Financial assistance for your war veteran father or mother

Today's longer life expectancy and skyrocketing medical and long-term care costs are creating a financial burden for seniors that they never expected nor planned for.  Many times the children end up bearing the brunt of a portion of the cost for assisted living. Fortunately for war veterans, there may be some financial assistance available.

There is a valuable yet little known Veterans Administration pension benefit called VA Aid and Attendance.  For those already receiving a VA pension, this benefit provides additional income to help pay for in-home care, assisted living facilities or nursing care.  However, there are some traps that families should be aware of when seeking this benefit.

Benefits and eligibility

As of 12/1/2008, the A&A Pension can provide up to $1,632 per month to a veteran, $1,055 per month to a surviving spouse or $1,949 per month to a couple - a sizeable amount to offset the costs of assisted living. 

To qualify, the veteran must already qualify for VA Pension benefits, which include the following:

  • Must have served at least 90 days military duty, with a minimum of one day during a period of war.
  • Must be over age 65 or, if under 65, be totally and permanently disabled.

In addition to qualifying for a VA Pension, a veteran must meet additional requirements to qualify for the A&A program:

  • The veteran or their spouse must require the assistance of another person to perform some daily tasks such as eating, bathing or dressing, etc.
  • The veteran must have less than $80,00 in assets.
  • The veteran is bedridden, in a nursing facility due to mental or physical incapacity, or is blind or near blind.

Beware of the traps

When applying for VA A&A, there are several traps to avoid:

1. Don't try to complete the application yourself. 

The application is confusing and there is currently approximately six months of processing time.  A small error on the application can waste six months of benefit while trying to clear up the mistake.  Fortunately, a Veterans Service Officer from an approved Veterans Service Organization can help you manage the application process.  Certain attorneys may also be approved to provide assistance.

In many cases delays in receiving the benefit means delaying dad and mom's ability to move into an assisted living facility.  In many cases, by the time you are considering assisted living for your parents, they already need the extra help, and delaying their assistance may create hardship or even safety issues.

2. Be wary of some organizations that claim to want to help educate veterans about this benefit.

Financial abuse of seniors is a serious problem.  I have come across several organizations that appear to conduct seminars to educate families about this program and to help them determine their eligibility.  One of them will then refer families to a sales person who will sell them an expensive annuity or other investment.  If you require financial planning, seek the advice of a fee-only financial planner referred by someone you know and trust.

3. Avoid paying anyone to complete the application.

It's illegal to charge a fee to complete the application, despite the complexity of the process.  If anyone offers to help you apply for a VA Pension or VA Aid & Attendance for a fee, that's an immediate sign to turn and run.  As mentioned above, use the free services of a Veterans Service Officer to complete the application.

The financial conundrum

A major financial challenge in using this benefit is that if your parents' assets are too large, they may not qualify for the benefit, but if their assets are too small, they won't be able to afford assisted living.  The purpose of this benefit is not to provide a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of taxpayers, or to ensure the parents leave enough inheritance, but to supplement their assets to help them live a healthy lifestyle and to get the health care they need.

Through the use of a trust your parents may be able to qualify for VA Aid & Attendance, while using their assets to pay for assisted living.  This requires careful financial planning and the drafting of a trust by a Elder Law attorney with specialized training in this area. 

If you have any questions about qualifying for VA Aid & Attendance give us a call.