Veterans Day 2017 may have come and gone, but the need to provide better information to veterans concerning benefits available from the VA never seems to diminish. Recently we encountered this troubling article on the aging website NextAvenue – troubling in that it tells the tale of yet another senior benefit that too often goes begging because people in need don’t realize they’re entitled to receive it. In this case we’re talking about a program offered by the Veterans Administration called Aid and Attendance.
The NextAvenue article was written by popular author and television host Joan Lunden. In a very transparent way, she tells the story of her own mother who had lived independently for many years until worsening dementia made living on her own unmanageable. “When my mom’s dementia no longer made it possible for her to live alone,” Lunden writes, “I began searching for an assisted living community.” An adviser from a senior-living referral service discovered something surprising: unbeknownst to Joan Lunden, her mom was eligible to receive benefits through the VA that would help offset the costs of her care, a benefit no one in the family even knew she was entitled to.
“By the time I learned about the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pensions Benefit,” writes Lunden, “my mom had already spent years in assisted living. She and I had no idea that the federal government guarantees veterans and their spouses some long-term care assistance.” Her mom qualified because she had remarried a man who was a World War II vet. Lunden said that when she found out about this program, she got to work immediately. “I pulled together the necessary paperwork and sent in her application. But as life would have it, by the time my mom was accepted by the program, it was too late. She passed away just before her 95th birthday.”
What surprised us about the NextAvenue article is this statement: “In going through this process,” Joan Lunden reports, “I learned that, shockingly, only 5 percent of these assistance funds are even applied for, because people simply do not know about the program. And for that reason, [in honor of] Veterans Day, I want to spread the word to those Americans who could really use this well-earned long-term care benefit.”
Here at AgingOptions we have a deep understanding of benefits available to veterans, and we think Lunden’s observation is accurate: many vets are entitled to benefits they only find out about years too late. (For that reason we strongly encourage you to contact us with any benefit-related questions.) According to the NextAvenue article, in the case of the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit (often called simply “A&A benefit”), veterans who are qualified can receive up to $1,794 per month. The surviving spouse of a qualifying veteran can receive up to $1,153 monthly; a qualifying couple can receive as much as $2,127 per month. “The money, which is tax-free, can be used for in-home care, board and care, an assisted living community or a private-pay nursing home,” says Lunden. “This is helpful for many vets and their families because neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for assisted living care. It’s kind of like a private nursing home insurance policy you haven’t had to pay into.”
Of course, not every veteran qualifies. In order to receive benefits, a veteran or spouse must meet requirements including:
- Wartime service: “The veteran had to have served at least 90 days of active duty with at least one day during one of the specified wars. He or she must have had an honorary discharge.”
- Financial need: This means assets of under $80,000 (excluding a home and a car) plus maximum income limits.
- Medical needs: “The veteran or spouse must need assistance with eating, bathing or dressing.”
For a good overview of VA Aid & Attendance, including a questionnaire to help you determine if you or a loved one might qualify, you can visit this website called VeteranAid.org. Once you apply, says Joan Lunden, “it takes six to eight months, on average to get approved; some applicants wait more than a year. But once the application is approved, it’s applied retroactively to the date of application.”
One of the best ways to find out what benefits you may qualify for, including VA benefits, is to sit down with someone who really knows the lay of the land, and that describes our staff of experts at AgingOptions. Rajiv Nagaich advises that when people look at VA benefits, they also need to keep Medicaid in mind. “VA has very limited benefits,” says Rajiv. “Medicaid is the more robust of the two programs – and for most beneficiaries, it turns out that the planning that has to be done for VA benefits actually interferes with Medicaid benefits.” For that reason it’s essential that people get good advice. “The real question is not whether one can get VA or Medicaid,” Rajiv warns. “The real question, whichever benefits you pursue, is how you can give your loved one the very best quality of life possible without either your loved one or you running out of money.” With that priority in mind, caring for your loved one actually becomes a housing issue, as Rajiv puts it, and then a financial question. First, by making the right housing choice, it means your infirm loved one won’t have to make multiple moves; second, once you know all the costs involved with the appropriate housing, you can then decide between VA and Medicaid, either separately or jointly.
The bottom line is that you need solid counsel from a good elder law attorney. In our radio programs, in our seminars, and in our offices, we have counseled thousands about their benefits, and we can do the same for you. But we can do much more than that: we can also be your guide to help you build the type of secure and fruitful retirement you’ve always wanted, allowing you to protect your assets and your independence. The secret is a type of retirement plan called a LifePlan, one that weaves together all the “strands” of retirement into one unbreakable cord: financial preparedness, medical coverage, legal protection, housing options and family communication. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the key to peace of mind as you move into the next phase of your life journey.
Find out more by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. You’ll find a listing of all currently scheduled seminars right here on our Upcoming Events page where you can also register your planned attendance online. (For assistance by phone please call us during the week.) Bring all your benefit questions and others as well, and join us – it will be our pleasure to meet you.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)