Millions of veterans who need long-term care are missing out on the benefits they’ve earned because they don’t know about them. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Aid & Attendance pension benefit pays for senior care, but the program has such a low profile that even children of career military parents don’t always know it exists.
Are your parents missing out? Learn more about the Aid & Attendance benefit for veterans and how families can apply.
“I first found out about Aid & Attendance while I was talking to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom,” says Lisa Paganetti of Colorado. Her father, Louis Dodson, served in the Air Force for 21 years. Two years ago he needed assisted living care after breaking his hip. In addition to moving her father from Texas to Colorado, Paganetti needed a way to pay for his long-term care expenses, which aren’t covered by Medicare.
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Paganetti and Melinda Mayo, the daughter of a World War II veteran who learned about the program from the VA website, say the Aid & Attendance application process was complex and time-consuming but worth it.
“That money made the difference to get my father the care he needed,” Mayo says.
As of October, the qualifications are clearer for new applicants than it was for Paganetti and Mayo because new VA guidelines clarify the maximum qualifying net worth an applicant can have.
Knowing about Aid & Attendance is the first step. As many as 25% of all U.S. seniors — veterans and their surviving spouses — might qualify for Aid & Attendance. But fewer than 550,000 veterans were receiving Aid & Attendance payments at the end of 2017.
The next step is deciding whether it’s worth it to apply or not because the process takes an average of nine months.
In addition to forms to fill out, there’s a long list of documents to submit, including:
(You can find a complete list of required documents and forms in A Place for Mom’s “Guide to VA Benefits & Long-Term Care.”)
“I went to the VA site and wasn’t sure Dad met the requirements,” says Mayo, whose father, Alton Butler, served in the Navy during World War II and needed care after a near-fatal bout of pneumonia.
Mayo, who lives in Virginia, decided to apply with help from a VA-accredited claims agent she hired to advise her. “I gathered everything I needed under their guidance and submitted it to the VA. They followed up with the VA and called on my behalf when there were delays to get things back on track.” In all, Mayo says it took her about three months to gather the required documents and another six months for the application to be approved. She was able to move her parents into assisted living to give her dad round-the-clock care and to relieve her mother, Nelle, of most of her caregiving workload. After her father passed away, Mayo had to re-apply with the VA to get surviving-spouse Aid & Attendance benefits for her mom. “That time it took about three months because dad was already in the system.”
Paganetti found free help with her dad’s application from the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs. “They made an appointment with me to go over everything and make sure it was all there and filled out correctly” before she sent the package to the VA.
A qualified veteran or surviving spouse who is 65 or older can get Aid & Attendance to help pay for care in an assisted living community, a nursing home, or at home. Recipients can use their benefit to pay an adult child who’s acting as their caregiver, but not a caregiving spouse.
Eligibility factors include:
Before October, the VA only said that an applicant’s net worth couldn’t be “excessive.” Now $123,600 is the upper limit of net worth, excluding appliances, a home and vehicles. There’s also a new three-year lookback period, similar to the Medicaid lookback period, to ensure that applicants haven’t given away assets that would have put their net worth over the limit. Gifts and transfers that don’t meet the requirements may result in delays of the benefit for veterans, but they’re not necessarily disqualifying.
How much money do recipients get each month? It depends on several factors, but the current maximum for a single veteran with no dependents is $1,831 and the maximum for a married veteran is $2,170.
Both Mayo and Paganetti made a point of mentioning that the VA pays retroactive benefits on approval. When the VA approves your parent’s application, the agency sends a lump sum covering the time from the day you filed the application until the day it was approved. Then your parent receives monthly payments going forward. Paying for her dad’s assisted living “was a struggle until we got the approval,” Paganetti said, “and that retroactive payment was a huge relief. I can’t imagine not having this for Dad.”
There are resources to help you learn more about Aid & Attendance benefit for veterans and to help you apply. A Place for Mom’s “Guide to VA Benefits & Long-Term Care” includes information about eligibility and a complete list of the documents you’ll need to apply.
Other helpful resources include:
You can also get in touch with A Place for Mom to answer any questions about finding and paying for senior care.
This Veterans Day, take a few minutes to see if your parents may be eligible for Aid & Attendance and how you can help them claim a benefit they’ve earned.
Are you already taking advantage of this benefit for veterans? What was your Aid & Attendance application process like? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.