When it comes to national pride, holiday season is upon us. With Memorial Day in May and Independence Day in July, lakes will soon be filled with boats, grills will be fired up, and yards will be turned into baseball and football fields for family fun. While we’re all celebrating these patriotic national holidays, let’s take some time to remember the Veterans these holidays were created to celebrate.
Working in the field of Elder Law, I am astounded at the number of Veterans I meet who are not aware of a key benefit available to many older Veterans through the Veterans Administration. The benefit I most commonly work with is called the Aid and Attendance benefit – A&A for short – and it seems that no one is aware of what this benefit offers or that it even exists. In fact, not long ago, Brian Williams aired a news report calling the Aid and Attendance benefit the “best kept secret” at the VA.
The Aid and Attendance benefit will pay Veterans and widows of Veterans a tax-free benefit ranging from around $1,100 per month for widows to over $2,000 per month for married Veterans. This additional income is paid directly to the applicant by direct deposit, just like Social Security, and it is intended to help pay for the costs of long-term care. Not every Veteran qualifies for this benefit, but many older Veterans do meet the requirements for qualification or can meet them with a little planning.
There are three general criteria the VA considers when determining whether a Veteran or Veteran’s widow qualifies for the Aid and Attendance Benefit. First, the VA looks at the applicant’s Veteran status. Second, the VA looks at the applicant’s health status. Third, the VA considers the applicant’s financial status.
Only Veterans who served at least one day of active duty during a period of war, with total active duty service totaling at least 90 days, qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit. But there is no requirement that the Veteran have served overseas or in combat or that the Veteran be injured in the line of duty, which is a requirement for other types of VA benefits. Generally, for a widow to qualify, she must prove the Veteran under whom she is claiming benefits meets these service requirements, that she was married to the Veteran at the time of his death, and that she hasn’t remarried after the Veteran’s death.
As the name implies, to qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit, an applicant must prove that he or she needs some sort of assistance as a result of a medical condition. An applicant might meet this test by showing certain physical issues he or she deals with. For example, an applicant might show a need for assistance because he or she uses a walker or a wheel chair. Or an applicant might meet this test by showing certain mental infirmities he or she deals with, such as dementia. Additionally, evidence that an applicant is legally blind will be sufficient to meet this test.
The Aid and Attendance benefit has certain financial restrictions. The VA uses both an income test and an asset test to determine who qualifies for the benefit. The income test can be confusing because when stated without additional explanation, it sounds like no one would meet the income test. Many people who look into the Aid and Attendance benefit on their own are told that they cannot qualify for the benefit if they have any income. This explanation is not incorrect, but it warrants some clarification. In this context, income for VA purposes is different from income for all other purposes. Under the VA income test, an applicant is allowed to deduct from his or her gross income all of his or her qualified recurring medical expenses. Among other things, nursing home costs, assisted living costs, and the costs of caregivers in the home count as qualified recurring medical expenses. For example, an applicant with $3,000 of gross income who is paying assisted living fees of $3,200 per month has an income of negative $200 for VA purposes. Those paying typical long-term care costs in any of these three settings can tell you that it is easy to show zero income under this formula.
The asset test is relatively straight forward. Although these numbers aren’t written in stone, it is generally agreed that a married couple filing for benefits will be denied if their countable assets exceed $80,000, and a single applicant will be denied if his or her countable assets exceed $40,000. Not all assets are countable. For example, an applicant’s home and vehicle will not count against this limit. But almost everything else will. If you believe you may exceed this asset limit, or if you fall under the limit but own a home, it would be worth your time to speak with an Elder Law attorney to talk about planning options that might be available to help you meet the asset test and qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit.