Many veterans believe that government benefits are only available if they were wounded in combat or suffer from a disability related to their service. That's simply not true.
If you have honorably served our country, your country recognizes that. You deserve to receive the benefits the Veterans Administration has set aside exclusively for those veterans who are (i) over 65 years of age, and (ii) homebound, or in need of assisted/supportive living or a nursing home.
Veterans and their spouses may be eligible for a valuable program known as Veterans Pension. For many veterans who are just getting by on Social Security and withdrawing as little as possible from their retirement money, this significant monthly stipend from the VA can make a major difference in their quality of life.
An increased pension is available if you require the aid and attendance of another or are housebound. Perhaps you are wondering how much money you can receive from this benefit. While every family situation is unique, an eligible veteran can receive over $23,000 a year for assistance with medical expenses and long-term care. An eligible veteran's widowed spouse can potentially receive over $12,500 per year. Another important aspect of the Aid and Attendance benefit is that it can allow an eligible veteran or widowed spouse to pay anyone, including his or her child, for home care. It can also be used to pay for professional care in the home, assisted living, nursing home care, insurance premiums, prescription drugs, and co-pays.
The Veteran's Aid and Attendance benefit can help an eligible veteran or widowed spouse live at home for as long as possible while still receiving the care he or she needs and protecting hard-earned assets. In addition, depending on your specific circumstances, planning can help you double or triple the time you can afford to live in an assisted living facility, while at the same time preserving Medi-Cal eligibility if a future nursing home stay is needed.
The truth is that this is a tricky area of law. To receive Aid and Attendance, you have to meet certain income and asset restrictions. As of October 18, 2018, new rules regarding eligibility for VA pension were implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The new rules are quite comprehensive, however, they also provide more opportunities to qualify for these important benefits:
- There is now a look-back period of 36 months. Any asset that was transferred for less than fair market value during the 36-month period immediately preceding the pension application will result in a penalty period, not to exceed five years. There are a few exceptions to the new penalty rule.
- Annuities may be penalized. If the annuity can be liquidated, then it is counted as an asset. If the annuity cannot be liquidated, then distributions from the annuity are considered income. If the annuity was purchased during the look-back period, then a penalty will be imposed.
- Net worth. There is now a bright-line rule regarding the net worth of a Veteran. This amount is currently set at $127,061, which is slightly higher than the maximum Community Spouse Resource Allowance amount allowed by Medi-Cal and will increase annually with the increase in Social Security benefits. If the Veteran or other claimant has net worth over the threshold and thus does not qualify for benefits, he or she can spend-down assets by purchasing goods or services for fair market value for any household relative.
- A homestead owned by the Veteran is not included in the net worth calculation. However, there is a two-acre limit imposed on the homestead. If the claimant's homestead is over two acres, then other rules apply and the value of the property in excess of two acres may be included in the net worth calculation.
- The value of “personal effects suitable to and consistent with a reasonable mode of life” is not included in the asset calculation. This would include personal transportation vehicles and most household goods.
- The annual income of the claimant and certain dependents is included in the calculation of net worth. However, reasonable and predictable unreimbursed medical expenses can be deducted from income.
- More medical expense deductions. The new rules provided an additional Activity of Daily Living (ADL) to include assistance with ambulating within the home. The rules also define Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) and set out specific instances when expenses for care that include ADLs and IADLs may be deducted from income. The rules also specify when room and board at a care facility other than a nursing home may be deducted from income as a medical expense.
How Can I Qualify for Pension Benefits?
VA Pre-planning. Because of the thirty-six month look period implemented in October of 2018, VA pre-planning is a recommended and valuable option for service eligible veterans who wish to protect certain assets and establish a plan for future VA benefits once they become medically eligible. Planning may involve re-titling or giving away assets or establishing a trust. VA pre-planning is perfectly legal, but doing so properly can be complicated, which is why we recommend always working with a VA-accredited attorney. Beware that some actions taken to qualify for VA benefits could create a penalty period and may also impact future Medicaid benefits should they be needed.
VA Crisis Planning. If you are a veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran who currently meets the basic service and medical requirements but may not also be financially qualified, our office can still help you analyze your options for obtaining VA pension benefits. Contact us today to determine your eligibility status and planning opportunities.
You deserve to have someone who focuses on these issues to assist you in evaluating your situation and helping you maximize your assets and income for the longest period of time, as well as helping you with veterans' benefits for assisted living. Please contact us if you have questions about these new rules, or if you would like to discuss whether you or a loved one could qualify for VA pension benefits. Contact us today to discuss this important benefit.