There are currently over 25 million veterans alive in the United States. There are over 9 million surviving spouses of veterans currently living in the United States. Many of these veterans and surviving spouses are receiving long term care or will need some type of long term care in the near future, and there are funds available from the Veterans Administration (”VA”) to help pay for that care. Unfortunately, many of those who are eligible have no idea that any type of benefits exist for them or that an attorney can help them become eligible.
Benefits Available. There are three types of benefits available that provide a monthly cash payment to veterans who have long term health care needs. This article discusses aid and attendance.
Pension with Aid and Attendance. The highest monthly benefit is available when a wartime veteran or surviving spouse requires the assistance of another person to perform activities of daily living, is blind or nearly so, or is a patient in a nursing home. This benefit, often referred to simply as “Aid and Attendance” is the most widely known and talked-about benefit as it offers the highest possible monthly payment. An unmarried veteran can receive up to $1644 per month, a married veteran can receive up to $1949 per month, and a surviving spouse can receive up to $1056 per month (with additional payments available if dependent children are present in the home).
Prerequisites to Benefits
Wartime Service. As noted above, a veteran must first meet certain service and discharge requirements before being considered for any type of pension benefit. A veteran must have served 90 days of active duty with at least one day beginning or ending during a period of war. After September 1, 1980, the active duty requirement increases to 180 days. In addition, the veteran must have been discharged under circumstances other than dishonorable.
Disability. To qualify for any type of pension benefit, a claimant must also be 65 or older or be permanently and totally disabled. A claimant is the individual filing for benefits –
- either a veteran or surviving spouse.
Permanent and total disability includes a claimant who is:
• In a nursing home;
• Determined disabled by the Social Security Administration;
• Unemployable and reasonably certain to continue so throughout life; or
• Suffering from a disability that makes it impossible for the average person to stay gainfully employed.
Asset and Income Requirements. The financial eligibility requirements of any pension benefit address a claimant's net worth and income. A married veteran and spouse should have no more than $80,000 in countable assets (less for a single veteran or surviving spouse), which includes retirement assets but excludes a home and vehicle. However, the $80,000 limit is a guideline only – it is not a rule set by the VA. The VA looks at a claimant's total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses to determine whether the veteran or surviving spouse is entitled to special monthly pension benefits.
A veteran or surviving spouse must have Income for VA Purposes (”IVAP”) that is less than the benefit for which he or she is applying. IVAP is calculated by taking a claimant's gross income from all sources less countable medical expenses. Countable medical expenses are recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses that can be expected to continue throughout a claimant's lifetime. If a claimant's IVAP is equal to or greater than the annual benefit amount, the veteran or surviving spouse is not eligible for benefits.
Does the Claimant Require the Aid and Attendance of Another? If a claimant can show, through medical evidence provided by a primary care physician or facility, that the claimant requires the aid and attendance of another person to perform activities of daily living, that veteran or surviving spouse may qualify for an additional special monthly pension commonly referred to as aid and attendance pension benefits.
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.
Qualification. The VA looks at a claimant's total net worth, life expectancy, and income and expenses to determine whether the claimant should qualify for special monthly pension benefits. Unlike Medi-Cal, there is no look-back period and no penalty for giving assets away. However, one must use caution when considering a gifting strategy to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special monthly pension benefits as this will cause a period of ineligibility for Medi-Cal which could be as long as five years. Other Medi-Cal planning strategies may apply when trying to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special pension with aid and attendance.
For more information visit the website of the Estate Planning Specialists of Thompson|Von Tungeln, P.C., at