Assisted Living for Veterans: Benefits You Didn’t Know Existed

 

Veterans give their all in the service, yet may find it challenging to resume their civilian lives, especially if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Reintegrating into the community can be a long, hard road.

Vets face an additional hurdle if they need to move into an assisted living facility (ALF): the high cost of care.

The Affordable Care Act will not affect veterans per se if they are enrolled in Veterans’ Administration (VA) health care. For veterans who are not enrolled, it’s a mixed blessing: they can potentially see an increase in Medicaid coverage, though care is likely to be more fragmented once vets venture beyond the VA’s closed system.

Little-Known Benefit A Boon for Vets

Fortunately, U.S. veterans — and their surviving spouses — may be eligible for additional benefits to help cover the costs of assisted living. The Aid and Attendance benefit, offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs, is a monthly, needs-based payment above and beyond the VA pension that can help cover the costs of long-term care. It is important to note that a veteran or surviving spouse may only receive Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits; not both at once.

This website explains in clear language how the Aid and Attendance pension works. The A&A pension can provide up to $1,788 per month to a veteran, $1,149 per month to a surviving spouse, or $2,120 per month to a couple. A veteran with a sick spouse is eligible for up to $1,406 per month.

Eligibility May Be Easier Than You Think

Many veterans and their families are unaware of this benefit, but even those who know about the Aid and Attendance pension tend to overlook it as a resource if the veteran is still independent, but has a spouse who is ill. In this situation, if the spouse’s medical expenses completely deplete the couple’s combined monthly income, the veteran can still file as a veteran with an ailing spouse.

As this New York Times blog post on the New Old Age makes clear, “To qualify, a veteran need not have suffered a service-related injury. He or she only had to have clocked at least one day of his or her 90-day minimum military service during a time of war, and need caregiving for activities of daily living.”

And, adds Debbie Burak, founder of VeteranAid.org, “The VA classifies any veteran at the age of 65 to be permanently and totally disabled regardless of your physical state. The classification of ‘disabled’ entitles the veteran or widow to a Basic Pension if he/she meets the net worth and income criteria. The same is true for the surviving spouse. No Physician’s Statement is required for filing for Basic Pension.”

Burak became passionate about veterans’ benefits after her elderly parents missed out on more than $160,000 in VA benefits to which they would have been entitled. Burak discovered the Aid and Attendance pension after her father died and applied on her mother’s behalf, but did not receive a check prior to her mother’s death.

To be financially eligible for Basic Pension:

    • A single veteran must have countable income under $12,907 a year
    • A veteran with a dependent or spouse must have countable income under $16,902 a year

This worksheet will help you calculate “countable income.”

What Aid and Attendance Does and Does Not Cover

While the A&A benefit does not cover the entire cost of an assisted living facility, it can help pay for some of the services provided by an ALF. This is a boon for a veteran or veteran’s spouse who requires long-term care.

In order to qualify for A&A benefits, a veteran (or spouse) must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Need assistance with activities of daily living (ADL) such as bathing, dressing, eating, or adjusting prosthetic devices;
  • Be bedridden;
  • Reside in a long-term care facility due to mental or physical incapacity;
  • Have severe visual impairment, with a correction of 5/200 or less in both eyes, or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.

Eligibility varies by state, but the benefits can be significant. Contact your local Veteran Affairs office or an elder law expert to determine whether you or your loved one qualifies. Because health care benefits and later life housing are so critical for veterans, it’s helpful to review all the options currently available.

Assisted Living with Pets: A Doggone Purrrfect Match!

Seniors who have pets may think of Fluffy or Fido as another grandchild, and treat their cat or dog accordingly. So while a move to assisted living may be warranted in terms of health or mobility, they may balk if it means saying farewell to their beloved canine or feline friend.

Unless they can make the move together.

How Moving with A Pet Helps Seniors Adjust

Relocating can be stressful, especially if someone is leaving their longtime home and friends. Bringing a pet along can help new residents feel at home, and adapt to the new environment more easily.

The trauma of separation can adversely affect both an elder and their animal companion. Fortunately, over the last decade the number of assisted living facilities that permit pets has mushroomed, along with the aging population. Approximately 54 percent of assisted living facilities (ALFs) allow residents to bring their own pet to their new home; 39 percent of ALFs provide a “common pet” for residents, according to the CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities.

At Sunrise Senior Living, for example, every community has a resident cat and dog, in addition to any personal pets residents choose to bring when they move in (or that they later adopt). Many of the community pets are carefully selected from local shelters, for their calm temperaments and friendly personalities that make them well suited to seniors.

Health Benefits of Pets

The health benefits of pets, whether a family dog or one loved by the assisted living community as a whole, are well documented. In addition to the physical activity walking a dog or playing with a cat provides, numerous studies show having a pet helps:

  • Improve disposition and mood
  • Decrease stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Ease pain
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Enhance social interaction
  • Improve immunity
  • Soothe sundowning (for people with cognitive impairment)
  • Increase motivation

Caveats to Keep in Mind

Of course, dogs, cats, and other pets require care in order to survive and thrive. And there’s the expense: pets must be fed, given appropriate shots, and may require visits to the vet if they become ill or injured.

Before a senior decides to bring their own pet to assisted living — or to adopt one, if the facility allows residents to keep personal pets — it’s important to consider the following:

  • How much experience do I have owning a dog/cat/bird, etc?
  • Am I able to care for a pet? If you are physically disabled, cats are the best animal to adopt, unless you have (or are considering) a service animal. Another option may be a small dog that is paper-trained, or an indoor bird.
  • Is my pet (or potential adopted pet) the right age? An older pet will require less energy. Kittens and puppies require a lot of attention and activity, and may not be allowed per the ALF’s regulations. Also, if you do decide to adopt a young animal, consider its potential life span. Be sure to make contingency plans in the event your pet outlives you.
  • Is your pet good-natured? An animal with a relaxed personality is best for a community living setting.
  • Is your pet healthy? Before deciding to move with your pet, and especially before deciding to adopt a new animal, have the pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian.
  • Do you have the resources to support a pet? Annual pet care can run from a routine $1000/year to upwards of $5000 if your pet develops health issues.

Restrictions An ALF May Impose

Finally, even an assisted living facility that allows pets will likely have certain requirements regarding your animal friend’s admittance. These may include:

  • Screening to ensure your dog or cat will fit in with other residents and any community pets;
  • Weight, breed, size and age restrictions: you may be permitted to bring an older dog or cat under a certain weight and size, for instance, but puppies and kittens less than a year old may be excluded. Or, dogs and cats may be allowed, but not reptiles or birds;
  • A specified trial period to assess how well your pet is adjusting to the community, and vice versa;
  • A financial deposit to cover possible pet-related damages (e.g., an accident on the carpet);
  • Extra fees to cover services you may not be able to provide at some point during the time you live there, such as dog walking, cleaning kitty litter, bathing your pet, etc. As a general rule, most communities that allow pets expect residents to be able to care for their personal pets, with minimal assistance.

Pets can bring incredible joy and well being to a senior’s life in assisted living. By planning ahead for a move with your beloved pet, your new place can feel just like home.