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Senior Citizen's Guide to South Jersey

Caring for Senior Veterans
VA Long Term Care Benefits

In the month of February we celebrate Presidents Day in honor of two great United States Presidents; George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both were heroes of wars fought on U.S soil for freedom and unity of our great country.

The United States has fought many wars throughout the world since that time to keep freedom here at home and continues to do so. From the beginning our country has established a program to care for the men and women of our military who fought in those wars.

The veterans assistance program goes back to 1636 when Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony fought with the Pequot Indians. The Pilgrims enacted a law from English law that reads, “If any man shall be sent forth as a soldier and shall return maimed, he shall be maintained competently by the colony during his life.” In 1789 U. S. congress passed as law that pensions were to be provided to disabled veterans and their dependents and in 1811 the first domiciliary and medical facility for veterans was completed.

Since that time the Department of Veterans Affairs has opened a multitude of care facilities nationwide. An article from the US Department of Veterans Affairs website states:

“VA's health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930 to 157 medical centers in 2005, with at least one in each state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia . More than 5.3 million people received care in VA health care facilities in 2005, a 29 percent increase over the 4.1 million treated just four years earlier. VA operates more than 1,300 sites of care including nearly 900 ambulatory care and community-based outpatient clinics, 136 nursing homes, 43 residential rehabilitation treatment programs, nearly 90 comprehensive home-care programs, and more than 200 Veterans Centers.”

State veterans homes have been built or are approved for future construction in many states. For a list of state veteran nursing homes go to http://www.longtermcarelink.net/ref_state_veterans_va_nursing_homes.htm#List

Here are some of the benefits provided for Veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Thomas Day, founder and Director of the National Care Planning Council, has a deep gratitude for the services provided by the VA. He served as an Air Force pilot during Vietnam. Later he developed a crippling auto-immune disease. It was the doctors at the George A Wahlen VA Regional Medical Center who prescribed a new treatment that saved his life. Many of the VA programs continue to improve his life.

Tom is passionate about the Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit and the relief it brings to veterans and their families who need care services and ways to pay for it in their elder years.

“Aid and attendance" is a commonly used term for a little-known veterans’ disability income. The official title of this benefit is "Pension." The reason for using "aid and attendance" to refer to Pension is that many veterans or their single surviving spouses can become eligible if they have a regular need for the aid and attendance of a caregiver or if they are housebound. Evidence of this need for care must be certified by VA as a "rating." With a rating, certain veterans or their surviving spouses can now qualify for Pension. Pension is also available to low income veteran households without a rating, but it is a lesser dollar amount.

Pension is an underused benefit.

There are different income categories for Pension, but the highest could pay as much as $1,949 a month in disability income to a qualifying veteran household. A study commissioned by VA in 2001 estimated, over the next 14 years, only about 30% of eligible veterans would apply for Pension. This is likely due to the fact that most veterans simply don't know about it. In fact, about a third of all seniors in this country, age 65 and older, could become eligible for pension under the right circumstances. That's how many elderly war veterans or their surviving spouses there are.

To receive Pension, a veteran must have served on active duty, at least 90 days, with at least one of those days during a period of war. There must be a discharge under conditions other than dishonorable. Single surviving spouses of such veterans are also eligible. If younger than 65, the veteran must be totally disabled. If age 65 and older, there is no requirement for disability. There is no age or disability requirement for a single surviving spouse.

There are income requirements, but a special provision does allow household income to be reduced by 12 months worth of future, recurring medical expenses. Normally, income is only reduced by medical expenses incurred in the month of application. These allowable, annualized medical expenses are such things as insurance premiums, ongoing prescription drug costs, out-of-pocket cost of monthly medical equipment rental, the cost of home care, the cost of paying adult children to provide care, the cost of adult day services, the cost of assisted living and the cost of a nursing home facility. These are all considered medical costs and they can be deducted from income to receive this benefit.

According to Mr. Day,

"I talk to a number of people every day who are inquiring about this benefit. In many cases they don't know that the benefit can pay members of the family to take care of the veteran, the veteran couple or the surviving spouse at home. I have literally had people who are sacrificing dearly to take care of their loved ones at home, break down and cry when they find they can receive some money from the government for that sacrifice."

Thomas Day has written two books for the National Care Planning Council to educate and help veterans obtain this long term care benefit. The first, “How to apply for the Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit” is to educate the public what the benefit is and how to get it. The claims process for pension is described and information is provided to help understand what documentation is necessary to provide evidence of recurring medical expenses. All forms necessary for filing a claim are included in the form support section of the book. Here is a link to the book.

Although this is a do-it-yourself book, Tom recommends if you have excessive assets and income or are not sure how to apply medical deductions, use the services of a qualified consultant.

The second book, “Aid & Attendance Handbook for Professionals & Consultants,” is for the professional consultant. It is 782 pages of rules, forms, instruction on the submission process and Medicaid planning strategies as well as software for calculating income, benefit and medical expenses. Here is a link to that book.

The secret for receiving a successful award for aid and attendance or housebound ratings is not in filling out the form but in knowing what documents and evidence must be submitted with the application. Knowing the secrets for a successful award -- with the special case of long term care recipients -- is 95% of the battle. Even though the form is challenging, filling out and filing a claim is a formality.

A knowledgeable consultant can provide information to shorten VA’s decision window of 6 to 12 months to possibly 3 or 4 months. The consultant also understands how to maximize the benefit or avoid a denial. The consultant can also provide guidance for meeting the asset test. Finally, the consultant can provide the actual strategies for reallocating assets and he or she can arrange for trusts or income conversions to allow for the best possible accommodation of assets for beneficiaries thus avoiding or reducing taxes, family disputes and Medicaid penalties.

“I would like to see every eligible veteran obtain the Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit for their long term care needs.” Thomas Day, Director, National Care Planning Council.


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