VA Says It Will Stop Arbitrarily Dropping Caregivers From Program The temporary suspension comes three days after a report from NPR exposed concern from veterans that their caregivers were arbitrarily cut, despite no change in their status.

VA Says It Will Stop Arbitrarily Dropping Caregivers From Program

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For the past two years, NPR has been reporting on shortcomings in one of the VA's most popular and most troubled programs. The Caregiver Assistance Program pays stipends to family members, mostly wives and mothers, who care for their disabled veterans at home. But many caregivers have been thrown off the program, often without explanation. Today the VA announced there will be no more discharges.

NPR's Quil Lawrence joins me now. Hey, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I feel like I should start by saying congratulations. It was your reporting that led to today's action by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, so congratulations.

LAWRENCE: Least I can do.

KELLY: Remind us of what you found.

LAWRENCE: Well, we've been following this program, as you said. It's for post-9/11 vets right now. And once they came up with it, it just seemed right. For decades, mostly women, wives and mothers - some men - have been taking care of disabled veterans from wars like Vietnam, Korea and World War II. And with the post-9/11 generation, they thought, why don't we pay these people a stipend? They are doing millions of dollars of work that a nurse would have to do if the VA had to pay for that care.

So it was really popular. It got oversubscribed instantly. And the standards weren't really consistent. When we looked at it, we saw in the last few years after hearing rumors that caregivers were getting thrown off without really any consistency or any given reason. Building on that shaky foundation, Congress is now going to expand the program to veterans from earlier eras.

KELLY: Now, you had a report I remember hearing that aired just earlier this week. And that was detailing more people being thrown off the program.

LAWRENCE: Right. It was the third time we went out to look at this program in a particular region. We went to the Tennessee Valley this time. We found that they had dropped 80 percent of their caregivers in the past two years - 400 caregivers thrown off. And that included two double amputees and a triple amputee. And with a grim sense of humor, Chris Kurtz, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan and some fingers off his left hand - he said, nope, my legs haven't grown back, but I got knocked off the program. And the VA secretary, Robert Wilkie, was confronted about this at a joint hearing this week. And he was questioned here by Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATTY MURRAY: The VA assured me that it had resolved the problems that led to these type of actions, but it's very clear that's not true.

ROBERT WILKIE: My promise to you is that I am going to do everything I can to make sure everybody stays in the program. It's that important to me personally.

LAWRENCE: So that's the first step, is that they're going to halt these revocations. It's not clear if anybody's going to be reinstated.

KELLY: Just very quickly, Quil, what happens now?

LAWRENCE: Well, we're going to see how this admission act expands. There are a lot of complaints in Congress about a lack of transparency. The VA has missed its first deadline to expand the program, and vets are worried it's going to take years for them to get on.

KELLY: All right, thank you, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thanks.

KELLY: NPR's Quil Lawrence.

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