Protecting those who have protected us - Helping U.S. veterans obtain benefits in North Carolina
Attorney Jackie Bedard is an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Jackie Bedard and Carolina Family Estate Planning can help veterans and their spouses in obtaining the financial assistance benefits to which they are entitled.
If you are a veteran or spouse of a veteran requiring assistance in your home, are in an Assisted Living Facility (or contemplating moving into one), or a Continuing Care Retirement Community, please contact us to discuss whether you might qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Special Pension Benefit or the Veterans Housebound Special Pension Benefit program.
What Is the Amount of the Aid and Attendance Benefit?
For 2012, the Veterans Aid & Attendance Pension can provide up to:
- $1,703 per month ($20,446 per year) for a qualified veteran;
- $2,019 per month ($24,238 per year) if the veteran is married;
- $1,094 per month ($13,136 per year) for a surviving spouse of a qualified veteran;
- $2,631 per month ($31,577 per year) if both spouses are qualified veterans.
Who Is Eligible for the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit?
To be eligible for the Veterans Aid & Attendance Special Pension Benefit or the Housebound Special Pension Benefit, a veteran must have served on active duty for at least 90 days with at least one of those days being during a period designated as wartime.
Periods Designated As Wartime:
World War II
|December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946|
|Korean Conflict||June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955|
|Vietnam Era||August 6, 1964 through May 7, 1975 (for veterans who served “in country” before August 5, 1964: February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975)|
|Gulf War||June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955|
In addition, the veteran must have been honorably discharged. Single widows of such veterans are also eligible for benefits if the other eligibility criteria are met. If the veteran is younger than age 65, he or she must be totally disabled to qualify.
If the veteran is of age 65 years or older, there is no requirement to prove disability. However, the veteran or spouse must be in need of regular aid and attendance due to:
- Inability of claimant dress or undress himself or herself, or keep himself or herself ordinarily clean and presentable;
- Frequent need of adjustment of any special prosthetic or orthopedic appliances which by reason of the particular disability cannot be done without aid (this will not include the adjustment of appliances which normal persons would be unable to adjust without aid, such as supports, belts, lacing at the back etc.)
- Inability to feed himself or herself through the loss of coordination of upper extremities or through extreme weakness; or
- Inability to attend to the wants of nature; or
- Incapacity, physical or mental, which requires care or assistance on a regular basis to protect the claimant from hazards or dangers incident to his or her daily environment.
Not all of the disabling conditions in the list above are required to exist. Rather, it must only be demonstrated that the veteran or spouse needs “regular” (i.e., scheduled and ongoing) aid and attendance from another person. It is not required that the need be a 24-hour need.
The determination of the need for aid and attendance or the housebound benefit is determined based upon the medical reports and findings of private physicians or from hospital facilities. Authorization of the aid and attendance or housebound benefits is automatic so long as evidence is established that the claimant is a patient in a nursing home or that the claimant is blind or nearly blind or has severe visual impairments.
Is Aid and Attendance Only For Low Income Veterans?
No. This benefit program is widely misunderstood. If you call your regional VA office and ask them about the Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit, they will typically ask about your household income. When you tell them your household income, they will compare it to a chart and likely tell you that you earn too much income to receive the benefit.
While the information they provide may be technically correct, what they typically don't explain is the "income" for Veterans Administration purposes (sometimes called IVAP or "adjusted income") is actually your household income minus your recurring, unreimbursed medical and long-term care expenses. These allowable, annualized medical expenses include things such as health insurance premiums, home care expenses, the cost of paying a family member or other caregiver to provide care, the cost of adult day care, the cost of an assisted living facility, or the cost of a nursing home.
In order to qualify for the Veterans Pension with Aid and Attendance Benefit, the veteran household may not have an adjusted income (i.e., household income minus unreimbursed medical expenses) that exceeds the Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR) for that veteran's pension income category.
If the adjusted income exceeds the MAPR, then there will be no benefit. If adjusted income is less than the MAPR, the veteran will receive a pension income equal to the difference between the MAPR and their household income adjusted for unreimbursed medical expenses. The pension income is calculated based on 12 months of future household income, but paid monthly.
How is the Aid and Attendance Benefit Calculated?
