivers.
Their son suffers from the effects of a severe TBI and profound weakness on the left side of his body. He also has difficulty understanding people and being understood. Debbie Schultz, a special-education teacher, left the work force to stay at home with Steven. She applied for caregiver assistance on May 9.
In her testimony, Schultz gave VA credit for streamlining the application system. Between May and July, she was approved for the program and had already received her first stipend check. “But VA must make sure that its decisions are fair and appropriate, and not just fast,” Schultz said.
“There are flaws in the rules VA published in early May,” she said. “The stipend is a good example of this. For many families whose finances are tight, the stipend is very important. But it’s clear to me that the rules determining the stipend need work. I know a veteran who suffered the same injuries as Steven, but made a better recovery physically. Though he has far fewer physical limitations, he still has PTSD and TBI. But his family only gets a stipend that amounts to 10 hours a week.”
VA’s methodology for determining how many hours of care was needed scored her son appropriately high because he had both physical and cognitive issues. If his physical problems had been absent, he would have scored lower, Schultz said.
“The fallacy in this methodology is that a veteran with TBI whose extreme lack of judgment, for example, makes him a safety risk is not just a safety risk for 10 hours a week,” she noted. “Something is badly wrong with the methodology that determines a veteran who is a safety risk, whether for suicidality or is a danger to others, needs only 10 or 25 hours of care a week.”
Schultz said, based on her stipend check, it appears she was qualified for the near maximum 40 hours, but that is not enough.
When her son first returned home, he needed care 24 hours a day, she pointed out. While her son now sleeps through the night without assistance, she and her family spend much more than 40 hours a week caring for him. Schultz does have some hope that the respite care provided under the new law will bring relief that previous experience with respite care did not. “Prior to this law, nothing was available for this young age veteran who is able to do things but needs help in everything he does. The at-home assistance was not age-appropriate, and it was not reliable. It was set up for a geriatric population,” Schultz said.