The other day I read a front page story written by Tacoma News Tribune military writer Adam Ashton. The article is superb in what it conveys but lacks the linkage the two Veterans’ wives were so desperately looking for. Both of them had lost their tax-free $1275.00 a month Special Monthly Compensation at the (t) rate or what is also called the post 9/11/2001 caregiver rate. They were tearing out their hair looking for the link staring them right in their faces.
The (t) award is twofold. It also allows entry into special help from VA Medical Centers. I suppose that has a dollar value but how much is immaterial to this discussion. What is of import is the frank admission by both of the women that their husbands now had jobs.
A caregiver is one who provides nurture, daily household chores, shopping and the like for someone with horrific agoriphobia or avoidance issues. These Vets are only comfortable in their own home environment and rightfully so. It’s like a gigantic woobie blanket on acreage. If your neighbors aren’t close , you feel more protected in Fort Livingroom. The key word here is “at home”.
But, on the other hand, if the spousal unit, be it a he or a she, who is the caregivee-i.e. recipient of the caregiver’s services- departs Fort Livingroom and takes a job as a medical technician or library clerk, then the doctors of psychiatry may get the misguided impression that these Veterans are slowly beginning to meld and reintegrate with society again. It may be due to all those mind-bending medications or it may be all those Kumbaya group therapy hug sessions paid off. That, too, is immaterial. At the VA, they are results-driven. Whatever works to improve the Christmas bonus payment is the order of the day.
Now we have two financially disenfranchised caregivers who are at a loss to decypher this conundrum. Mr. Ashton did them a disservice by not pointing out the obvious. I note this phrase which I was not aware of regarding SMC (t):
From the beginning, the money was not intended to be a permanent benefit and the program’s creation stipulated that the VA occasionally would reassess patients.
Naturally, VA always is busy reassessing our disabilities. We are also allowed to be covered by 38 CFR §3.344 and its five year codicil. Being a sporting man, I’d give fair odds that the VA schedules a re-evaluation of the medical necessity for a caregiver just about every 4 years and a few months in order to avoid conferring permanence on a SMC (t) rating.
SMC (t) GROWING LIKE OCTOMOM
I note Mr. Ashton cites statistics showing this program is growing like Octomom. That disturbs me. Certainly, I have no objection to the whole concept of caregivers, regardless of the age-discrimination clause that fences out any Veteran before 2001. Where I feel the misery begins is that the VA never communicates this lack of permanence to the recipients. Often, we grow dependent on the extra payments and this causes great hardship on Veterans when a third of a monthly payment suddenly evaporates. I base this on the $1,275.00 added on to a normal 100% at $3.017.00 a month. A Vet with two kids to feed could end up on food stamps with this severe a cutback-or worse. If they are given no warning in advance, they cannot plan for the future.
Whether the qualifying Veteran returning to the workforce increases the income above the lost compensation payment was not discussed. Naturally, if employment negated the loss or even increased household income above the stipend, the lost income from the VA would become a moot point. Nowhere was this discussed. Sadly, this article seems to revolve around two Veterans’ spouses who now face the prospect of going back to work themselves as opposed to taking care of their husbands at home. I don’t envy them a bit.
This story seems to strike an odd chord with Vets I talk to. Why provide a stipend for this if the compensation is temporary at best? Why not grant it on a fixed time grant and ask for recertification annually? Biyearly? In other words, why clothesline a Vet after three or four years of SMC (t) right out of the blue- assuming he didn’t know that all the exhortations from the VA Psychiatric Peanut gallery shouting “Yes you can!” should include”until you get a job.”
SMC(t) = TDIU on Steroids
This is just like TDIU on steroids. You get 100% PLUS this valuable gift inside with the candy called SMC (t). You can go live in the country and cut down all your trees. You can be fit as a fiddle physically and just be uncomfortable around folks. I get that. I’ve been there and still am uncomfortable being in a large crowd. I cut down all my trees, too. Doesn’t everyone? I’m not some treehugger. Hell, trees are big money around here in my Bugtussle town.
The problem arises just as it does on TDIU. If you exhibit the ability suddenly to make money working, then there has to be some VA quid pro quo. It’s like being on Social Security. If you start making money, you are no longer retired. If you make too much, they come and take some of what they pay you away. Why on earth this needs to be explained is unimportant. The financial shock wave that occurs is often traumatic.
But wait, here comes that valuable teaching moment…Now you know how to keep your SMC (t). Raise chickens and sell organic eggs. Get goats and sell goat’s milk. Buy a steer every spring and tie a rubber band you-know-where. In eight months you have prime rib for sale and to eat. Cool beans, huh?