To calculate the monthly award, the VA will add up 12 months of estimated future income and then subtract from that figure the 12 months of estimated future, recurring and predictable medical expenses.
Allowable medical expenses are reduced by a deductible to produce an adjusted medical expense which in turn is subtracted from the estimated 12 months of future income.
The new income derived from subtracting the adjusted medical expenses from income is called "countable" income or IVAP (Income for Veterans Affairs Purposes). This countable income is then subtracted from the Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR) and that result is divided by 12 to determine the monthly income pension award. The pension award is paid in addition to any family income that already exists.
Filing a Claim for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit
Filing a claim for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit is a complex and time-consuming process. If you want to do it correctly, it's important to get qualified assistance. Just knowing which form to fill out and how to complete it is a complex endeavor in itself. Even if the proper form is completed, failure to check a single box may result in a complete denial of your claim.
The application process involves:
- Obtaining evidence of prospective, recurring medical expenses;
- Appointments for VA powers of attorney and fiduciaries;
- The need for a thorough understanding of the application process.
Typically, qualification for this benefit will involve reallocation of assets and shifting of income in order to qualify, and these reallocations may have significant impact on Medicaid eligibility.
Given that many veterans who need the Aid and Attendance Benefit will eventually wind up also needing Medicaid assistance, this process should not be attempted without the help of a qualified elder law attorney who thoroughly understands both the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program, as well as the interaction between these two benefit programs.
One of the documents needed to begin the application process for this benefit is the Veteran's Discharge Documents (DD-214 Report of Separation). If you don't have an original DD-214, most veterans and their next-of-kin can obtain a copy of their DD Form 214 and other military and medical records for free by visiting the National Archives website.
The Asset Test
The VA uses an asset test to determine eligibility for the Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit. Any asset or investment that could be easily converted into income may disqualify the applicant.
An asset ceiling of $80,000 is often cited by the media as being the test. However, the $80,000 has to do with VA internal filing requirements and is not an actual test. In reality, there is no specific dollar amount for the asset test and any level of assets could prevent eligibility.
Under the program, a primary residence, automobiles, and difficult-to-sell property are generally excluded from the asset test. However, some assets that are considered to be exempt by Medicaid (e.g., life estates) are considered to be countable assets by the Veterans Administration.
The VA allows assets to be transferred or converted to income in order to meet the asset test. There is no look-back penalty for transferring assets. However, there is a look-back penalty with Medicaid so care should still be taken, as many the veteran or surviving spouse may eventually require Medicaid assistance in the future. Thus, it is critical that applicants for these VA benefits also consider the Medicaid eligibility rules when converting or transferring assets in order to obtain eligibility for the Veterans Aid & Attendance program.
Fees for Assistance in Applying for VA Aid & Attendance
Federal law prohibits lawyers from charging a fee to assist veterans in claiming VA benefits. We’re supposed to work for free! Why? Because Congress decided that there are plenty of capable volunteers available through the various Veteran’s Service Organizations (VSOs) to help fill out VA claim forms.
Now, if you’ve actually tried getting help from the VA or a VSO, you know that they do want to help you, but with limited staffing and hours in the day, sometimes it’s just not enough.
So how can lawyers provide advice and services relating to the Aid & Attendance program if their services are supposed to be free? The truth is, we still need to earn a living and support our families. Instead of charging a fee for the preparation of your claim, many attorneys charge a pre-filing consultation fee to assess whether there are any benefits you may be eligible for through the VA.
We do things a bit differently. Instead, we’ll work with you and review your specific information and then recommend a comprehensive long-term care plan of action for you that will include planning for VA benefits, Medicaid, Medicare and/or other planning options that may be appropriate for you. The fee for such planning is the same whether it winds up including a VA claim or not. You can review the long-term care plan and decide if it’s right for you and your family.
As you can see, the rules for the program are quite involved, you can learn more about them in our free community resource, The Ultimate Guide to Understanding the VA Aid & Attendance Program.
If you feel that you need the assistance and advice of a VA-accredited attorney to discuss your long-term care planning options, call us at (919)443-3035. Our goal is to ensure that our clients maximize their financial and family resources and to qualify eligible candidates for these important benefits.