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Change to VA Benefits

Today’s older veterans deserve recognition for their commitment, service and sacrifice. Undoubtedly, our country is what it is today because of what they gave.  We owe them so much.

Every day we talk to veterans and their families about benefits that they are entitled to. Oftentimes, these veterans are completely unaware that their service from decades ago matters today.

Most notably, our elder law attorneys help families secure VA Pension with Aid and Attendance benefits. This cash benefit is tax-free and helps cover an eligible veteran’s (or surviving spouse’s) costs for caregivers, nursing homes or assisted living. The benefit is a sizable amount—for some it can be up to $2,169/month.

Unfortunately, many veterans don’t know that they can qualify for benefits from the VA.  After their service they may have used the VA education benefits or a home loan through the VA, but they mistakenly believed that only veterans with service-related injuries qualify for other services.  Or they have heard horror stories about veterans applying and being denied benefits after a lengthy process.

What Benefits Are Available?

Disability Compensation—Many Vietnam War Vets who had “boots on the ground” between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are assumed to have exposure to Agent Orange (a herbicide used extensively in the war).  This exposure presumptively causes a number of illnesses that these veterans now have, such as Diabetes and heart disease. The VA provides these vets with compensation and health care benefits.

Burial Expenses— The VA provides some help with burial expenses and a free headstone or marker and burial flag. To learn more about this benefit, please visit https://www.cem.va.gov/pre-need/

Health Insurance for Dependents—CHAMPVA is the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program that provides health insurance to the spouses and dependents of permanently and totally disabled veterans. https://www.va.gov/COMMUNITYCARE/programs/dependents/champva/index.asp provides more detailed information.

VA Pension with Aid and Attendance—This benefit helps with long-term care costs for older veterans and their spouses. It can help with the cost of caregivers that come into the home, the cost of senior living communities, and the cost of nursing home care. As mentioned earlier, the benefit is a sizable amount, reaching up to $2,169/month for some

Who is Eligible?

Career and non-career military veterans can qualify for benefits. In general, veterans must have served at least 90 days of active duty and have a discharge that is other than dishonorable to qualify for many benefits. (This requirement extends to 24 months of active duty for veterans who served after 1980.)

Also, non-disabled veterans may use the VA medical system. Non-disabled veterans may have to pay co-pays, and eligibility can be checked at https://www.vets.gov/health-care/eligibility/

To qualify for the VA Pension with Aid and Attendance benefit, you must be paying for some kind of care, have $123,600 or less in assets (excluding one home and one vehicle), and have served at least one day during wartime while on active duty.  The VA has its own definition of income which they utilize in examining an application. Your income for “VA Purposes” is your gross income less your unreimbursed medical expenses (click here for a list of possible medical expenses). There is NO specified income limit for VA pension benefits. If the income for VA Purposes is less than the maximum benefit ($2,169/month for a married couple, $1,830/month for a single veteran, and $1,176 for a surviving spouse), the veteran or surviving spouse is eligible for VA Pension with Aid and Attendance from an income standpoint.

What about the recent changes?

The VA is implementing some new rules for the VA Pension with Aid and Attendance Benefit (or the Improved Pension) that will go into effect on October 18, 2018.

Asset Requirements: The VA has now set the asset limit at $123,600 for eligibility. This amount includes retirement assets, but excludes a home and a vehicle. If your assets exceed the current VA limits, there are asset planning options that can help you qualify. Consulting with a Certified Elder Law Attorney can help you determine the best way to qualify, given your circumstances. Be warned, though, the VA is implementing a 36-month look-back period that will go into effect on October 18th.

Look-Back Period: Prior to these changes, veterans could make last-minute changes, transferring their assets and then immediately apply for benefits.  With this new 36-month look-back period, pre-planning for VA benefits is a must.  Note, however, that you still have until October 18, 2018 to make changes as any transfers that happen prior to October 18th will not be subject to the look-back period.

David Wingate is an elder law attorney at the Elder Law Office of David Wingate, LLC. The elder law office services clients with powers of attorneys, living wills, Wills, Trusts, Medicaid and asset protection. The Elder Law office has locations in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland.

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