It's the Fourth of July - Salute our Veterans with Quality Care!

When families come to see our elder law firm regarding the long-term care needs of a loved one, we always identify two goals. The first and most important goal is good quality care. The second is to obtain that care in a manner that does not completely impoverish the older person and his or her spouse. In developing a plan to pay for good care, we have to identify all sources of funds to help pay for that care. The most overlooked source of help with long-term care costs is a Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit that pays monthly income to veterans and their spouses, and to the surviving spouses of deceased veterans. This benefit is commonly known as "Aid and Attendance Benefits."

In 2016, an unmarried veteran can receive a cash payment of as much as $1,788 per month. A widow or widower of a deceased veteran can receive up to $1,149 per month. Married veterans can receive up to $2,120 per month. While this is not enough to pay for 24 hour care, it can be of great help for the senior who is still living at home or in communitybased care, and needs to bring in some extra help to remain independent.

Like Medicaid, the VA Aid and Attendance benefit is a meanstested program. First, the applicant must have limited income, however, high medical and care costs can be used to offset the applicant's income. Second, the VA considers the net worth of the applicant and the applicant's spouse (if married). The standard is whether the applicant has "sufficient means" to pay for care privately for the duration of his or her lifetime. Accordingly, the VA evaluates the applicant's care costs and anticipated life expectancy, as well as his or her net income and available resources. If the VA determines that the applicant does not have sufficient resources to pay for the estimated cost of care for the duration of his or her lifetime, then the applicant will likely qualify for assistance as long as the other eligibility criteria are satisfied.

The Aid and Attendance benefit is limited to wartime veterans and their spouses. The veteran does not have to have a service connected injury or have served in combat; military service during wartime for even one day is sufficient. The veteran or his or her spouse must also need assistance with activities of daily living.

Even if using the Department's formula, the veteran is found to have "sufficient means" to pay for care based on current care costs, it may be possible to plan to obtain Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits in order to ensure that the applicant's resources are not exhausted by care costs during his or her lifetime. Unlike Medicaid, there is currently no fiveyear "penalty period" if the applicant has transferred assets out of his or her name. The VA has proposed new rules to impose restrictions on asset transfers similar to those imposed by Medicaid, but these rules have not been adopted. As a result, the eligibility rules regarding planning are not as restrictive as the Medicaid eligibility rules. By doing planning to obtain veterans benefits, it is sometimes possible to pay for care while staying out of the Medicaid system. Still, veterans benefits planning should always be done by an experienced elder law attorney who understands the Medicaid rules, just in case the veteran may someday need to qualify for Medicaid assistance.

Do you know a military veteran who served our country during wartime, and who could use some extra money to pay for care costs? If so, please give him or her a copy of this article. Planning for veterans benefits is an excellent way to provide extra income to help the veteran and his or her spouse receive the care they need, while staying independent as long as possible.

DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article should be used for general purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult with your own attorney if you have specific legal questions.

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