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Veterans Benefits

November 6, 2019

If you are a veteran overwhelmed with the high cost of long-term elder care, such as paying for assisted living facilities, home care aids, adult daycare, or skilled nursing, the Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit could be the solution to help offset these rising care costs. A wartime veteran or their surviving spouse (or just the spouse in case of the veteran’s death) with limited income may be eligible to receive additional monthly income over and above their Basic Monthly pension to help pay for these expenses.

Eligibility Requirements

Non-Financial Qualifications

1) Age – Veterans or their surviving spouses* must be at least 65 or officially disabled if younger.

2) Period of Military Service – Veterans must be considered “wartime veterans” meaning they served at least 90 days and served at least 1 day during wartime, but not necessarily in combat.

3) Discharge Status – Veterans cannot have been dishonorably discharged.

4) Disability Status – Veterans are eligible without a disability, but a higher benefit is available to those who are disabled.

* A surviving spouse must have been living with the veteran at the time of their death and must be single at time of claim.

Financial Requirements

Income Limits

A veteran’s and their spouse’s joint, countable income must be less than the pension amount for which they are eligible. For example, a married veteran in 2019 is eligible for $26,766 in pension; if their countable income is $10,000, then they are eligible to receive an additional $16,766 / year in pension.

However, because the VA allows applicants to deduct certain expenses and forms of income from their “countable income”, the applicants’ actual income can be considerably higher than their countable income.

Veterans should deduct all of their unreimbursed medical-related expenses for themselves and their spouses that are greater than 5% of the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR). For example, for a married couple applying for Aid & Attendance, 5% of the MAPR is $1,338. Therefore, if a couple has an annual income of $30,000, and $25,000 in medical-related expenses, one would subtract $1,338 from $25,000, which means $23,662 of their medical expenses could be deducted from their income. Therefore, their countable income would be $6,338 vs. an actual income of $30,000.

Medical-related expenses include the cost of care in skilled nursing, assisted living, adult day centers, and at home. Medicare and other insurance premiums, as well as prescriptions not covered by insurance, should also be included as medical-related expenses. Income from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and welfare benefits should not be included as countable income.

Asset Limit

To qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit and other pensions, the VA will look at the applicant’s overall net worth, which includes both (assets) and annual income. Assets, according to the VA, include assets in bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and property other than the veteran’s primary residence and vehicle. Other items that can be excluded when determining net worth are the value of your home and vehicles, household goods and furnishings, as well as personal effects, such as clothing.

As of 10/18/18, the VA implemented a net worth limit of $123,600.

As mentioned above, one’s net worth includes one’s annual income (after deducting unreimbursed medical expenses). Say a veteran has $12,000 in annual income after deducting eligible medical expenses, and has assets in the amount of $100,000. In this example, $12,000 in income would be added to the $100,000 in assets, equaling a total of $112,000 in net worth for the applicant.

The VA also has an asset look back rule that became effective on 10/18/18. This is similar to Medicaid’s asset test, which “looks back” at an applicant’s past asset transfers for up to 5 years preceding their application. However, the VA “look back” period is only for 3 years. During this timeframe, which immediately precedes one’s application date, the VA checks to ensure no assets were given away or sold under fair market value. If they find any such transfers, it is assumed the assets were gifted or sold in order to meet the new net worth limit of $123,600. Therefore, there will be a period of VA pension ineligibility. Please note: transfers made prior to 10/18/18 do not violate this new look back rule. Another exception is if the applicant transferred assets, but never had a net worth in excess of $123,600. If this is the case, these transfers do not violate the look back period.

There are no restrictions on how VA pension benefits can be used provided it is for the benefit of the veteran or their surviving spouse. It can be applied toward skilled nursing, assisted living facility, in-home or adult day care services, or to fund home modifications to accommodate for a disability. Furthermore, many veterans are unaware that VA Pensions can be used to pay a family member who is the caregiver of a veteran or survivor (with the exception of spouses). As mentioned, care expenses can be deducted from their income, including payments made to family members, such as children or grandchildren. Beneficiaries can then receive an increased pension benefit equal to the amount they have paid to their family member for care. Unfortunately, this method does not work for the veteran’s spouse since joint income is calculated as household income. Therefore, any salary the spouse received would be included as part of their household income, and would not be considered a deductible care expense.

Veterans and their families should be aware of potential eligibility conflicts between pensions and other assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs and/or other government programs.

  • Veterans cannot receive both VA Disability compensation and VA Aid and Attendance Pension.  However, they can receive the higher benefit of the two programs.
  • Receiving a VA pension may disqualify a veteran from receiving Medicaid benefits.  Often times the level of income assistance received from the Aid & Attendance benefit will exceed the maximum allowable amount of monthly income to receive Medicaid assistance. 

In addition to speaking with an attorney, eligibility for these programs should be reviewed with the V.A. in all cases where the Veteran or their spouse requires nursing home care. All of the counties in the tristate area offer free counseling to veterans and will assist with the application process.

Here are the phone numbers for agencies in the larger local counties:

  • Hamilton County Veterans Services              513.946.3300
  • Butler County Veterans Services                   513.887.3600
  • Warren County Veterans Services                 513.695.1345
  • Clermont County Veterans Services              513.732.7363
  • State of Kentucky Veterans Services             800.827.1000

About the Author

Ronald Zmuda

Ronald Zmuda

Ronald Zmuda practices primarily in the areas of Estate Planning, Tax law, Business Law, and Elder Law.

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