By Robin M. Petersen, J.D., C.E.L.A.
Millions of veterans and their families are eligible for Veterans Benefits but do not take advantage of them. Why? There are many reasons, including confusion over the benefits available and eligibility requirements, as well as the complexity of the application process itself.
One of the most underutilized benefits available to eligible veterans is the Aid and Attendance Program, which can pay for a wide range of medical expenses and significantly enhance quality of life.
The VA Aid and Attendance pension program is available to veterans or their widowed spouses. This benefit is called Aid and Attendance Pension (A&A). This is not a traditional pension and it has nothing to do with service connected disability. The veteran had to serve 90 days or more of active duty, with one day during a period of wartime. The Claimant may qualify for this benefit if the service, financial and medical qualifications are met and can also qualify for medical supplies and medicines from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).
For an eligible veteran or widowed spouse, the A&A benefit pays a monthly amount up to $1,949 for the veteran or $1,056 to the surviving spouse—tax free—to assist with medical expenses and the cost of long-term care.
This benefit can help a veteran or widowed spouse pay anyone for home care, including their child. It can also be used to help pay for professional care in the home, assisted living rent, nursing home care, prescription drugs, insurance premiums, co-pay, medical equipment, hearing aids, and similar expenses.
Bottom line? The A&A Program can allow a veteran or widowed spouse to preserve their assets for as long as possible.
• The veteran must have served 90 days or more of active duty, with one day during a period of wartime. There is NO requirement that any service be in a combat zone. The vet does not need to have left the continental United States during service.
• The veteran must have received a discharge other than dishonorable
• The veteran or spouse must have medical expenses or care needs, and
• Applicants must pass an asset and income test before getting A& A benefits.
• The household income, after deducting all unreimbursed recurring medical expenses, must be less than the maximum A&A Benefit.
The widow(er) must not have divorced the Veteran or remarried after the Veteran's death. The Claimant must be certified by a doctor as needing assistance with their daily living activities. This can often be met even in an independent living setting. The basic information and forms are available at www.va.gov. However the VA website does not cover how to position assets in order to qualify.
While net worth and income are both factors, there are no specific income or asset limits set by the VA. It is important to work with a VA accredited attorney or agent in filing for this benefit to ensure that you receive the maximum you may be entitled to and to help your claim get processed as quickly as possible. As part of a long-term care plan, prepared by a skilled Elder Law attorney, most estates can be positioned so the veteran or widowed spouse qualifies for VA A&A benefits. Never assume your loved one is not eligible, despite what you may have heard from others.
Planning Opportunities in Order to Qualify
In order to qualify for A&A Benefits, the Adjusted Household Income and the Allowable Countable Assets must be below the Threshold Limits. With proper planning, the Claimant can qualify for A&A while preserving their household assets. This will aid the family in paying for medical care and postpone the depletion of the claimant’s assets and the need to rely upon Medicaid for care.
At the present time, unlike Medicaid, the VA does not have any rules that restrict the proper use of trusts to preserve and protect the assets or the gifting away of assets to reduce the net worth of the Claimant before qualifying for A&A. Therefore, everyone with the service requirements and unreimbursed medical costs should assess the possibility of qualifying for these benefits. Robin M. Petersen is a vet and military brat. He is an attorney in Indialantic and is the principal at The Estate Planning and Elder Law Center of Brevard. 321/729-0087. www.ElderLawCenterBrevard.com