Veteran’s Benefits to Help with Healthcare Costs
Those who have served in our nation’s armed forces deserve not only the gratitude of all citizens, but also access to the best health care available. There are many VA benefits commonly known amongst those who have served, but most people are unaware of the benefits available to those who need assistance in meeting the ever-increasing costs of health care, particularly as senior citizens.
Of the many services the VA provides, one set of benefits administered by the Veteran’s Benefits Administration includes monetary relief for eligible veterans as their health care and other costs rise. This branch includes the Special Pension called “Aid and Attendance” and another pension called “Improved Pension.” Aid and Attendance can benefit a veteran, his or her spouse, or the spouse alone in need of extra resources for medical costs.
Both of these resources are available to offset the cost of necessary health care. Both are also generally unknown among veterans.
A person must meet certain criteria to be eligible for either type of benefit. What follows is a discussion of the basics of Aid and Attendance eligibility and planning under guidelines set forth by the VA. Planning for your future medical costs can be a complicated affair even if you have planned as best you can. When facing the ever-increasing cost of in home care, assisted living, and nursing home care, this benefit can be crucial for your peace of mind and in accessing the highest quality of care available.
WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE BENEFITS?
These are the current (2012) Aid and Attendance benefits that are potentially available:
- Veteran and spouse – Up to $2,019/month
- Veteran Alone – Up to $1,703/month
- Veteran’s surviving spouse – Up to $1,094/month
- Healthy veteran with disabled spouse – Up to $1,337/month
These benefits generally increase every year and are paid, tax free, directly to the claimant. The application process can take as long as 10 months before an applicant is approved and the payments begin. But, once approved, Aid and Attendance is paid retroactively from the first day of the month following the date that the application is received by the VA.
AM I ELIGIBLE?
To be eligible for the Aid and Attendance benefit, there are four things to consider:
- Your status as a veteran
- Your income, and
- Your net worth
- Your health
Each is discussed in detail below.
You or your spouse must be a veteran in order to be eligible for Aid and Attendance benefits. This may include Reservists and those who served in the National Guard under certain conditions. Congress has also determined that other categories of personnel are eligible, and a complete list is included at the end of this document.
The veteran must also have been discharged under any condition other than dishonorable. The veteran must also have served at least 90 days of continuous active duty before 1980 (or 24 months after 1980) with at least one day of that continuous service served during wartime, though not necessarily in a combat zone.
For the purposes of Aid and Attendance eligibility, “wartime” includes the following dates:
- World War II – December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946
- Korea – June 27, 1950 to January 1, 1955
- Vietnam – August 5, 1964* to May 7, 1975
- Gulf War – August 2, 1990 to Not Yet Determined
*If you served “in country” before August 3, 1964, you must have done so after February 28, 1961.
The amount of Aid and Attendance benefit you could qualify for depends on your income relative to your health care costs. The VA defines income as payments of any kind from any source, and calculates the gross amount as opposed to the net. Further, your income will be calculated to include income to the veteran, the spouse, and any dependent children.
You will likely be eligible for a full Aid and Attendance benefit if your health care costs exceed your monthly income. So, if your income is $1500 per month, but your costs for in-home care are $2000 per month, chances are high that you will receive a monthly benefit check.
It is important to note that the calculation for your health care costs need not be payments to a single professional health care provider, such as a nurse or assisted living facility. The expenses are the sum total of those health care costs you face, and can even include payments to a loved one that provides you with care or assistance.
If your monthly income exceeds your monthly care costs, you may still qualify for a portion of the potential benefits.
Your net worth is the final consideration in determining your eligibility for the Aid and Attendance benefit. The calculation of your net worth for the purposes of this application only includes certain assets, not including your home, your automobile, basic furnishings for your home, or your personal property. Those assets which are countable for the purposes of Medicaid are those which you could reasonably expect to be depleted in covering your health care costs over a one or two year period of time.
A qualified attorney can be very helpful in helping you determine which assets are countable and which are not. The VA will make a determination based on your projected expenses, age and life expectancy, and income, among other factors. A good rule of thumb is to keep your net worth below a number between $50,000 and $80,000. However, these are very fluid numbers and can vary greatly. Each case should be evaluated individually.
The VA only looks at your net worth at the time of the actual application. Unlike other government programs such as Medicaid, there is no penalty period for gifting or other transfers of assets you might make prior to applying. So, just about any veteran or spouse can, with proper planning, qualify for the benefit.
One way to achieve this is by giving away assets to loved ones. This may seem like a drastic step and may rightly cause you some angst. However, a qualified attorney can guide you in creating a special kind of trust that will allow you to give away the asset while still retaining a significant amount of control over that asset. This is a legal way to still meet the net worth requirements for the Aid and Attendance benefit and maintain control over your assets.
To qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit, you (the veteran or veteran’s spouse) must be deemed “permanently and totally disabled.” This is not as final as it sounds. What it means is that you must require “care or assistance on a regular basis,” that protects you from harm as you go about your life.
This requirement is met by showing one or more of the following conditions:
- The veteran or spouse is blind or has visual impairment of 5/200 or less in both eyes, or concentric contraction of the visual field to five degrees or less (as can occur with glaucoma);
- The veteran or spouse is a patient in a nursing home or hospice facility because of mental or physical incapacity;
- The veteran or spouse is unable to dress or undress or keep him or herself clean and presentable without assistance;
- The veteran or spouse needs adjustments to any special prosthetic, orthopedic device, or is unable to attend to the wants of nature;
- The veteran or spouse has a physical or mental incapacity that requires assistance on a regular basis to be protected from the hazards of his or her environment; or
- The veteran or spouse lives in an assisted living facility.
Failing those conditions, any applicant over age 64 is deemed to be permanently and totally disabled.
If you are in need of services from a home health care, home care (non-medical), or personal care provider, the need for such care needs to be spelled out in a physician’s statement and/or signed document from the provider.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT MEDICAID
If you anticipate needing the services of Medicaid at some point in the future, it is strongly recommended that you seek an attorney’s advice so that any steps you take to qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit do not unwittingly complicate your eligibility for Medicaid.
Giving away assets, for example, can create a long period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits. An attorney can help you spend down or give away your assets in such a manner that you can feel prepared to meet your health care costs and protect your assets.
Quite a bit of documentation is required for your Aid and Attendance application, most of which you should have no trouble gathering. However, a common problem arises in obtaining the veteran’s DD214 or discharge papers. The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri is a good source for these documents:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
If you anticipate applying for Aid and Attendance and you cannot immediately locate your paperwork, begin contacting government agencies now. It could take time for them to get back to you and that delay could hold up the application process.
Our nation’s veterans have earned through their service earlier in life the best care that they can receive later in life. If you or your spouse meet the eligibility requirements set forth here, are in assisted living or are receiving care at home, you deserve this benefit. It could mean thousands of dollars of extra care that can only improve your access to care and your peace of mind.
In addition to active duty veterans from the armed services, individuals who served in these less well-known groups also meet the active duty qualifications for VA benefits. If you belong to any of these groups and received a discharge by the Secretary of Defense, your service meets the active duty service requirements:
- Female clerical employees of the Quartermaster Corps serving with the American Expeditionary Forces during WWII
- Recipients of the Medal of Honor
- Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs)
- Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)
- Male civilian ferry pilots
- Wake Island defenders (Guam)
- Civilian personnel assigned to OSS secret intelligence
- Guam Combat Patrol
- U.S. civilians who participated in the defense of Btaan
- American merchant marines in the oceangoing service during WWII
- Quartermaster Corps members of the Keswick crew on Corregidor during WWII
- Civilian Navy IFF radar technicians who served in combat areas of the Pacific during WWII
- U.S. merchant seamen who served on Block ships in support of Operation Mulberry in the Normandy invasion
- U.S. civilians of the American Field Service who served overseas under U.S. Armies and U.S. Army groups during WWII
- U.S. civilian employees of American Airlines who served overseas in contract with the Air Transport Command between 12/14/1941 and 8/15/1945
- Civilian crewmen of certain U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey vessels between 12/7/1941 and 8/14/1945
- Members of the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) who served between 12/7/1941 and 8/14/1945
- U.S. civilian flight crew and aviation ground support of TWA who served overseas between 12/14/1941 and 8/14/1945
- U.S. civilian flight crew and aviation ground support of Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp. who served overseas between 12/14/1941 and 8/14/1945
- Honorably discharged members of the American Volunteer Guard, Eritrea Service Command, between 6/21/1942 and 3/31/1943
- U.S. civilian flight crew and aviation ground support of Northwest Airlines who served overseas between 12/14/1941 and 8/14/1945
- U.S. civilian female employees of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps who served in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor between 1/2/1942 and 2/3/1945
- U.S. civilian flight crew and aviation ground support of Braniff Airways who served overseas in the North Atlantic between 2/26/1942 and 8/14/1945
- Chamorro and Carolina former native police who received military training in the Donnal area of central Saipan and were placed under the command of Lt. Casino of the 6th Provisional Military Police Battalion to accompany U.S. Marines on active combat patrol between 8/19/1945 and 9/2/1945
- The Operational Analysis Group of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Office of Emergency Management, which served overseas with the U.S. Army Air Corps between 12/7/1941 and 8/15/1945
- Honorably discharged members of the Alaska Territorial Guard during WWII