Veterans who are 65 years old and older, including their spouses, may be eligible for financial benefits through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) for retirement years. Patty Servaes, President and VA accredited agent of Servaes Consulting Group, LLC, wrote the following article to help you assist your veteran residents with their VA benefits.
Did you know that qualifying for the VA Aid & Attendance Benefit is not a simple “Yes” or “No” answer and that there is no qualifying asset amount established by the VA? This benefit is actually an “If” and “When” award and each applicant has a unique qualifying asset amount.
What Most People Know About the VA Benefit
The VA’s Basic Pension with Aid & Attendance is a monthly pension available to veterans (and unremarried surviving spouses) who meet all of the following requirements:
- Served at least one day of active duty during a period of war.
- Served at least 90 days in total on active duty for our WWII, Korea or Vietnam War veterans.
- Were other than dishonorably discharged.
- Now need the assistance of another person.
- Meet certain financial requirements.
The full award amounts for 2014 are:
- $1,130 for surviving spouses
- $1,360 for a well veteran with an ill spouse
- $1,785 for a veteran
- $2,085 for a married veteran where the veteran needs care
What Most People Don’t Know
As stated earlier, this is not a “Yes” or “No” award. The VA Benefit is an “If” and “When” award.
If a veteran or the unremarried spouse of a veteran meets criteria 1, 2 and 3 above, then it becomes a matter of If and When they meet criteria 4 and 5.
Unfortunately, when told they do not qualify, the focus is on the No. This results in families, the community and the veteran thinking that option is closed to them – far from it!
By focusing on the If and When, your veteran residents can receive these funds or increase their award as soon as they are eligible.
Many veterans and surviving spouses are told they have too much in assets but are NOT told when their assets will be in compliance. In one instance, a family member called Elder Resource Benefits Consulting (ERBC) and stated, “I know my father doesn’t qualify, we were told in November he had too much in assets, but every time I visit him, Carolyn (the Community Relations Director) asks if I’ve called you guys.” While the veteran’s assets may have been too high in November, by the time the family called us in May, they had already missed out on three months’ worth of the benefit.
Families should be informed, based on the current income and medical expenses, and when they will meet the asset criteria.
For those who don’t meet the assistance criteria, they need to understand if they need this or that assistance, and a call to get the VA benefit should be done right away.
As we say at ERBC, “If you are too healthy or too wealthy for this benefit, do not be sad, who wants to be sicker or poorer?” But make sure you understand that this pension is part of your veteran resident’s retirement toolbox, and by understanding the If and When of qualifying, they won’t miss out on a month when they are eligible.
How You Can Help Your Residents
When a veteran or surviving spouse has been told no, follow up with the family:
- Is it because they have too much in assets? If yes, they should have been told when (given their current medical expenses) their assets will no longer be a barrier. Often, if they are working with a company interested in moving assets, they may not have been told that simply by waiting a few months their assets will be reduced enough for them to receive the benefit.
- Is it because they are independent with activities of daily living? If yes, let them know, and make a note in their file, that if and when they need care services, they need to file for the VA benefit.
- Is it because their income minus their assisted living costs resulted in a positive number? If yes, perhaps they were working with someone who doesn’t understand partial Housebound or Basic Pensions.
When a veteran or surviving spouse is receiving less than the full amount, ask if they received information on claiming all out-of-pocket medical expenses from the VA at year end. A resident receiving $250 per month who can recoup an additional $2,000 to $10,000 a year or more needs to know how to do it! Thousands of dollars a year are lost to residents who don’t understand they can have the VA reimburse them for out-of-pocket medical expenses such as eyeglasses, prescriptions and incontinence supplies if they are receiving less than the full pension award.
When a community begins working with ERBC, they are encouraged to ask all residents receiving less than the maximum benefit, or who have been denied the benefit in the past, to please schedule a call with an ERBC Consultant right away. In most cases, we find one to three residents that were told they did not qualify for benefits or who were receiving less in benefits than they could be receiving.
It is important for all care providers (IL, AL, SNF and Homecare) to be aware that some of their residents need a VA benefits checkup.
About the Author
Patty Servaes is President of Servaes Consulting Group, LLC and is a VA accredited agent. Patty has lobbied Congress on Veteran’s issues and is a recognized expert in appealing claims in the VA system. She founded Elder Resource Benefits Consulting and was a CPA at Price Waterhouse, the Boston Globe and the New York Times in her earlier career.