Veterans Affairs will cease its unlawful purge of veterans’ caregivers from its VA Caregiver Program according to a promise VA Secretary Robert Wilkie made to Congress.
Flanked by the self-funded Veteran Warriors and the Independence Fund organization, Wilkie was confronted by lawmakers over confirmed reports that its Caregiver Program was unlawfully purging caregivers from its payroll pursuant some backroom deal to cut costs.
Secretary Wilkie initially asserted the problems with the program were isolated and resolved. But obviously, the problem is not only not isolated but systemic.
[Note: Skip to 1:05 on the above YouTube video for Caregiver portion]
The Caregiver Program was designed to provide financial support to spouses of severely disabled veterans of the Post-911 era. The spouses would receive financial support often because caring for the veteran was a full time job. The money was intended to support the veteran’s spouse while also keeping those same veterans out of higher cost nursing home or assisted living facilities.
So, it was a benefit to both parties since most veterans would prefer to live at home. And, we all know how VA likes to save a buck.
The “Graduated” Healthcare Fraud
But the dollar signs proved too enticing for some, and an initiative allegedly coming from Meg Kabat, National Director of the Caregiver Program, resulted in many spouses being “graduated” or “downgraded” out of the program based on an erroneous conclusion the veteran recovered.
Now, one element of this relates to veterans with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) where the veteran is statistically unlikely to recover. Nonetheless, that has not stopped some doctors from engaging in medical fraud to purge the spouse with false medical findings not in line with the medical evidence in the record.
Left with only a clinical appeal, as apposed to a benefits appeal, these spouses are then left to appeal back to the same officials engaged in the fraud. The end result?
The spouse’s claim for reinstatement of caregiver stipend is denied without any right to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. No due process. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Some of what we see on the reforms facing the Caregiver Program are the result of nimble advocacy from smaller organizations and not the large Iron Triangle VSO dinosaurs.
Enter Lauren Price and her self-funded organization of advocates called Veteran Warriors. Working with the Independence Fund, this group has held the agency’s feet to the fire over the scheme, and now Congress is fired up.
During the hearing, Wilkie was confronted with the truth, that his agency failed to launch its Caregiver 2.0 by the deadline, October 1, 2018. He tried to tell Senator Murray that the deadline was actually in 2019, but he got shut down by the Senator. Apparently, the agency has failed to update its Caregiver tracking system since 2014.
Dr. Melissa Glynn, Assistant Secretary for Enterprise Integration, tried to explain away the issue by saying VA simply gave itself a new deadline instead of the one Congress mandated, like GI Bill. That obviously did not fly with the Senator.
He erred in telling Congress the deadline was actually set for the next year, 2019, and was immediately confronted by the lawmakers and organizations present. When confronted, Wilkie then promised to stop the purge.
“Secretary Wilkie should be commended for immediately stopping these recent and ridiculous demotion and discharge determinations by the VA,” said Bob Carey, Chief Advocacy Officer at the Independence Fund. “The day-to-day obstacles faced by the Caregivers and families of catastrophically wounded Veterans is already a lifetime challenge. Nothing could be worse than a Caregiver suddenly finding out that their financial support, or health insurance, was canceled by an unknown VA official or some obscure VA policy.”
Veteran Warriors Press Release On VA Caregiver Program
I wanted to include the entire Veteran Warriors press release that gives some deeper insight into what is happening, below in italics:
Veteran Warriors has confirmed that yet another “IT” project is holding up services for potentially over 1 Million veterans of the Vietnam era!
One of the key pieces of the recently enacted “The VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act” (MISSION ACT); is the long-awaited expansion of the VA’s “Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program” eligibility. The new law required that the VA “…must develop and implement a new information technology system to support administrative and record-keeping needs. CSP will soon submit a report to Congress with a timeline for implementation (Jr., 2018).”
What the Secretary did not mention is that the law mandates that this new IT program be implemented, functioning and certified to Congress; NO LATER THAN OCTOBER 1, 2018!
Bear in mind; the law also states that the VA will not have to open the program to the pre-1975 (Vietnam era) veterans UNTIL TWO YEARS AFTER THAT CERIFICATION IS MADE. The clock has not even started yet on the two-year waiting period.
The mandate to implement this “new technology” is a misnomer. The VA already has the “Caregiver Application Tracking System”. This is the program that the VA personnel use to manage the caregiver cases. The problem is; this program does not copy over to the veteran’s medical records; and there have been cases where we have found the personnel utilizing this system to communicate their personal opinions and even remarks about how they plan to create reasons to remove veterans from the program. So, the clause in the law to create yet another program to do this seemed like a stall tactic.
Congress created a law to (finally) include all eras of veterans (over a staggered time table), into the program. The VA has fought this since the Post 9/11 portion of the program was still a Bill. Now, they have found a way to indefinitely forestall the inevitable; effectively keeping eligible veterans still waiting on the VA for earned benefits and services, while the VA Office of IT scrambles around trying to build this program, while fixing the GI Bill program and the VBMS (claims management system).
We caution our Brothers and Sisters; please don’t hold your breath!
Hold Your Breath?
Hold your breath? Only civilians would be so foolish as to take VA at their word on this one. Hundreds of million in taxpayer dollars are at stake, and VA reportedly tied its bonuses this year with the number of caregivers they can “graduate” aka purge from the program.
So, do not hold your breath.
Despite that, I have to hand it to Wilkie. He probably gave the most honest and forthright answer to Congress I have seen in a long time.
Rather than trying to spin his way out, like Bob McDonald used to pull (remember, he said he fired thousands under Accountability initiatives while the real number was 4), Wilkie took the lump on the chin and promised to stop the process.
I can only imagine the car ride back to Vermont Avenue between Wilkie and whatever program manager mislead him about the program and its failure to launch. Was it Meg Kabat who gave him the bad intel or someone else?