VA Respite Care Program

Updated: March 26, 2021
In this Article

    The VA Respite Care is for caregivers of qualifying wounded veterans, this program can provide short-term but extremely important relief from caregiving duties while ensuring the veteran has the care needed without interruption.

    “Caregivers” is generally defined for the purposes of the VA Respite Care program as a “family caregiver” or traditionally someone who is taking care of the veteran on a personal rather than professional basis.

    The VA official site pages on the Respite Care program don’t specifically identify a caregiver as a family member, partner, or friend, but the personal, rather than professional relationship seems to be emphasized in descriptions of this program.

    However, the Respite Care description listed at Benefits.Gov includes the following statement about the program:

    VA medical centers can give the Veteran’s caregiver (family member or friend) a ‘break’ by taking over the Veteran’s care for a limited time.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Respite Care Program

    The VA official site describes the Respite Care program as a service that “pays for a person to come to a Veteran’s home or for a Veteran to go to a program while their family caregiver takes a break.”

    Veterans who qualify for and receive Respite Care can do so on an inpatient basis, in-home, or outpatient.

    The Respite Care program is for veterans in need of “skilled services, case management and help with activities of daily living”. The program may be used in combination with other services whether home-based or via community-based services.

    Who Qualifies For VA Respite Care?

    Useful information on the VA Respite Care Program

    U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Evan Thompson

    In general, veterans are eligible for VA respite care if they are enrolled in the VA health care system or are eligible for VA health care without the need to enroll.

    More specifically, the VA official site says that all veterans eligible for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Standard Medical Benefits Package may apply for this benefit if they meet a clinical need for such care and the care is available in the veteran’s location.

    Who Qualifies For VHA Standard Medical Benefits?

    There are several ways a veteran may be eligible for VA Respite Care services by virtue of being eligible for VHA medical benefits:

    • The VA official site states that service in the United States Military resulting in any discharge not characterized as dishonorable may qualify the veteran for VA health care benefits.
    • This is also true of current or former members of the Reserves or National Guard called to active duty by a Federal order and who “completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty”.
    • U.S. military combat veterans with combat service after Nov. 11, 1998, are eligible to enroll within five years from the date of discharge; this may qualify them to be eligible for Respite Care.
    • Veterans who were discharged or released from active duty after Jan. 1, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2011, but did not enroll to receive hospital care, medical services, or nursing home care during the five-year period “will have an additional one-year period from the date of enactment of the Clay Hunt SAV Act (Feb. 12, 2015) to enroll for VA health care”.
    • Veterans on active duty serving at Camp Lejeune 30 days or more between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, are eligible for care for treatment of certain medical conditions. These veterans are also eligible for free healthcare related to those illnesses or conditions. This is regardless of enrollment status in the VA healthcare system.

    VA Respite Care Military Service Requirements

    VA Respite Care is offered as a benefit to veterans who enlisted in military service after Sept. 7, 1980, or became active duty after Oct. 16, 1981. Applicants are required to have 24 months of continuous active duty military service. Exceptions to the 24-month rule apply for the following:

    • Reservists or National Guard members called to Active Duty who completed their terms.
    • Persons requiring treatment for a service-connected condition or disability.
    • Persons discharged or released from active duty for a hardship or an “early out.”

    There is also a discharge requirement-veterans must have any discharge not characterized as Bad Conduct or Dishonorable. to be eligible for VA Health Care (and therefore VA Respite Care).

    Is There An Age Requirement For VA Respite Care?

    There is no age restriction for VA Respite Care, though age-related issues may affect eligibility. For example, older veterans have ” less restrictive disability qualifications than do veterans of a younger age” according to the VA official site.

    Does Being Married Disqualify A Veteran From VA Respite Care?

    No. Being married is not a problem when trying to qualify for VA Respite Care.

    Is VA Respite Care Need-Based?

    Veterans with greater financial need may be given priority for VA Respite Care. Financial resources may be a factor “when determining if a veteran has to pay co-payments for health services and prescription drugs” under the program.

    Does The Program Require Certain Disabilities In Order To Qualify?

