Long-term care costs can add up quickly. For veterans and surviving spouses of veterans who need in-home care or are in a nursing home, help may be available.
The Veterans Administration has an underused pension benefit called Aid and Attendance that provides money to those who need assistance performing everyday tasks.
Even veterans whose income is above the legal limit for a VA pension may qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit if they have large medical expenses for which they do not receive reimbursement.
Millions of Americans -veterans, their spouses, family members and survivors - do not take advantage of their rightful benefits. More than 70 million people are eligible for veterans’ benefits. In the next decade, the number of veterans 85 and older will triple. Connecticut has a high number of people over 65 years old.
With statistics like these, it is critical to remember to use your veterans’ benefits as part of your long-term financial and physical care planning.
Who is a veteran? A veteran is a person who served in the active military, naval or air forces, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as other categories of services, such as the U.S. merchant marine.
You must have 90 days of active military service with at least one day of wartime service, or have a permanent and total disability, or be 65 or older and receiving Social Security benefits. Your income and net worth must also fall within certain limits.
Applying for benefits
To apply for non-service related benefits, you must submit the following:
Original DD Form 214 - Notice of Separation
Your latest available Social Security award letter with all sources of income.
Supporting medical assessment and two years of medical records
Marriage and/or birth certificates if benefits are for a spouse and/or children.
Generally, your assets must fall under $80,000 for eligibility. Unreimbursed medical expenses, however, can reduce your income for eligibility purposes.
You do not have to enroll if you have a service-related disability of 50 percent or more, if you were discharged within the last year and have not been rated for a disability benefit yet, or if you are only seeking care for service-related disabilities.
If you do not have a copy of your records, proving veteran status can be difficult, since a warehouse fire in St. Louis in 1973 destroyed a large percentage of the government’s discharge records.
To prove veteran status, you may find it easier to go through Veteran Service Officers or other service organizations.
Veteran status opens eligibility for a number of benefits, including Aid and Attendance, health care, disability compensation, pension, home loan guarantees, and life insurance and burial benefits.
Aid and Attendance is a program that many veterans find particularly helpful. It is available to veterans who have a need for help with basic daily activities such as bathing, dressing and eating. The benefits can be paid to someone from outside the home (which may include family members) or to the veteran’s spouse. If the benefits are paid to the spouse, however, the funds count as income when determining eligibility for the program.
If you are accepted into the Aid and Attendance program, you obtain access to the VA pharmacy. Aid and Attendance is available to veterans who served at least 90 days, with at least one day during wartime. The veteran does not have to have service-related disabilities to qualify. Veterans or surviving spouses are eligible if they require the aid of another person to perform an everyday action, such as bathing, feeding, dressing or going to the bathroom. This includes individuals who are bedridden or blind or residing in a nursing home.
Attorney Daniel O. Tully is a partner in the law firm of Kilbourne & Tully, P.C., members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Inc., with offices at 120 Laurel St., Bristol 860-583-1341.