Critter Corner: Do Veterans Benefits Cover Hospice and Palliative Care?

Dear Oakley,

My uncle, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, has a chronic illness. His family is considering hospice or palliative care. I am wondering if either of these are covered by the VA. Thanks for your help!

Pali Attive

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Dear Pali,

Many veterans are unaware of the hospice and palliative care benefits offered through the VA. In fact, according to a recent study, hospice utilization among veterans has been lower than that of the general population. According to research, 21.6% of all Medicare decedents enrolled in hospice, compared with only 5% of veterans. The VA has been working behind the scenes to close this gap.

VA Offers Benefits for Hospice and Palliative Care

What many veterans don’t know is that unlike the Medicare hospice benefit, the VA does not require patients to end curative treatment in order to enroll in comfort care. VA health benefits will cover hospice and palliative care, which are essentially the same. The only difference is timing, which the VA explains as follows:

  • Hospice care is comprehensive care for those in the final months of life. It is a team-centered approach to expert medical care, pain management, emotional, and spiritual support, expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.
  • Palliative care is about improving the quality of life for patients and their families, and it’s available immediately after diagnosis of a serious condition while treatment is ongoing.

VA Comfort Care Benefits Outlined

VA Hospice Care

Hospice is part of the VA’s standard medical benefits package. That means if you meet the clinical need for the service, you are eligible.

The VA criteria for hospice care states that veterans must:

  • Be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness;
  • Have treatment goals focused on comfort rather than cure;
  • Have a life expectancy, deemed by a VA physician, to be 6 months or less if the disease runs its normal course.

Care is available at your home, nursing home, assisted living or wherever you call home There are no copays for hospice care, regardless of whether it’s provided by the VA or an organization with a VA contract. VA benefits cover:

  • Medical equipment, medication and personal care supplies;
  • Pain and symptom management centered on your goals;
  • Care coordinated with your doctors;
  • Physical, occupational and other therapy services;
  • Spiritual care and support;
  • Ongoing grief counseling for patients and family.

VA Palliative Care

Since Palliative care is part of the VHA standard medical benefits package, all enrolled Veterans are eligible IF they meet the clinical need for the service. If you need palliative care, you may have a copay.

Covered services under palliative care typically include:

  • Comfort care consultations;
  • Follow-up visits from a health care team;
  • Support with decision making;
  • Help defining goals of care and promoting care that will help you meet those goals;
  • Consults with primary care physicians and / or specialists;
  • Referrals and care coordination.

Although all VA medical centers have interdisciplinary palliative care teams for consultative services and close to 100 have dedicated inpatient hospice units, 94% of veterans in hospice care receive services outside the VA health system. To expand use of VA comfort care services, more than ¾ of hospice providers currently participate in We Honor Veterans, a VA program to promote hospice use among veterans, developed in collaboration with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. The program also provides resources to help hospice providers train volunteers and clinicians to address needs specific to veterans.

What if You Live Far Away from a Provider?

On June 6, 2019, military veterans gained access to more community health care options thanks to the VA MISSION Act. Veterans who must drive 30 minutes or more to a VA care provider or 60 minutes for specialty care now have the option to choose a community provider closer to home.

Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Geriatrics and Long-term Care page for hospice and palliative care application forms.

Hope this is helpful and that your uncle gets the comfort care he needs!

Oakley

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