Understanding Veterans' Benefits
Assistance Is Available to Those Who Qualify Financially
There are currently approximately 25 million veterans alive in the U.S., many of whom are not disabled. In addition, there are more than 9 million surviving spouses of veterans, many of whom will need long-term care or are currently receiving long-term-care benefi ts. The Veterans’ Administration has benefits available to assist veterans and their spouses with financial and other necessary services. Often these benefits allow a veteran or their spouse to remain at home rather than requiring assisted living or long-term care in a nursing-home environment.
This article will describe the various available options. It must be noted, however, that many services are available only to veterans who qualify financially and have honorable discharges.
A significant document that a veteran needs is the DD-214, or Separation from Service document. If it is missing, you are urged to apply to the Veterans’ Administration for a replacement copy so that, when the time comes that you need assistance with your care, you will have the required evidence of an honorable-discharge status.
One important benefit that you should be aware of is a service pension. The Veterans’ Administration (VA) provides a monthly cash payment to wartime veterans who meet active-duty and discharge requirements, who are either 65 years or older, or disabled. These veterans must also have a limited income or status requirement. Benefits are also available to a surviving spouse of the wartime veteran. At this time, the unmarried veteran may receive up to $985 per month while a married veteran may receive up to $1,291 per month, and a surviving spouse may receive up to $661 per month. There may be an additional payment available if the spouse is at home with dependent children. This is especially significant if there is a disabled child who is living at home and dependent on the parent for support, as this circumstance may increase the VA benefit further.
A slightly higher monthly payment may also be available to wartime veterans who are confined to their home for medical reasons. An unmarried veteran may receive up to $1,204 per month, and a married veteran may receive up to $1,510 per month. If there is a surviving spouse in the home, he or she may receive up to $808 per month, again, with additional benefits available in some cases if there are dependent children. One of the most popular and most-frequently used benefits is called the pension with aid and attendance (A&A). This benefits veterans or spouses who require assistance to perform activities of daily living (ADL), or those residing in an assisted-living facility or nursing home. A&A offers the highest monthly payment. Usually a care manager, social worker, or admissions director at a facility will suggest that a veteran apply for this benefit. An unmarried veteran may receive up to $1,644 per month, and if married, they may receive up to $1,949 per month, while a surviving spouse may receive up to $1,056 per month. There are also additional funds available for a dependent child. It is noteworthy that this type of benefit is available to veterans who served during wartime, but did not necessarily serve directly in the war overseas, and this veteran must also be either disabled or over the age of 65.
To receive A&A benefits you also must have served 90 days of active duty, with at least 1 day beginning or ending during any period of war. After Sept. 1, 1980, the active-duty requirement increased to 180 days, and you must have been discharged under circumstances other than dishonorable. You must also be unemployable and reasonably certain that you will be unemployable in the future. In addition, you must suffer from a disability that makes it impossible for you to stay gainfully employed.
There are also additional tests to ensure that a veteran or spouse will qualify for benefits. At the current time, a married veteran and spouse may have no more than $80,000 in countable assets (this excludes a home and vehicle). A single veteran or surviving spouse must have less than this amount. This is somewhat of a guideline, and it is anticipated in the future that there will be stricter guidelines for determining eligibility.
Also, currently, there is no transfer penalty for gifting or transferring of assets for the purchase of an annuity or establishment of an irrevocable trust. However, any transfers are still countable for Medicaid purposes if you or your spouse need long-term care benefits in the future. It is very important that legal counsel is considered in this type of situation to be sure that all issues regarding gift taxes, Medicaid issues, veterans benefits, and all other estate-planning considerations are reviewed before any transfers are made irrevocably.
The veteran or the veteran’s spouse must have ‘income for veteran’s purposes’ that is less than the benefit for which you are applying. This amount, known as IVAP, is calculated by taking your gross income from all sources, less countable medical expenses. Countable medical expenses are considered those that are out of pocket and recurring on a continuous basis, and are expected to be paid throughout your lifetime. In the event that your IVAP is greater than or equal to the annual benefit amount, then you will not qualify for VA benefits.
If you or your spouse qualify for a regular pension and are housebound, your maximum allowable increases, as does the annual benefit amount. The VA defines housebound as being substantially confined to the home or immediate premises due to a disability that will likely remain throughout your lifetime. A veteran with no benefits who is housebound is eligible for benefits of up to $14,457 annually. A surviving spouse with no dependents who is housebound must have an IVAP of less than $9,696.
If the veteran or spouse is able to establish through medical evidence that they require the aid and attendance of another person to perform the ADLs, a special monthly pension may be provided. The VA defines the need for aid and attendance as:
• Requiring the aid of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, dressing, or undressing;
• Being blind or nearly blind; or
• Being a patient in a nursing home. In the event that the applicant or recipient of VA benefits is institutionalized, then a substantial portion of those funds would probably have to be paid to the long-term care facility that is providing the benefits.
The application process for special monthly pension benefits from the VA may be somewhat tedious and slow. While the VA is attempting to process applications more quickly, the current delay is anywhere from six months to a year. When filing an application, be sure to submit all information on time and in a single package, maintaining copies of all documents in your own file in the event that they are misplaced by the VA.
Remember to include your discharge paper (DD-214) with medical evidence, proof of medical expenses, verifications from physicians, a death certificate of a deceased veteran, marriage certificate, and the properly completed application. Once the application has been approved, benefits may be retroactive to the month after the month the application was received.
Time is of the essence in filing an application, so benefits may begin as soon as possible. Again, it is important to consider consulting an appropriate legal advisor, usually an elder-law attorney, or possibly an attorney who has been certified through the Veterans’ Administration, as only those who are certified may file appeals on behalf of a client.
About the Author:
Attorney Hyman G. Darling is chairman of Bacon Wilson, P.C.’s Estate Planning and Elder Law departments. His areas of expertise include all areas of estate planning, probate, and elder law. Attorney Darling is accredited by the Department of Veterans Aff airs (VA) to prepare, present, and prosecute claims for veterans before the VA. He hosts a popular estate-planning blog at bwlaw.blogs.com. You may contact Attorney Darling at (413) 781-0560.