Dear Savvy Senior,
I have heard that the VA has a benefit that can help veterans and spouses with long-term care costs. We recently had to move my 86-year-old father — who served in the Army nearly 60 years ago — into an assisted living facility, and my mom isn’t far behind. Can the VA help? — Seeking Aid
The Veterans Administration does indeed have a little- known, underutilized benefit that can help wartime veterans and their surviving spouses pay for a variety of long-term care costs.
This benefit, called “Aid and Attendance,” is a special pension that’s paid in addition to a basic pension.
It pays a maximum of $2,230 a month to married veterans; $1,881 a month to single veterans; or $1,209 a month to a surviving spouse. The money is tax-free, and can be used to pay for in-home care, assisted living and nursing home care.
Today, only around 230,000 veterans and survivors receive Aid and Attendance, but millions more are eligible and either don’t know about it or don’t think they can qualify for it.
To qualify, your dad must have served at least 90 days of active military service with at least one day of service during a period of war, and not have been discharged dishonorably. Single surviving spouses of wartime vets are eligible if their marriage ended due to death.
In addition, your dad will also have to meet certain thresholds for medical and financial need to be eligible.
To qualify medically he must be either disabled, or over the age of 65 and need help with basic everyday living tasks such as eating, dressing, bathing or going to the bathroom.
Being blind or in a nursing home or assisted living facility due to mental disability also qualifies him. Single surviving spouses have no age restrictions, but they must require help with basic everyday living tasks to be eligible.
To qualify financially, your parents must have limited assets, under $127,061, excluding their home, vehicle and personal belongings. And their annual income (minus medical and long-term care expenses) cannot exceed the maximum allowable pension rate, which in 2019 is $26,766 for a veteran and spouse; $22,577 for a single veteran; and $14,509 for a surviving spouse.
To calculate your dad’s income qualifications, add up your parents’ income over the past year (including Social Security, pensions, interest income from investments, annuities, etc.), minus any out-of-pocket medical expenses, prescription drugs, insurance premiums and long-term care costs over that same period of time. If the final tally is under the MAPR and he meets the other requirements, he should be eligible for aid.
How to apply
To learn more, or to apply for Aid and Attendance, contact your regional VA benefit office (see Benefits.va.gov/benefits/offices.asp or call 800-827-1000) where you can apply in person.
You can also apply by writing the Pension Management Center for your state (see Benefits.va.gov/pension/resources-contact.asp). You’ll need to include evidence, like VA Form 21-2680 (VA.gov/vaforms), which your dad’s doctor can fill out that shows his need for Aid and Attendance.
If you need some help, you can appoint a veteran service officer, a VA-accredited attorney or claims agent to represent your dad. See www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/vso-search to locate someone.
If your dad is eligible, it will take between six and 12 months for his application to be processed, so be patient.
You should also know that if your dad’s Aid and Attendance application is approved, the VA will send a lump-sum retroactive payment covering the time from the day you filed the application until the day it was approved. Then your dad receives monthly payments going forward.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.