The Long-term Care Benefit Many Veterans Are Missing Out On
For many people, the role of “caregiver” can come quite unexpectedly. It is common to feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin. Frankly, most people are unprepared for this challenging new life chapter.
I was in my early 30’s when I first found myself in a caregiver role. My dad had passed away in a tragic plane crash when I was only 13 years old, so as my mom aged and began to need assistance, I stepped in.
When the day came that my mom’s dementia no longer made it possible for her to live alone, I began the search for an assisted living community for my mother. It took me some time to find the perfect senior living community for my mom and her particular needs. After a few missteps, I finally sought the help of a senior advocate, who was familiar with what was available in my mom’s area. The advisor helped me find my mom the perfect place where she was able to feel safe, comfortable, and happy.
It wasn’t until I worked with a senior advisor from A Place for Mom that I learned my mother was eligible to receive veterans benefits that would help offset the costs of her senior care. My mother had remarried a man who was a World War II veteran. I had no idea that as the widow of a veteran there was this kind of financial assistance.
By the time I learned about the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit, my mom had already spent years in assisted living. She and I had no idea that the Federal Government guarantees veterans and their spouses assistance in their later years. When I finally found out about this program, I got to work immediately. I pulled together the necessary paperwork and sent in her application. But as life would have it, by the time my mom was accepted by the Veterans Aid Assistance Program… it was too late... my mom passed away just before her 95th birthday.
In going through this process, I learned that, shockingly, only 5% of these assistance funds available to seniors are even applied for, because people simply do not know about the program. And for that reason, I want to share with all of you what I learned along the way:
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2015, there were almost 19 million veterans in the United States. Of these veterans, 52 percent were age 65 and older. What’s more, only about 300,000 wartime veterans and 220,000 surviving spouses currently draw VA pension benefits, according to the Military News Tribune.
It’s likely that hundreds of thousands of senior veterans and their spouses who could benefit from this program simply don’t know these benefits exist.
As Veterans Day approaches, it’s the perfect time to spread the word to those Americans who could really use this well earned assistance.
The Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit
So what exactly is this amazing program? It’s called the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit, or “A&A benefit,” and it provides up to $1,794 per month to a veteran, $1,153 to a surviving spouse or $2,127 to a couple.
This money can be used for in-home care, board and care, assisted living communities and private-pay nursing homes. This is helpful for many seniors because neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for assisted living care. It’s kind of like a private nursing home insurance policy you haven’t had to pay into.
But like private insurance, there are certain qualifications you’ll have to meet before you can apply.
Who Qualifies for Veterans Aid and Attendance?
One of the best resources for the A&A benefit is VeteranAid.org, which was created by Debbie Burak, a woman who learned too late about this program. She estimates that her parents missed out on $160,000 in VA benefits.
VeteranAid.org provides a quick 2-minute questionnaire to help you determine if you or your loved one can benefit from this program.
To qualify for this benefit, a veteran or spouse must meet several requirements. These include:
Wartime service. The veteran had to have served 90 days of active duty with at least one day during one of the specified wars. They must have had an honorary discharge.
Financial need. Financial need requirements include assets of under $80,000 (excluding a home and a car). The VA takes into consideration “countable income” as part of assets. This is the veteran’s or the spouse’s monthly income -- including Social Security, pension and IRAs – minus the costs of assisted living or in-home care.
Medical needs. The veteran or spouse must need some assistance with eating, bathing or dressing.
A Place For Mom recommends bookmarking the VeteranAid.org website. You’ll find out if you qualify and how to apply and you’ll get tips and tricks, such as don’t give up if the VA tells you “no.” This happens quite a lot, apparently, but many people find they get approved on the second try.
A great resource on the site are the forums, where you can get answers to some of your questions.
How Do I Apply for Veterans Aid and Attendance?
There are three basic steps to the application process, which is detailed on VeteranAid.org: Gather the necessary documents, fill out the application and send it in.
Experts suggest that it takes on average of six to eight months to get approved, with some applicants waiting more than a year. The good news is, once the application is approved, it’s applied retroactively to the date of application.
So of course, the big question always is… how much is an assisted living program going to cost? When I searched for a community for my mom, who was in her 90s, admittedly I had a bit of sticker shock. What I learned was that assisted living costs can vary widely depending on location and needs.
If there’s one piece of advice I give people seeking out assisted living, it’s don’t do this alone. There are experts who can help you find the perfect senior community for your ill or aging loved one. There are wonderful senior care referral services such as A Place for Mom that can help you find a senior living community that’s right for you, as well as answer your questions about veterans benefits that you or a loved one may qualify for.
On this Veterans Day, it is my hope that all wartime veterans and their spouses can find a senior community where they can feel safe and happy in their later years and that they are able to get the financial assistance that they deserve from the Veterans Aid Program. And on this Veterans Day I would like to thank all veterans and their families for their service to our country.