Are you or your loved one a U.S. military veteran or military veteran’s spouse? Veterans or their surviving spouses in need of senior care may qualify for extra financial help on top of their basic pension. Here are the highlights of the little-known Aid and Attendance benefit, which can provide financial assistance to senior veterans or their spouses who need long-term care but can’t pay for the full costs on their own. For more details, download our Guide to VA Benefits and Long-Term Care e-book.
Aid and Attendance is a pension program provided to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
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The VA helps veterans and their families by providing supplemental income through the Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension benefit programs. Veterans (or their widowed spouses) in good health qualify for the basic pension if they are 65 or older and have a low income level.
Veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and who require the aid and attendance of another person (or are housebound) may be eligible for additional monthly payments above the normal pension amount — those additional payments are the Aid and Attendance benefit.
However, to qualify for Aid and Attendance, a veteran or surviving spouse must first qualify for the basic VA pension.
The VA lists many eligibility factors for the basic VA pension:
To qualify for Aid and Assistance, you must meet one of these additional medical requirements:
Depending on the veteran’s care needs and financial status, the Aid and Attendance benefit can provide $2,170 or more per month toward the cost of several types of senior care, including nursing homes, assisted living, memory care, residential care homes, adult day services, and more.
Aid and Attendance can be used to help pay for a nursing home, although it may not be especially helpful if the applicant is eligible for Medicaid or expects to go onto Medicaid soon. This is because the benefit will not pay more than $90 per month to someone who is eligible for Medicaid — the exception being those who reside in state VA nursing homes, which are exempt from this rule.
The Aid and Attendance program can be helpful for those who are on the cusp of being able to afford a private-pay nursing home. For example, Aid and Attendance could bridge the financial gap for a veteran who makes $6,000 a month but hopes to live in a nursing home that costs $7,000 a month.
Aid and Attendance can also provide additional income for a spouse at home, or if there is a statewide waiting list for Medicaid beds.
Yes — surviving spouses of veterans may receive VA benefits, which include both the basic pension as well as Aid and Attendance. Those benefits help pay for nursing home costs.
It’s important to note that you must be a widowed spouse of a veteran to apply for and receive VA benefits on your own. Spouses and other dependents of living veterans may be eligible for other types of benefits, such as education, financial counseling, and basic health care.
However, veterans with a spouse or other dependents may qualify for higher award amounts. This 2020 chart shows the amount of aid for single veterans and for those with spouses and other dependents.
The VA does not differentiate between a nursing home and assisted living community in their definition of “nursing home.” This means that, in most states, residents of assisted living communities often qualify for the benefit.
Assisted living communities have emerged in the last two or three decades as an alternative to nursing homes for those who need some care, but not 24-hour skilled nursing care. Aid and Attendance can help qualified recipients pay for assisted living.
Assisted living communities provide personal care in addition to more basic amenities like meals, housekeeping, and activities. The care they offer usually includes medication management, bathing, dressing, grooming, and toileting, although not all residents require assistance in all of these areas.
The average cost for assisted living is $3,715 per month, but this varies depending on region and other location-related factors, the size of the apartments, and the needed level of care.
If you meet the clinical requirements for Aid and Attendance and the assisted living community is helping with personal care needs, then typically the monthly amount paid to the assisted living community is deducted from your gross income.
To apply for Aid and Attendance, you need to mail the completed VA forms to your pension management center (PMC), or you can apply in person at the nearest VA regional office.
Filling out the paperwork correctly can be difficult, but our guide to Aid and Attendance contains an extensive list of all the required application documents. A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors can potentially answer questions you have about applying for Aid and Assistance or about VA benefits for seniors in general.
The application and approval process for Aid and Attendance can be frustratingly slow. It can take weeks for families to gather the necessary documents and complete the paperwork. The approval process itself averages almost nine months, but a complete and accurate application can be processed much more quickly.
If you are 90 or older, you can request an expedited review in a cover letter with your application.
The good news is the benefit pays retroactively upon approval of eligibility. This means the first benefit payment includes a lump sum to cover the months that the application was pending.
Here are some other helpful resources for learning about VA benefits:
Danny Szlauderbach is an editor and content writer at A Place for Mom. Since 2010, his work in strategic communications has spanned across several industries, including education, technology, and financial services. He’s a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.