by Sonja Kobrin, M.P.S.
Ask an elderly Veteran if they are aware they may be eligible for a pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs and they will tell you “I’m not eligible because I was not injured in the War.” This is a common misconception which keeps many Veterans from tapping into a benefit they well earned by serving our country. The fact is elderly, disabled Veterans and their widows may very well qualify for large sums of money, but they have to apply for the funds. There are several Veteran pensions, but the pension designed to help elderly Veterans and Veteran’s Widows pay for costly Home Health Care, Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home fees (if the Veteran is not covered by Medicaid) is called Special Monthly Pension with Aid and Attendance. The pension can pay a married Veteran up to $2,054.00 per month, an unmarried Veteran up to $1,732.00 per month and a Veteran’s Widow can receive up to $1,113.00 per month. The amount one receives is based upon their medical expenses and their current financial and medical status. The pension is paid by check directly to the Veteran or Veteran’s Widow every month as long as they meet the criteria.
The Special Monthly Pension with Aid and Attendance is the government’s best kept secret. I cannot tell you how many seniors have told me that they called the Department of Veterans Affairs and were actually told that this pension does not exist or that they do not qualify. Since 1993, I have assisted Veterans and Veteran’s Widows in obtaining these funds – they really do exist.
To get the maximum pension amount, a Veteran must qualify medically and financially and must have served their country for at least one day during “War Time”. Also the Veteran must have been honorably discharged. Every case is considered individually. If a Veteran or Veteran’s Widow feels they may qualify, they can apply for the pension. The pension can take many months to actually be approved. The average waiting period is three to eight months, sometimes much longer. The first pension check will be paid retroactive to the month after the application arrived at the Department of Veteran Affairs, therefore the first check may be for thousands of dollars. Subsequent checks will arrive monthly for the approved amount. This pension money can mean the difference between affording adequate care for an aging Veteran/ Widow or having no care at all.
As with any governmental program, success is all in the paperwork. The pension application is several pages long and some of it is in essay form. It is the exact wording used in the essay areas that mean the difference between approval and denial. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not tell Veterans about all the supporting documents that they would like to see. The better the medical and financial records, the better the chances are of approval. Including the right medical forms signed by a doctor is very important for approval. Also typical of governmental red tape is the frustrating lack of communication. Once the application is filed and in the process of being reviewed, it is nearly impossible for the applicant to receive an update or check on the status of the application. For most of our clients, they are too ill or too confused to make a call like that.
In a perfect world, financial assistance for those who qualify should be easily accessible. The reality is that government agencies are inherently complicated and their application processes are never self explanatory or simple. Ignorance of the rules is no excuse and no one will tell you the rules. The rules are written in a handbook, but the Department of Veterans Affairs is not allowed to give them to you. Seasoned elder care professionals can often navigate these processes for you. The Department of Veterans Affairs and and other Veteran Service Organizations employ staff to help Veterans and their Widows apply for these pensions for free, but it is these very people who have told so many seniors that they do not qualify, when in fact they could qualify if they made one small change. Those working for the Department of Veterans Affairs or other veteran organzations are forbiddne to let you know how to adjust your income or assets in order to qualify. Many times a person must just spend more on medical care to be awarded the pension, but if they are not told, they will be denied. Perhaps the Department of Veterans Affairs is afraid that if they made it easy for every Veteran to apply, the pension fund would go broke. Given that War Time includes the Gulf War Era which began in 1990 and has not ended yet, I anticipate the pension fund will one day be either broke or impossible to get. For now, the money is very much available and attainable.
Here are the Special Monthly Pension with Aid and Attendance eligibility criteria for the year 2013.
- Veteran served in the Military for at least one day during War Time or had a spouse who served at that time. Spouses are people whom you never divorced.
- WAR TIMES:
- WWII – Dec 7, 1941-dec 31, 1946
- Korean War – June 27, 1950 – Jan 31, 1955
- Vietnam War – Feb 28, 1961- May 7, 1975
- Gulf War – August 2, 1990 – present
- Honorably Discharged from the Military.
- Currently has medical or psychological condition which make the Veteran or Veteran widow dependent on the aid or assistance of a non- family member in order to meet their daily care needs or they reside in an Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home (not on Medicaid). This claim must be supported by physician signed forms, financial data and medical records.
- Financial Criteria: Have assets in their own name below $80,000 (if married) or below $50,000 (if single). The car and house does not count as an asset. Monthly income below $1,732,.00 (if single) or $ 2,054.00 (if married) and $1,113.00 if an un-remarried widow. After all medical expenses such as insurance premiums/co-pays, assisted living facility fees, paid caregiver salary, medications, medical transportation/ supplies, certain housing expenses, etc.
- Note: Income figures are AFTER COUNTABLE , RE-OCCURRING MEDICAL EXPENSES. VA may require someone of advanced age to have fewer assets than quoted above. We have seen this when applicants are over 80 years old.
In many cases, if a person has a paid care giver, such as a nurse’s aide, or if they pay an Assisted Living Facility, or they pay out of pocket for a nursing home, those expenses impact so greatly on a person’s net income, that they will meet the criteria for the income level.
If a Veteran or Veteran Widow has cash assets above the limit, they are allowed to place those assets into certain investments in order to have them “sheltered”. This sheltering does not have a penalty or “look back period” associated with it at this time. Proper asset sheltering for Special Monthly Pension with Aid and Attendance should be done under the supervision of an elder care professional or attorney well versed in Medicaid planning because one could easily ruin the chances of ever getting Medicaid if the V.A. Pension planning was done incorrectly.
With a little professional planning, many Veterans and Veteran Widows can receive pensions that make a significant difference in the amount of care they receive. After all, the reason for this particular pension is to assure that a Veteran or Veteran Widow does not live in a substandard environment in their old age. It takes a little work to apply for this pension, but anything worth having usually does.