VA sets plan for implementing system for Family Caregiver Program

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The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has created a schedule for rolling out a new information technology system so the agency can begin to expand the VA’s Family Caregiver Program.

Currently, the program—which provides several benefits to caregivers of severely wounded veterans—is only available to eligible veterans seriously injured in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

While the VA plans to expand the Family Caregiver Program to eligible veterans “from all eras using a phased approach,” before the agency can do so, it must implement and certify a new IT system, as required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018.

The MISSION Act directed the agency to implement the IT system by Oct. 1, 2018, and required certification of the system from the VA Secretary by Oct. 1, 2019. However, the VA reported to congressional committees in October 2018 that meeting the deadline was not possible.

“To modernize its caregiver IT system, VA is adopting a three-phased approach and will deploy a new system based on a commercial off-the-shelf product called Caregiver Record Management Application (CARMA) beginning in October 2019,” the agency announced on Wednesday. “VA will deploy phase two in January 2020 to centralize and automate stipend payment calculations, and expects to deploy phase three in the summer of 2020, which will enable caregivers to apply for benefits online.”

According to the Government Accountability Office, CARMA is intended to replace the Family Caregiver Program's current IT system—the Caregiver Application Tracker (CAT)—which has limited reporting capabilities and cannot provide system-wide data.

However, a GAO audit released last week contends that “it is unclear what additional work may be necessary to accommodate the expansion of the Family Caregiver Program given that the department is only in the early stages of planning” for CARMA.

Still, as the VA points out, the MISSION Act requires the agency to conduct tests to verify that the new IT system has “full functionality” before expanding the Family Caregiver Program. “The expansion will occur in two phases, beginning in the summer of 2020 or once the Secretary has certified that the new IT system is fully implemented,” according to the VA’s announcement.

Nonetheless, GAO auditors expressed their concerns last week that the VA “has not yet established a target date for certifying CARMA” and that the “cost for CARMA is estimated to be between $5.7 million and $6.3 million, but additional costs for licensing and modifications to legacy systems are also expected.”

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