Insights & Advice

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Listen up Veterans, Pay Attention to Aid and Attendance

There is a little-known special pension available to veterans and their spouses called The Veterans’ Aid and Attendance Special Pension. If you are disabled or fear you may become so in the future. This program could mean the difference between just scraping by and living a reasonably, comfortable life style in your sunset years.

This pension provides benefits for vets and surviving spouses who require regular attendance of another person to assist in eating, bathing, dressing or taking care of the needs of nature. It also includes individuals who are blind or a patient in a nursing home because of mental or physical incapacity. Assisted care, in an assisted living facility as well as in-home care also qualifies.

Like you, if or when I become disabled, as a Vietnam Vet, I can qualify for as much as $1,632/month and when I die, my wife Barbara, as a surviving spouse, can receive as much as $1,055 per month or $1,949/month for a couple. Now, that comes to about $60/day which is a lot less than the $200/day most long-term disability insurance policies provide, but there are two big differences.

The vast majority of vets (myself included) never took out that kind of insurance, and secondly to do so now at my age (60) it would cost me upwards of $12-15,000/year and there’s no guarantee that the benefits would be enough to support me for more than a year or two in a nursing home by the time I turn 70.
“Very few vets know about this program,” says Gail Kerwood, a registered nurse and executive director of Sugar Hill at Home, “it occupies about three sentences in the Vets benefits manual.”

Kerwood should know since she has helped dozens of veterans and their families across the country apply for this pension. She charges an hourly fee and can save applicants a great deal of time and frustration. She warns that it is an onerous and complicated application which needs every T crossed and I dotted before the government will accept the application.

A cursory look at the application which you can pull off the internet (VA form 21-526 for vets and VA Form 21-534 for dependents) suggests to me that the smarter way to go is through your local VA representative or service agency if you want to attempt the process yourself. You can also check out www.VeteranAid.org for more information.

To qualify you need to be an honorably-discharged, war-time vet with 90 days of active duty beginning or ending during a period of war (Persian Gulf, Vietnam Era, Korean Conflict, WWII and WWI, etc.). As for a surviving spouse, the vet must be qualified and your marriage must have ended due to the death of the veteran. There are also financial as well as additional medical criteria that are necessary to qualify.

For example, an applicant must have less than $80,000 in assets, excluding their home and vehicles however there is no “look back” period as in the case of programs such as Medicaid. Take the case of my deceased father-in-law, a Korean War vet, who was afflicted with dementia. Prior to his death, it was touch and go as to whether the family had the resources to provide nursing care for him so they applied for Medicaid assistance. In order to qualify, my mother-in-law would have had to be practically a pauper without any real assets in her name. If for some reason she had been able to prepare for this calamity and qualify for Medicaid by transferring assets to her children or to a trust ahead of time, the government insists on a five year period where they can “look back” and count any assets transferred during that time as part of her net worth.

There is quite a bit of information that you or your family must gather and prepare before applying for the pension. A partial list would include a copy of your DD-214 (discharge papers), marriage certificate, death certificate, and a social security award letter, net worth information, proof of all income, and proof of non-reimbursable insurance premiums, medications, medical bills and other medical expenses, plus a physician’s statement of the vet’s medical condition.

“Each area of the application needs to be filled out with an eye to what the government is looking for in an applicant,” explained Kerwood, who has seen applicants denied simply for forgetting to sign a document or failing to supply the cost date of a prescription.

Yet the application process is worth the time and effort that is required because for many vets and their families the compensation available can be crucial to allowing the vet or spouse to live out their days with the assistance and treatment they deserve and require. The program was put there for a reason. I risked my life countless times for this country during my stint as a Marine in Vietnam and I’m sure many vets reading this column did the same thing. I say we deserve this benefit and should take full advantage of it both for ourselves and our families. Semper Fi!

Posted in A Few Dollars More, Financial Planning