Most people think of veterans benefits as being only for servicemen and women who were wounded or disabled while serving in the armed forces. By and large, that is true. But we have learned that there are substantial benefits that may be available to wartime veterans who are now senior citizens and are facing the burden of long term care due to a host of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and many others. In fact, the Veterans Administration estimates that millions of wartime veterans and their spouses may be eligible for Special Monthly Pension benefits, and not even be aware of it!
Wartime veterans, or their surviving spouses, become eligible for the Special Monthly Pension benefit known as Aid and Attendance when they are over 65 years of age, are permanently disabled and unable to work, are homebound, or need the regular aid and attendance of another—whether at home, in assisted/supportive living, or in a nursing home. The program is based on actual financial need for assistance, so there are income and asset limitations.
The maximum benefit available can provide significant help in paying for long term care costs, either for the homebound and/or nursing home veteran/surviving spouse.
There are only three types of persons who are authorized to provide a veteran with assistance filing a claim for veterans benefits:
- An attorney licensed to practice law in your state
- A veterans service organization such as VFW, American Legion, Amvets, etc.
- A state or county official of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in your state
Unfortunately, there are few attorneys who have knowledge in this particular area of legal practice due to the fact that it is illegal to charge a veteran a legal fee for providing assistance in filing a claim for benefits.
Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) are often hard-pressed to have sufficient resources to assist multiple generations of veterans, so it is often difficult for a veteran or his/her surviving spouse to get help in filing a claim. Sadly, the Knight-Ridder Newspapers reported on December 30, 2005 that “a veteran who turns to the VA for information about veterans benefits might want to get a second opinion. According to the VA’s own data, people who call the agency’s regional offices for help and advice are more likely to receive completely wrong answers than completely right ones.”
The only other common source of information regarding this benefit generally comes from annuity salespeople who often offer to consult with veterans and their families for free. This “free” offer is based on the strategy of counseling the veteran to meet the asset and income limitations of the benefit by buying an annuity and giving away their assets to their children. The offer is that the annuity sales organization will assist the veteran in filing for the VA benefit claim. They also promise to provide any necessary estate planning work at no charge. In reality, the annuity salesperson is being compensated by the annuity company for selling a financial product to the veteran. An annuity may be an excellent financial decision or a poor one, depending on the facts and circumstances. All we are saying is this: You should seek independent advice before making a decision to purchase an annuity.
A Medicaid trap…
Another important factor that one must consider when thinking about trying to meet the VA asset limitation test is that giving away cash or other things of value can create terrible problems for senior citizens if or when they later need to apply for Medicaid to assist them with skilled nursing home care. Giving away assets can create a long penalty period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits. Any senior facing long-term care needs to seek capable legal advice from an attorney who is skilled in the areas of estate planning, financial planning options, Medicaid, Medicare, income tax, and gift tax, as well as having experience regarding VA rules.
The big question for many families will be, “What will it cost me to seek advice in this area?” Although an attorney who chooses to actually file a claim for veterans benefits must do that portion of his/her work for free, the attorney may charge the usual fees related to any estate planning, financial planning options, Medicaid, Medicare, income tax, or gift tax work, as well as the determination of the financial suitability of filing for a veterans benefit claim. No one should pay an attorney fee unless receiving a fair return on his/her investment.
We strongly recommend that you contact an elder law attorney such as those at Christopher B. Kroll & Associates to determine if you qualify. An elder law attorney can assist you and your family by explaining many difficult-to-understand things about long term care. Qualification for a VA benefit is only one of several concerns that must be considered. As you struggle to provide dignified long term care for a wartime veteran and/or surviving spouse, we can help you understand the options. We are your advocates, and we want to help you stretch your hard-earned dollars further. VA benefits are only one part of the puzzle. We will hold your hand and guide you every step of the way as we consider all of your family’s resources and needs.