Coastal Senior is a monthly periodical published in Savannah, Georgia and circulated throughout the Georgia and South Carolina low country. Bob Mason is its legal columnist.
Big Veterans Benefit Often MIA
Time for a riddle. What do less than 25% of eligible people ever receive, can be worth up to $1,842 a month, and can provide an incredible benefit for a veteran (or a widow of one) who is homebound, in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home?
Answer: Aid and Attendance through the VA. Very few people know about this program, and those who do know about it often do not understand it. Improved Pension or “Aid & Attendance” might be available to boost monthly income by as much as another $1,842 for a veteran or $998 for the widow of a veteran.
Better known VA cash benefit programs are restricted to vets who were wounded or injured while serving in the armed forces. But Aid & Attendance benefits might be available to any veteran 65 years or older or his or her widow if the veteran served at least 90 days active duty, with 1 day of that 90 days during a VA defined period of hostilities.
There are financial qualification rules, and there also are physical qualification rules. To qualify physically, the veteran (or widow) must be physically homebound (not able to get out under her own power), or confined to a nursing home or assisted living facility.
The exact amount of the benefit depends upon monthly adjusted income. The benefit can never be more than the difference between $1,842 (or $998) and adjusted income. If monthly adjusted income is more than $1,842 (or $998) then there can be no benefit.
If you haven’t caught it already, the most important word in the preceding paragraph is this: ADJUSTED.
The income cap is properly calculated by adjusting monthly income downward for a variety of medical, insurance and long term care expenses, before determining the amount of benefit available.
For example, Kenny Kilroy entered the Army in 1945. He spent a few months in a replacement pool at Ft. Benning before the end of WWII. Discharged from the Army in 1946, Kenny returned to Savannah, and went to work as a realtor. During the early part of 2008 Kenny’s health declined some and he now lives in an assisted living facility in Savannah.
Kenny’s Social Security benefit pays $1,500 monthly, and he has a small qualified annuity that pays $300 month. $1,800 monthly will not cover the $3,000 monthly assisted living facility bill.
Time to panic? Not at all.
Kenny’s ADJUSTED income will be at least a negative $1,200 (and maybe more if he has other medical or health-related expenses). Under that scenario Kenny Kilroy should qualify for $1,842 in Aid & Attendance and he will have more than enough to cover the assisted living facility bill.
There are asset restrictions. As with Medicaid, some assets count, some assets don’t (the lists aren’t the same for Medicaid and Aid & Attendance). Generally speaking the applicant can’t have more than $80,000 in countable assets. It could well be less . . . the VA uses no “bright buy tadalafil line” amount.
Unlike Medicaid, it is fairly easy to “reconfigure” assets to qualify.
By law, the only people that can help compile an application for a veteran or a widow are:
A licensed attorney
A veterans service organization (such as the VFW, AmVets, American Legion), or
A state Department of Veterans Affairs office.
By law, it is illegal to charge a veteran for compiling and submitting an application.
On the other hand, it is not illegal to charge a veteran for the planning involved in qualifying for the benefit and implementing that plan.
Further, veterans, or the widows of veterans, do not live in a vacuum. They likely have other concerns. That is why it is important to seek the help of an advisor who understands this important benefit.
An advisor who may not know what he or she is doing may succeed in qualifying someone for VA benefits and hopelessly disqualify the veteran for Medicaid or other needed benefits in the process of qualifying for Aid & Attendance. This is tricky business.
Correctly approached, however, and correctly integrated as part of an overall plan, this particular VA benefit can be Heavy Artillery.