Like any other large organization, the VA requires a high degree of self-advocacy to ensure that veterans get the benefits they are due. This is not always fair nor easy for veterans or their spouses.
The benefits that most veterans are concerned with are known as "aid and attendance," or non-service-connected disability benefits. These benefits were designed to help vets and their families by providing a monthly cash reimbursement for vets and spouses who are paying out-of-pocket medical costs. It does not matter if these costs are incurred at home or in a facility—a fact about VA benefits commonly misunderstood by the very people who need them the most. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in "Elder Law: Veterans - Never Give Up," explains these and other facts about this program.
The article says that Pennsylvania is in the top five state five states with the highest veteran populations in the country. There are between 700,000 and 1 million people (including veterans' widows) in the state who could qualify for benefits. Unfortunately, only a small percentage qualifies because of the complex application system—and the abundance of misinformation about the program.
Many veterans receive benefits advice from an initial source, which may be a negative message, and they leave it at that. They never bother to inquire further. It would be like receiving a terminal medical diagnosis and not getting a second opinion.
Here are a few of the biggest offenders that warrant further investigation before accepting the response:
- You can't get aid and attendance if you live at home. Not true. The benefit is meant to reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses—it doesn't matter where you live. Even if you're at home with a family member providing care, there are still ways to secure this benefit.
- You have too much money or income to qualify. The article says this is just a math problem. There is no set income or asset limit to qualify for VA benefits. The VA uses an age-weighted asset/income test to determine eligibility. In addition, there are legitimate estate planning strategies that can help you expedite financial eligibility.
- Why bother? If the veteran or his spouse dies before the VA application is approved, no money is paid. There are ways to file for a post-death payment to the surviving spouse or heirs—provided the original claim was properly filed and is decided after the applicant's death. Many people don't know that you can get retroactive benefits even after the applicant dies, but there are deadlines. The next of kin must follow up promptly with the VA.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about the rules and regulations of VA benefits, in addition to a bureaucratic quagmire, that prevent applicants from even thinking about pursuing aid and attendance benefits. Speak to a VA accredited attorney to find out what a veteran is owed and how to go about getting your benefits.
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