By ELIZABETH WYNN
Very few resources, other than personal assets, are available to cover the costs of long-term care. However, the VA Pension Aid & Attendance (A&A) benefit may be available to U.S. veterans or surviving spouses. To qualify, the veteran must have served during a time of war, regardless of geographic location. This VA benefit has been available for years. However, many veterans have only become aware of it during the last 10 years. One of the reasons being, the VA has only been accrediting attorneys in this area of practice since 2008.
The purpose of this benefit is to provide monthly reimbursement for private pay expenses of nursing home care, assisted living care, or regular in-home care, within certain limits. The rules are very complex, but these funds may allow your loved one to stay at home longer, to live in an assisted living facility, or even make it possible to have less impact on one’s life savings. Some people wind up in a nursing home, not because they could not stay at home, but because they ran out of funds to pay for care at home. The time spent with in-home care can be greatly prolonged using these supplemental monies available to the veteran, or veteran’s widow.
To qualify for these benefits, strict net worth and income limits must be met. These benefits are available to veterans who are 65 years of age or older and meet all of the following requirements:
- Served at least 90 consecutive active duty days;
- Served at least one day during a war time period, but not necessarily in a combat zone;
- Received an other than dishonorable discharge, and;
- Meet the financial means criteria.
For the first three requirements, either you meet them, or you don’t. However, the potential recipient can strategically plan to allow them to qualify for the fourth requirement. “Financial means” is not a fixed objective amount. Instead, the VA decides whether or not the veteran’s net worth is excessive. All net worth must be reported. The home and a reasonable amount of land around it are not counted.
The decision regarding qualification is based on whether or not the VA determines that the applicant’s assets are enough for the veteran to live on for a reasonable period of time.
While there is not a dollar amount specified, the figure of $80,000 is frequently mentioned as a limit, whether married or single. Fortunately, unlike Medicaid, there is no lookback period. Transfers of assets can be made one day and the application for VA benefits made the next.
Also, included in the fourth requirement is income eligibility, which is probably the most stringent. Income is defined as all income from almost all sources, with very limited exceptions. The 2016 income amount ranges from $1,149 to $2,837 per month.
The only way that most veterans qualify for any significant amount of this pension benefit is by being able to deduct from their total income their unreimbursed medical expenses. These expenses most often include the cost of in-home care, assisted living (where medically needed), and/or nursing home expenses.
Therefore, getting down to very little in the category of “countable income” may not be such a major problem after all, resulting in qualification for some or all of this benefit.
If you are interested in further information on Medicaid coverage or the VA Pension, please speak with an elder law and estate-planning attorney. For long-term care planning, timing is critical, and procrastination can be a very costly mistake in all areas. When this planning is done correctly, there can be great peace of mind for the entire family.
Elizabeth Wynn is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and practices law in Ridgeland. She and her family live in Madison.