Page Reviewed / Updated - Mar. 2016
Respite Care from the Department of Veteran's Affairs is a program that provides trained caregivers that attend to the individual in need of care to give the primary caregiver time to relax and attend to his or her own needs. Depending on geographic location and the recipient's preference, care can be provided in the home, in adult day care or in a VA medical or community living center. Respite caregivers are able to provide most or all the assistance the primary caregiver is able to provide such as (but not limited to) supervision, help dressing or bathing the care recipient and medication reminders
Alone, respite care is not a long term solution for care, but when combined with other program and cost reductions such as tax credits, LIHEAP and transportation assistance, respite care might make the difference that enables a family to choose between residential and home care.
Respite care is a covered benefit for all veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system and meet the following requirements. In rare cases, certain veterans may be eligible for VA health care without having to enroll in the VA health care program.
There are no age requirements to be eligible for VA Health Care. However, one's age impacts other eligibility criteria. As an example, individuals 75 or older have less restrictive disability qualifications than do veterans of a younger age.
Veterans must have chronic illness or condition that results in a need for the level of care typically provided in a nursing home. However, it is not a requirement that the condition be related to their military service. Older or clinically depressed individuals have less restrictive disability requirements. Typically, persons with Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s meet the disability requirement.
Marital status does not play in a role in determining their eligibility for VA respite care. Most commonly spouses are the recipients of respite care, but there is no requirement that the individual be married.
A veteran's financial resources are only considered if they have been assigned to a higher number (but lower priority) Priority Group. Higher Priority Group assignment generally means they do not have disabilities resulting from their military service.
A veteran's resources are defined as the sum of the veteran and their spouse liquid and fixed assets and their income minus their allowances, such as medical bills. Veterans having resources in excess of the maximums are evaluated case by case to determine their need.
A very general rule of thumb is veterans can have up to $80,000 in resources or up to $30,000 in annual income. Married veterans can deduct $100,000 from their total resources as “spousal resource protection”. However, there are many exceptions and these amounts change based on the veteran's county of residence. Veterans with resources beyond the maximum allowable amounts here should consult directly with the VA or veterans' benefits consultant to determine if they are eligible.
Veterans are required to have 24 months of continuous active duty military service and a discharge status other than Bad Conduct or Dishonorable to be eligible for VA Health Care (and therefore VA Respite Care). There are exceptions to the 24-month rule for:
A veteran's geographic location does not impact eligibility directly but the maximum allowable amount of resources changes depending on the county in which the veteran resides.
Veterans must be living at home and have a primary caregiver in that environment. Those who reside in a VA medical center or community living center are already receiving care and therefore are not eligible for respite care.
VA respite care is provided up to 30 days a year. A day is defined by a maximum of 6 hours when the respite care is provided at home, but a day is 24 hours when the respite is provided in a veteran’s community living center. The VA may offer an extension to the 30-day rule in the case where the primary caregiver to the veteran passes away. Respite care can be provided in a combination of settings. For example, a family may choose to split the days between in-home respite and care at a community living center.
Families do not receive a cash payout for respite care. They will either receive a caregiver directly or a voucher to receive respite care. Provided there are not waiting lists to receive VA respite care, appointments can typically be scheduled a few weeks in advance.
The cost of respite care is covered by the basic veteran's Medical Benefits Package. A co-payment may be required dependent on one's service-connected disability status and financial resources. The maximum co-payment for 2016 for respite care is $15 / day.
To apply for VA respite care, one should contact their local VA administrator or one can learn more about the program here. Alternatively, one can call the Health Benefits Service Center at 877-222-8387.