Many wartime veterans (any veteran who served even one day during a time of war) and their surviving spouses are currently receiving long-term care or will need some type of long-term care in the near future. The Veterans Administration has funds that are available to help pay for this care, yet many families are not even aware that these benefits exist.
Pension with Aid and Attendance pays the highest amount and benefits a veteran or surviving spouse who requires assistance in activities of daily living (dressing, undressing, eating, toileting, etc.), is blind, or is a patient in a nursing home. Assisted care in an assisted living facility also qualifies.
Pension with Housebound Allowance is for those who need regular assistance but would not meet the more stringent requirements for Aid and Attendance, and wish to remain in their own home or the home of a family member. Care can be provided by family members or outside caregiver agencies.
Basic Pension is for veterans and surviving spouses who are age 65 or older or are disabled, and who have limited income and assets.
Qualifying for Benefits
A veteran does not need to have service-related injuries to qualify for these pension benefits, but must meet certain wartime service and discharge requirements. A surviving spouse must also meet marriage requirements to the qualified veteran. Certain requirements must be met for a disability claim if the claimant (the veteran or surviving spouse filing for benefits) is less than age 65.
When determining eligibility, the VA looks at a claimant's total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses. A married veteran and spouse should have no more than $80,000 in "countable assets," which includes retirement assets but does not include a home and vehicle. This amount is a guideline and not a rule.
Income for VA Purposes (called IVAP) must also meet certain guidelines, which vary depending upon the program being applied for.
Important Note: It is possible to reduce assets and income to a level that will be acceptable to the VA. For example, excess liquid assets (such as cash or stocks) could be converted to an income stream through the use of an annuity or promissory note. However, because the claimant may need to qualify for Medicaid in the future, it is critical that any restructuring or gifting of assets be done in a way that will not jeopardize or delay Medicaid benefits. An attorney who has experience with Elder Law will be able to provide valuable assistance with this.
Applying for Benefits
It often takes the VA more than a year to make a decision, but once approved, benefits are paid retroactively to the month after the application is submitted. Because time is critical for these aging veterans and their surviving spouses, application should be made as soon as possible.