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The Little-Known VA Long-Term Care Benefit

VeteranHere's a frightening statistic from the just-released United States of Aging survey:  Only 3% of professionals supporting people 60 and older say they are very confident older Americans will be able to afford their health care costs as they age. The survey was conducted by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging and UnitedHealthcare.

Forbes reports in its recent article, "The VA Program That Pays for Long-Term Care for Vets," that one reason for the 3% confidence rate is the high and increasing cost of long-term care. It easy to see why that is, with the median price of a private room in a nursing home now about $91,000. That's an increase of 4% from last year.

About half of us will someday use nursing home care, and many others will need long-term care in assisted living facilities or at home.

But here's a little good news… there's a little-known Veterans Administration (VA) program that pays for some long-term care costs for vets and their families. It's called the Aid and Attendance Benefit. This benefit has been around for over 60 years and covers some expenses for in-home care, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This benefit is available to honorably-discharged wartime veterans over age 65 and their widowed spouses who are eligible for a VA pension and require the "aid and attendance" of another person or are housebound. The VA calls this "additional pension benefits for care assistance in the home or in an assisted living community."

Aid and Attendance pays up to: $1,788 per month to a single veteran, $1,149 to a surviving spouse, $2,120 to a married veteran and $2,837 to a veteran couple. The benefit is tax-free. To qualify, the applicant must either:

  • Require assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) like dressing, bathing,  and eating;
  • Be bedridden;
  • Be a nursing home patient due to mental or physical incapacity; or
  • Have eyesight limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes or concentric contraction of the visual field to five degrees or less

Of course there's the catch: applying for and receiving the money is a real pain in the bottom. The VA estimates it can take on average about five months for an Aid and Attendance claim to be processed after a veteran applies to a VA regional office. Even so, some applicants have been crushed with red tape and much longer waits.

The article tells the story of Frank Fassnacht, an 84-year-old former Disney projectionist now living in a Motion Picture & Television Fund home. He applied for the benefit three years ago, and still no luck. Because of the VA's high turnover rate, it's hard to find a consistent person to help you.

One other thing to note: a veteran may be turned down for the Aid and Attendance benefit if his or her assets are too great. The VA doesn't have a strict rule on how much assets one can have, but it's typically no more than $80,000 (not including your home), depending on age.

The article advises you to seek the assistance of an Elder Law attorney to apply. The rules and paperwork can be a super difficult, so a qualified attorney can really be a help. He or she can also assist you in preserving assets. Also, you should be ready to document your long-term care expenses and provide all the application materials.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Forbes (July 10, 2015) "The VA Program That Pays For Long-Term Care for Vets."

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