What you didn't know about veterans' benefits.
If you are a veteran who served at least one day during wartime and were honorably discharged, you may qualify for additional benefits meant to help you pay for assistance at home or in an assisted living. The program is known as "Aid and Attendance." Let me start out by giving you a general idea about the program from a couple of different sources. Then I will give you specifics on qualifying for the benefits.
What is Aid and Attendance?
From - www.veteranaid.org:
"The Aid and Attendance (A&A) Pension provides benefits for veterans and surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person to assist in eating, bathing, dressing and undressing or taking care of the needs of nature. It also includes individuals who are blind or a patient in a nursing home because of mental or physical incapacity. Assisted care in an assisting living facility also qualifies.
The A&A Pension can provide up to $1,788 per month to a veteran, $1,149 per month to a surviving spouse, or $2,120 per month to a couple. A veteran filing with a sick spouse is eligible for up to $1,406 per month. Many families overlook the A&A Pension as it pertains to veterans who are still independent, but have an ill spouse. Keep in mind that in this situation, if the spouse's medical expenses completely depletes their combined monthly income, the Veteran can file as a Veteran with a sick spouse."
The amount of the benefit is subject to change. The benefit increases related to cost of living expenses. So it may be more by the time you are reading this. It is important to note that a surviving spouse of the veteran can also qualify for these benefits even though the vet is no longer living. The key is that if the spouse remarries they will be disqualified, unless their new spouse was also a wartime vet who was honorably discharged.
What wartimes qualify?
Mexican Border Period (May 9, 1916 – April 5, 1917 for Veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders, or adjacent waters)
World War I (April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918)
World War II (December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946)
Korean conflict (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955)
Vietnam era (February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975)
Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – through a future date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation)
What you didn't know...
When people first find out about these benefits, they are usually very excited. It is a great program as it can drastically change the circumstances for vets needing care. It can even keep them out of the nursing home by making home care and assisted living more affordable. Many people, however, are discouraged from submitting an application due to the arcane way the income and asset requirements are laid out. The applications can also take a very long time to get approved. So let's go over some of these issues that may discourage you from submitting an application.
The income restrictions are deceptive. They state that, and this is key, the "countable income" has to be less than the amount of the benefit they are eligible to receive. This is going to be roughly $1790 for the veteran themselves and $1150 for surviving spouses. "Gee," most people think, "my social security income alone pretty much disqualifies me from this benefit." This is not the case! Social security income is not "countable income." On top of this, countable income can be reduced by any type of healthcare expenses. Deduct the cost of caregivers, assisted living, health insurance premiums, and any other healthcare related costs at this point. So you can see that the individual's actual income can be much higher than their "countable income." Before you let income restrictions divert you from applying, make sure to deduct social security benefits and healthcare costs from the monthly income. Also if you are needing additional care, consider increasing your healthcare expenses. Consider hiring the caregivers you need to maintain living at home, move in to an assisted living, get the best possible health insurance you can afford, ect... These will all work to lower your "countable income" and ensure you are getting great care.
There are also restrictions on the amount of assets that you can have in order to qualify for these benefits. The general rule of thumb is that you want to have less than $80k in assets. Don't let this daunt you right out the gate either. Certain assets may not count. If one of the spouses continues to live in the home, the house will not count against you. The family vehicle will not count either. Any assets that are difficult to liquidate are generally dismissed as well. On top of having some assets that won't figure in to your $80k limit, you also have the ability to give away assets to other people like family members in order to meet your qualifications. You could give assets away directly or you could explore options like trusts which take the assets out of your control but still allow you to set the rules on how they are used or disposed of. For more information on this consult a lawyer. There are lawyers that specialize in this sort of thing. The important thing about Aid and Attendance benefits is that there is no look-back period. When applying to Medicaid, for instance, the government can look back up to seven years for large asset transfers and force you to reverse those transactions, liquidate, and spend-down those dollars before you get approval. Under Aid and Attendance rules, you can transfer assets in a manner which will benefit your family and they won't try and police these transactions.
The Application Process
Applying for veteran's Aid and Attendance benefits is a process. The first challenge is finding the forms. I have included a link to a website with all of the possible forms you may need. These are also available at the local VA office. At the very least this site has the names of all the forms so you know what to search for.
No matter how you file your application, you will need to do the following footwork:
Obtain a copy of the veteran's DD214 (military service discharge paperwork)
Find and complete the general application (different ones for veteran vs. spouse)
A form to be filled out by the doctor
A form to be filled out by the care facility (if they are getting care from a facility)
Once you have completed the forms in the list above you should be nearly ready to file your application. But hold on. If you submit the application to the local VA office yourself, You will be waiting a long time for approval. The average wait time for a response is 6-12 months. That means you could wait that entire time just to find out that your application was not approved for a myriad of reasons. I always suggest that once you have the forms completed, seek out a person who is a professional at submitting these applications. They will be able to look your application over for any errors or reasons that you may be rejected. You will have to pay a fee to this person, most likely. But, it is better to fill out the application one time and get it approved rather than getting rejected and having to fill out the same forms again and again (which equates to a long wait.) The benefits should be backdated to the original application date once you are approved. So get it in as quickly as possible to obtain the perfect senior living experience for you.
Another reason to use a professional to file your application is that you will get approved much faster. It can take as little as three months. I don't know why these professionals can get an approval faster. Perhaps they have a better working relationship with the VA, in that, they are good at pre-qualifying you or telling you if the application is basically not worth your time. So the VA knows that only quality applications are being submitted by this individual or company.
These people are hard to find. They are called VA Accredited Claims Agents. The only one that I have ever been able to refer people to is located in Arizona. Her name is Sandy Messer. She works with a company called Long Term Assurance.
If you are a veteran who might qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits to enhance your assisted living needs, then I hope that this article has been a helpful guide. These extra resources can really open up your options when it comes to long term senior care. At the Oasis we are always trying to help the community in any way that we can. If you have additional questions about VA benefits feel free to give us a call. 719-547-3109