Inaccurate data kept by the Department of Veterans Affairs on its staff for the Family Caregiver Program and delays in the technology infrastructure needed to expand the program are hampering an effort to include the caregivers of injured veterans from World War II through Vietnam, a government watchdog agency has found.
The Government Accountability Office released a report Monday noting that the number of staff supporting the Family Caregiver Program at VA medical centers does not match the data kept by the program office -- an inaccuracy that prevents the VA from fully understanding the number of personnel that will be needed as the program grows.
The GAO also found that delays in implementing a new information technology system needed to support the program mean the expansion, mandated by Congress, is not expected for at least a year.
"The initial replacement for the Caregiver Application Tracker is not expected until late October 2019. Further, despite this initial deployment and additional releases expected through the summer of 2020, the department has not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the program," GAO analysts noted in the report.
VA officials said earlier this year that they did not expect the required technology infrastructure to be ready until mid- to late-2020.
The VA missed a progress deadline on building the needed system on Oct. 1, 2018, and the department will not be able to certify the system by Oct. 1, 2019, as required by Congress. This means that caregivers of veterans from the Vietnam War and earlier will not be able to apply as expected starting Oct. 1.
And it's unclear whether the system will even be ready by Oct. 1, 2020.
"Until the system is implemented and certified, the expansion of eligibility for the Family Caregiver Program will be delayed," the report states.
The VA Mission Act of 2018 mandated that the VA create and certify the IT system for the expansion. Congress inserted the requirement into the law to prevent similar problems to those seen last year when thousands of veterans didn't receive housing payments related to the Forever GI Bill because of technology system challenges and an aging technology infrastructure at VA.
By law, applications were to be phased in with Vietnam War and earlier veterans eligible first. Those who served from May 1975 through Sept. 11, 2001, are to become eligible two years later.
According to the VA, more than 38,000 caregivers have been helped by the program since it was established in 2011 to provide compensation and benefits for the primary caregivers of severely injured post-9/11 service members.
The program costs more than $900 million a year.