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.