    VA rules state that in order to qualify for VA Respite Care benefits, veterans “must have a chronic illness or condition” that demands a level of care offered on a professional basis.

    Such conditions do not have to be service-connected, and according to the VA, “Older or clinically depressed individuals have less restrictive disability requirements. Typically, persons with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and related dementias meet the disability requirement.”

    Does VA Respite Care Require A Fee?

    A copay for Respite Care may be charged depending on the veteran’s VA service-connected disability status. Financial need may also determine whether a co-pay is required (see above).

    Does Where I Live Determine My Eligibility?

    Depending on circumstances, where the veteran lives may affect eligibility. In general, the veteran must live at home rather than in a care facility. Veterans in a VA medical center or community living center would not be eligible for respite care as they are already receiving professional care.

    How Do I Apply For VA Respite Care?

    Complete and submit VA Form 10-10EZ, Application for Health Benefits online at the Department of Veterans Affairs site

    It is also possible to apply in person at a local VA medical facility-set up an appointment or get more information at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

    Veterans may also apply by U.S. Mail by sending a completed application form to:

    VA Health Eligibility Center
    2957 Clairmont Road, Suite 200
    Atlanta, Georgia 30329

    What Kind Of Services Are Available With VA Respite Care?

    VA Respite Care may provide a variety of options depending on location and services available. These options for the veteran’s care may include:

    • Home visits by a paid home health aide
    • Attending an adult day health care center
    • Short-term stays in a community living center / VA nursing home
    • Short-term inpatient VA medical center

    How Long And How Often Can VA Respite Care Be Used Each Year?

    Respite Care is offered for 30 days per veteran per year. These 30 days do not have to be used consecutively and may be divided up in a variety of ways:

    • Community living center (VA nursing home) visits may include a single 30-day stay or 10 short stays of 3 days per visit each year.
    • Home health aide visits can be divided into individual visits of up to six hours each. One visit = one day of Respite Care.
    • It may be possible to divide the veteran’s 30 days of Respite Care among the different types of Respite Care available to the veteran.

    How Should The Veteran Decide How To Use Respite Care Services?

    The VA official site includes a worksheet for veterans to decide the level of care they currently need, and also an assessment for caregivers to complete to help them self-assess how much relief they might need from caregiving duties via Respite Care services.

    When attempting to assess their needs for Respite Care, it is encouraged that veterans discuss their circumstances with a doctor or social worker including getting answers to a variety of important questions including:

    • How much assistance do I need for basic daily care activities like bathing, dressing, and eating?
    • What are my caregiver’s needs?
    • What type of Respite Care does my family caregiver prefer?
    • Would a mix of Respite Care options work better than relying on a single type of care?
    • What is the best way to use the allotted 30 days of VA Respite Care?
    • Am I eligible For VA Respite Care for free or with a co-pay? How much is the co-pay?

    Does The Caregiver Or The Veteran Receive Money From The VA For Respite Care Benefits?

    No. The VA official site indicates that families are not entitled to a cash payout. Instead, the family will be offered a caregiver directly or be provided with a voucher.

    How Is VA Respite Care Paid For?

    VA Respite Care is covered via a veteran’s basic Medical Benefits Package. Co-pays may be required “dependent on one’s service-connected disability status and financial resources”. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site listed a maximum co-payment for 2018 Respite Care services as:

    • $5 per day for in-home care.
    • $15 per day for outpatient care (including adult day care).
    • Up to $97 per day for inpatient care.

    These figures should be considered a benchmark only; the actual co-pays and cost of services may vary depending on circumstances and other variables from year to year.

    How Can Veterans And Caregivers Locate VA Respite Care Services?

    The VA official site has a services locator that can help caregivers and veterans locate the right kinds of respite care providers.

    Is There Any Further VA Help For Caregivers?

    The Department of Veterans Affairs has a special hotline to help those giving care to a veteran. The VA Caregiver Support Line is available at 1-855-260-3274.

    Calling this number can help care providers learn more about applicable VA services or connect callers with a Caregiver Support Coordinator at the nearest VA medical center.

    Written by Team