For those who’ve served the nation in uniform, there are a wide variety of benefits available. Unfortunately, many of these veterans often labor under the misconception that they’re only eligible for help if they suffered some sort of service-related injury that left them with an ongoing disability. The reality is that the Veteran’s Administration (VA) has been charged with providing a wide variety of benefit programs to the nation’s veterans. The Pension Program is one of the most important of these benefit options. If you’re a serviceman or woman in need of long-term care assistance, an estate planning and veteran’s benefits attorney can help you to secure the critical help you need.
What is the VA Pension Program?
The VA Pension program is one of those government programs for veterans that receives little press or attention. For that other reasons, many veterans and their spouses are simply unaware that the program exists – or have no clue that they might be eligible to take advantage of its benefits. That’s unfortunate, since the Pension Program is one of only a few government benefit programs that offers real assistance for dealing with the high cost of long-term care.
While Medicaid remains the top source for nursing home payments in the United States, it’s important for senior veterans to know that they have other program options as well. This program can be of special benefit to veterans and their surviving spouses, providing supplemental funding for expensive health care needs like assisted living, nursing homes, and even in-home care for beneficiaries who need it.
The VA Pension Program is only for veterans who served a minimum of 90 days, and whose service took place during one of four wartime periods:
- December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946 – the World War II period
- June 27, 1950 to January 31, 1955 – the Korean War era
- August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975 – the period covering the Vietnam War
- August 2, 1990 to an as-yet undetermined date – the Gulf War period
There are other criteria as well, and a benefits attorney can help seniors or disabled veterans who have questions about whether they meet those requirements. It is important to note, though, the veterans do not need to have seen actual combat, need not have retired from service, and don’t necessarily need to have a disability to qualify for aid.
The Program’s Three Tiers
There are three tiers to the Pension Program, including the Basic Pension, the Housebound benefit, and something known as Aid and Attendance. They each have different requirements for eligibility:
The Basic Pension is there for any veteran who is at least 65 years of age, or suffering from a permanent and complete disability. Note that the disability cannot have been the result of that veteran’s own misconduct, or else benefits can be denied.
The Housebound tier is available for veterans who have been diagnosed with one permanent disability that has been rated as one-hundred percent disabling. That disability must also be so debilitating that the veteran is largely restricted to his or her own home. Alternatively, there can be one disability rated as one-hundred percent disabling and another disability that is at least sixty percent disabling.
Aid and Attendance
There are four distinct ways that veterans can qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit. These include any of the following options:
- The veteran is bedridden with disabilities that prevent other movement – except, of course, for necessary treatment or convalescence.
- The veteran is blind with vision that is rated at 5/200 or less. This lack of visual acuity must be present in both eyes. Alternatively, a visual field contracted to no more than 5 degrees of sight can also warrant eligibility.
- The veteran requires help with ordinary daily tasks like dressing, bathing, using the bathroom, feeding, or providing for his or her own security needs.
- The veteran needs nursing home care as a result of either physical or mental incapacity.
The VA’s Eligibility Determination
Even veterans who know about these program tiers often find themselves struggling to find out whether they qualify for needed benefits. That’s because the benefits require that the veteran (or his or her surviving spouse) have “countable income” that meets the criteria set forth for the given tier. That countable income is determined using a formula that reduces the income you receive by factoring in medical expenses, nursing care that you might receive, Medicare premium costs, pharmacy expenses, and other costs.
To make matters even more complicated, the VA uses a “net worth” eligibility test that can be difficult to figure out. Basically, the agency evaluates your circumstances and decides for itself whether you have enough assets to provide yourself with financial support until you die. Certain hard assets like a home and a car are not included in that determination.
For the average veteran, that process can make it difficult to plan for eligibility, and that can end up costing people many thousands of dollars in lost access to benefit money. Each tier offers a different level of assistance, with the Basic at the lowest end of the spectrum and the Aid and Assistance providing the most help. Even surviving spouses can receive some aid, in the form of a Death Pension that can be as much as $1,149 per month.
How an Attorney Can Help
Just as seniors often need help to ensure that they qualify for Medicaid benefits, many veterans require assistance to secure the veteran’s benefits that they need. That’s where an experienced estate planning, elder law, and veteran’s benefits attorney can come into play. At Michigan attorneys Biddinger, Bitzer & Estelle, PLLC, our expert team can help you to navigate through the Veterans Administration maze to get the help to which you’re entitled. We can help you with the application process, represent you during any appeal of a denial of benefits, or work with you to arrange your assets and income to more easily qualify for assistance. If you need help getting the benefits you deserve, then contact us online or call us today at (989) 872-5601.