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What You Need To Know About Veterans Benefits

I have always found it appropriate that we celebrate Veterans Day in November—a time of year set aside for giving thanks for the many blessings we have received, not the least of which being the freedom we in America enjoy because of the sacrifice of our nation’s veterans. As this patriotic holiday is currently celebrated, it is a day set aside to recognize the veterans of all U.S. wars, but that has not always been the case.

Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, and it falls on November 11 because the major hostilities of World War I formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The holiday originally honored the veterans of World War I, but it was officially renamed Veterans Day in 1954 and expanded to honor all of our nation’s wartime veterans.

Our government offers a number of well-deserved benefits to our veterans, their spouses, and their widows. Unfortunately, one of those benefits is grossly underutilized because of confusion and a lack of information. That benefit is commonly referred to as Aid and Attendance.

The Aid and Attendance benefit available through the VA might be described as a type of long-term care benefit available to veterans and their widows. It pays a nontaxable pension to those who qualify to help cover the costs of long-term care, including the costs of caregivers in the home, assisted living facility fees, and nursing home costs. Many who might qualify for the benefit never receive it because either they don’t know about the benefit or, if they do know about it, they incorrectly think they do not meet the eligibility criteria because of misinformation. The benefit pays in excess of $2,100 per month to married veterans, $1,700 per month to single veterans, and $1,100 per month to widows of veterans, so it’s definitely worth researching when long-term care needs arise.

The eligibility criteria can be broken down into three parts: 1) veteran status, 2) health status, and 3) financial status.

Under part one, only veterans who served on active duty during a congressionally defined period of war (and their widows) need apply. This restriction causes significant confusion because many would be applicants think they must have been injured in the line of duty to qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit, or they assume they must have served in combat. Neither is true for this particular benefit. This restriction only requires that the veteran have been on active duty status anywhere in the world while a war was ongoing.

Under part two, those claiming the benefit must present a physician’s affidavit verifying that they do, in fact, need long-term care services. It is not necessary to sit for a VA physical or obtain an official disability rating from the VA, and the need for long-term care services need not be the result of any service-connected injury or illness.

Under part three, those claiming the benefit must meet an income test and an asset test. First, as a general rule, the asset test requires that married veterans have less than $80,000 in countable assets (not including the home) and that single applicants, either veterans or widows of veterans, have less than $40,000 in countable assets. Claimants should note that, if they do not currently meet these asset restrictions, the VA does not penalize them for taking legal steps to reorganize their assets prior to application in order to qualify. In other words, no look back period applies to this benefit, which distinguishes it from other long-term care benefits like Medicaid.

Second, as a general rule, the income test requires those claiming the benefit to show that they are using all or most of their monthly income to pay long-term care expenses. In other words, if a married couple seeking the benefit receives $4,000 each month in combined income from all sources, but their assisted living fees total $4,500 per month, that couple will meet the income test. This rule causes potential claimants the most confusion. If you have ever been told that you or a family member do not qualify for this benefit because of their income, do not accept that answer until you have explored it further—many people don’t realize that they are allowed to deduct medical and long-term care expenses from their income under this test.

If you know a veteran or a widow of a veteran who may need long-term care assistance, whether in the home or in a facility, make sure he or she knows about this benefit. It’s one small way that our government shows its thanks for their sacrifice.

 

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