You might have heard of Veterans Aid & Attendance–it is a benefit given to veterans and spouses of veterans that ultimately helps pay for long-term care services. My mother qualified and we were so thankful to have this money coming in when she needed it the most. The VA’s goal with this program is to help veterans in financial need, especially those facing a long-term care crisis. There is a lot of confusion surrounding this benefit, so we are going to clear some of that up.
What exactly is Veterans Aid & Attendance?
Veterans Aid & Attendance is a part of the VA’s Improved Pension. Like Social Security, this benefit is paid directly to the claimant and can be put right into your bank account. For all of the benefits listed, the Veteran must be disabled or over age 65, as the VA classifies anyone over this age to be disabled regardless of their physical state. The Improved Pension consists of three levels:
This is not based on medical need but on countable income. It is basically an additional income for older or disabled Veterans who need a little extra money to live on. No physician’s statement is required for the application. To be eligible, a veteran and/or their spouse must have a countable income less than a designated amount (that amount changes, but can be found here).
This benefit is for veterans and/or their spouse who have a medical condition requiring them to remain housebound. Housebound requires that the claimant is confined to his or her home due to disabilities that are reasonably certain to be permanent, meaning it cannot be due to an illness, like the flu or a cold, that can be treated and cured easily.
This benefit can be used for care provided by a family member or an agency. Many times, people’s family will take time off from their jobs to care for a housebound relative, so this benefit can be used to compensate them. This application does require a physician’s statement which must demonstrate medical need. There is also a countable income limit that the claimant has to fall under (can be found here). This benefit does take into account the claimant’s out-of-pocket medical expenses when calculating countable income. These costs are subtracted from a claimant’s income.
3. Aid & Attendance
This is the benefit with the highest coverage of the three and is the one most veterans take advantage of. This provides a benefit for veterans and/or spouse who need assistance with the Activities of Daily Living. These are bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, transferring, eating, and continence.
The claimant will also meet this benefit’s requirements if they are already in a nursing home or assisted living facility. The claimant does have to fall below a certain countable income limit (here), but, like the housebound benefit, this benefit allows the claimant to subtract their out-of-pocket medical expenses from their countable income.
Do I qualify for the benefit?
Besides the income limits and the medical issues named above, there are a few more qualifications for the Veteran’s Aid & Assistance benefit.
- You must have served at least 90 days of active military service with at least 1 of these 90 days being during wartime. Times of war are listed below. There are a few extensions of these times listed depending on where the Veteran served :
- You must not have a dishonorable discharge.
- The veteran’s combined assets must be valued at less than $80,000; this is what they call net worth. This $80,000 is not a hard figure though; it is just an estimate as the VA does not actually give an amount. Your home, the land it sits on, personal property, and cars are exempted from the asset test. The VA is really trying to determine if you can live for the rest of your life off the money and assets you have now.
Current spouses must meet the same medical and income requirements. Surviving spouses must meet additional requirements, including:
- They had to been married to the veteran when they died
- Must be single at time of application
There are some exceptions to this rule if the spouse divorced the veteran due to domestic violence. Some of these benefits can also be claimed for a dependent child.
One important point to remember here is that a lot of these rules for applying are not clearly stated anywhere, meaning you really need to talk to a qualified attorney to find out what the best path forward is for you and your family.
How do I apply for Veterans Pension?
The first thing you should do is find an attorney accredited by the VA, which can be done by going here. It is important to know that attorneys cannot charge you to help you fill out the forms for the improved pension, but they can charge if other things need to be done to get your estate in order.
After submitting an application, it can take up to a year to hear back if you’ve received the benefit. If you are approved for benefits, the benefits are paid retroactively from the first of the month starting after the month you applied. For example, say you applied November, 15th and got approved in April, you would receive payments for December 1st and on. There are many forms to fill out and a good amount of documents to get in order; you will not want to try and do this by yourself!
Cardinal Advisors can help you sort out the confusion around these benefits or help you find a qualified advisor in your area to help you.
Hans Scheil is the author of “The Complete Cardinal Guide to Planning for and Living in Retirement” and the accompanying workbook. He can be reached at Hans@CardinalGuide.com.