On Veteran’s Day, we honor those who have served our country. Our government offers many benefits to veterans to repay them for their service, one of which is assistance with paying for long-term care costs. This VA benefit, which is called the Aid and Attendance Benefit, is available to wartime veterans and their surviving spouses and can be used to pay for home care, assisted living or skilled nursing facilities. These benefits are paid in addition to any monthly pension. For many elderly or disabled veterans, this little-known benefit can help in paying for care and aging in place.
Like many government benefits, the Veteran or spouse must meet a series of criteria in order to become eligible. Generally, a Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a wartime period to qualify for a VA Pension.
In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the Veteran must be:
- Age 65 or older, AND
- Permanently disabled, OR
- A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
- Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR SSI
The highest monthly benefit is available when a wartime veteran or surviving spouse requires the assistance of another person to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), is blind (or nearly so), or is in a nursing home. There are also asset and monthly income limits to qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits. However, there are legal planning techniques available to help qualify when income or assets exceed the allowable amounts.
For veterans with assets in excess of the limit, an irrevocable trust (sometimes called a VAPT – Veterans Asset Protection Trust) can be used to shelter excess assets and help the veteran or spouse qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit. Currently there is no lookback period for imposed for transfers. This means that excess assets can be transferred into the trust in one month, and the veteran will be able to qualify for benefits in the following month. However, there is proposed legislation that would impose a lookback period of three years on transfers to irrevocable trusts for VA benefits, meaning that one would have to wait three years after funding the trust before applying for VA benefits. If this legislation does get passed, it just means that you need to start planning well in advance of the time when you will need long-term care, like one would plan for Medicaid long-term care benefits.
It is also important to note that benefits are retroactive to the first of the month the claim for benefits has been filed, so it is important to file as soon as possible. There is new federal policy where one may be able go back 12 months for nursing home applications. The VA will also allow veterans’ households to deduct the annual cost of paying any person such as family members, friends or hired help for care when calculating the Pension benefit. For 2016, the monthly benefit could be up to $1,149 a month for a singe surviving spouse of a veteran, up to $1,788 a month for a single veteran or up to $2,120 a month for a couple.
If you are a veteran, spouse of a veteran, or know a veteran who needs help in paying for the rising costs of long-term care, please contact the Herzog Law Firm. Our VA accredited attorneys can help determine eligibility requirements, file applications, as well as coordinate with your overall estate plan.