Family caregiver use and value of support services in the VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
Context: The US Congress in 2010 established the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) healthcare system, expanding services for family caregivers of eligible veterans with injuries sustained or aggravated in the line of duty on or after 11 September 2001. The program includes a Caregiver Support Coordinator, stipends for caregivers, education/training, and additional services. Objective: The primary goal of this study was to examine the types of services that family caregivers of veterans use and value, how services are used and any limitations family caregivers’ experienced. Given that few interventions assess caregiver satisfaction with services, there is a gap in the existing literature addressing these outcomes. Methods: We assessed how caregivers use and value services with a national, web-based survey (N=1,407 caregivers) and semi-structured phone interviews (N=50 caregivers). Findings: Caregivers rated all services as helpful and especially valued financial support to be with the veteran, training in skills for symptom management, and assistance with navigating the healthcare system. A majority reported more confidence in caregiving, knowing about resources for caregiving and feeling better prepared to support the veteran’s progress and healthcare engagement. However, only a minority reported awareness of the full range of PCAFC services. Limitations: There was a low response rate to the survey, which may have implications for generalisability to the whole population of caregivers accessing PCAFC. Additionally, we rely on self-report rather than objective measures of service use and outcomes. Implications: This is the first in-depth examination of experiences of caregivers of using the innovative PCAFC model of support. It acknowledges the important role of caregivers in health and long-term (social) care delivery and can be used to inform development of strategies outside the VA health-care system to recognise caregivers. Findings suggest that a system-wide program to effectively include caregivers as part of the care team should include mechanisms to help connect caregivers with an array of resources, options from which to find those which best fit their personal needs and preferences.