For decades the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs has provided a benefit for veterans or their surviving spouses that can be used to pay for home care, assisted living, and for a nursing home costs.
Most veterans did not know this benefit existed, and now the VA is changing the rules to make it much more difficult to obtain. The rule change goes into effect October 18, 2018. This leaves veterans who qualify or who may want to qualify a very short window to take action.
The benefit is called the Aid & Attendance/Improved Pension benefit. If you haven’t heard of this benefit, you’re not alone. This past Saturday at the Senior Expo in downtown Little Rock, hardly anyone our team talked to was aware of their eligibility for the program. It is truly an “underused” benefit.
This benefit can pay a Married Veteran $2,169 a month for the rest of his or her life. An unmarried Veteran can receive $1,830 per month, and the surviving spouse of a veteran can receive $1,176 per month. This money is deposited into the veteran’s account the same day as they receive their social security check. Both checks come from the U.S. Treasury, and the funds can be used to pay rent, a caregiver, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, or for any other purpose they choose.
The veteran must be at least 65 years of age and must have served in one of the branches of the US military or the US Coast Guard during certain defined wartime periods. A veteran can qualify even if they did not serve in a combat zone, and the defined periods of wartime are generally much longer than the period of actual combat. For example, World War Two was not over until December 31, 1946 for purposes of this program. For a surviving spouse to qualify, the spouse had to have been married to a veteran that met these requirements.
“The sad thing is, it’s been an entitlement since 1953, but the VA doesn’t advertise it. My grandmother could have received this $1,176 each month for many of the years she was in retirement” Cody Rogers—the Wilson + Miller PLLC Regional VA and Medicaid Coordinator said.
Cody’s grandmother became eligible for the benefit at age 65 and she passed away at 85. It was only after his grandmother died that Cody discovered she would have been entitled to as much as $282,240 over past 20 years.
Applying can be confusing and difficult. If you know the program’s name and search the Veterans Affairs Web site, you will find an endless list of forms and a statement that tells you that you are not eligible for Pension/Aid & Attendance unless you are “totally disabled.”
This is more than a little misleading.
“What people don’t realize is that when a Veteran turns 65, the VA automatically classifies him as ‘totally disabled,’” Cody said. “And if he meets the guidelines of having served on active duty during a war time period, then at a minimum he is eligible for the pension regardless of his current health.” Bill Hunt, 90, who lives in the Independent side of Good Shepherd Retirement facility, is one of the lucky ones who applied for Pension/A&A — and got it. He heard it about through his granddaughter who works here at Wilson + Miller PLLC which is a VA Accredited law firm. “They handled the paperwork, dealt with VA, and got me approved for $1,830 a month in only two months.”
The VA has arbitrary income and asset limits; however, they provide no education on how to qualify if the value of your assets is greater than their published limits. In most cases, you can still qualify, but the VA isn’t going to show you how. In helping our clients qualify for this benefit, it is very common to restructure asset ownership using a Veterans Asset Protection Trust (VAPT).
Until recently the VA did not have a look back period like the Arkansas Medicaid program does. Transfers could be made to a VAPT and an application for the Aid & Attendance benefit could be filed the following day. This is how the program has operated since 1953. However, the VA announced this past Tuesday that veterans (or their spouses) who have above average assets (assets with a value in excess of $80,000), will be subject to a 3 year look back on transfers made after October 18, 2018.
What That Means for You
If you are a married Veteran, Single Veteran, or Widow of a Veteran and want to receive: $2,169, $1830 or $1176 a month for the rest of your life, you must start now and complete the planning process before October 18, 2018 to avoid a 3 year wait. If you wait until after October 18th to reposition assets, you will be disqualified from receiving the benefit for up to 3 years.
We can facilitate the approval process. However, to avoid the 3-year delay, it’s vital to get your planning process finished before the October 18th deadline. Cody Rogers is the Regional VA Coordinator here at Wilson + Miller PLLC. Cody takes the lead here at the firm in helping our clients qualify for this program. For information or to set an appointment call us at 501-221-7776.