Memorial Day is a fitting time to make sure eligible veterans understand the specialized benefits available to them.
By Mitch Adel
The world is a dangerous place. And for those brave Americans doing their part to make it a little safer for the rest of us, it can be even more perilous. As a nation, we should appreciate these veterans who put their lives on hold and themselves on the line for our country. We must never take their sacrifices for granted. This Memorial Day is the perfect time to make sure that we all do our part to remember and to honor our veterans by making sure they have access to the full range of benefits to which they are entitled.
Far too many veterans, especially seniors who have served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, are not even aware that they may qualify for the Veteran’s Administration’s (VA) Aid & Attendance Benefit (A&A). Fewer still take advantage of this program. The A&A provides qualifying veterans and their spouses with financial support to pay for specialized in-home, assisted living or nursing home care. The monthly benefit, which ranges from a little over $1,100 for surviving spouses to over $2,000 for a married veteran, is designed to help aging veterans cover the expenses of in-home medical assistance or long-term care.
Who is eligible
One of the reasons why it is so important to spread the word about the A&A program is that so few veterans take advantage of the benefits available to them. For example, fewer than 5% of World War II veterans and spouses receive benefits through the A&A program, almost certainly due to a lack of awareness.
There are four criteria to qualify for the A&A benefit. First is the service requirement. Note that the veteran did not need to be in the actual theater of war, because these veterans supported our troops who were. The veteran must have served a minimum of 90 days of active duty, one of which was during one of the following wartime windows:
- World War II: December 7th, 1941, through December 31st, 1946
- Korean War: June 27, 1950, through January 31, 1955
- Vietnam War: August 5, 1964 (February 28, 1961, for veterans who served “in country” before August 5, 1964), through May 7, 1975
- Persian Gulf War: August 2, 1990, through a date to be set by Presidential Proclamation or Law.
Second, the veteran or surviving spouse must have a medical need for the “aid and attendance” of another. The A&A program is not just for wounded veterans. A family doctor can verify the veteran’s need for this care, it is not necessary for a Veterans Administration doctor to do the examination.
Third and fourth are an income test and an asset test. Many veterans assume that they don’t qualify because think they have too much income or too many assets, but that is not necessarily the case. You are not automat- ically disqualified because this benefit depends on your medical expenses and your life expectancy. For instance, recurring expenses such as Assisted Living costs, reduce the amount of income that is counted.
How to apply
Qualifying for A&A benefits requires successfully navigating the appli- cation process, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming. The single most important step in the process is gathering the right documentation for application. For a thorough review of forms that might be due and the process, you may wish to start with the Veterans Administration website, U S Department of Veterans Affairs – Pension.
Veterans benefits are just one of many benefits that may be available to help cover the costs of long term care. The problem is that what you do to qualify for one program, such as Aid and Attendance, can disqualify you from other programs you might need down the road. You would be wise to seek the counsel of an experienced and certified elder law attorney to help you craft a comprehensive plan that takes all potential benefits into account as well as your specific circumstances and wishes.
Memorial Day is a time to remember. But it should also be a time to honor those veterans who are still with us, and to give back to those who have given so much. Do your part this May by sharing information about the A&A with a veteran or their surviving spouse who may be eligible for this important benefit. As grateful citizens, it is the least we can do.