When it comes to paying for senior living, many older adults remain unaware of the options available. This rings especially true for one payment source: the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Aid and Attendance program.
More than half of all veterans are 65 or older, according to the latest VA statistics. While the long-standing Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit can cover thousands each year in a veteran’s senior living and caregiving expenses, only an estimated quarter of eligible seniors apply.
Eligibility might be less restrictive than many seniors think, says Marsha Goodman, a Phoenix-based elder care attorney accredited by the VA. “Veterans are often surprised that they can have as much income as is permitted.”
Learn more about VA Aid and Attendance, and discover if it can help you or your senior loved one pay for elder care costs.
VA Aid and Attendance provides a substantial monthly payment added to existing VA pensions for eligible veterans and surviving spouses. Older veterans or spouses who can no longer manage their care independently can use the sum to pay for assisted living, memory care, a nursing home, or in-home care services.
A veteran must already be a senior living resident or have an in-home caregiver to apply for Aid and Attendance. Secondly, to receive a VA Aid and Attendance benefit, you or your senior loved one must first be eligible to receive a VA pension. To meet this initial qualification, veterans must:
The VA considers the following wartime periods:
In addition to these VA pension requirements, a veteran’s situation must fit one of the following descriptions to be eligible for the additional Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit:
The current maximum monthly VA Aid and Attendance amounts set in 2019 are:
“These amounts change according to the same cost-of-living adjustment followed by Social Security and other federal benefits, usually each year,” Goodman says.
The amount of money a veteran or surviving spouse receives from the VA Aid and Attendance program depends on a figure called income for VA purposes (IAVP). IAVP is the income of the applicant and their spouse, minus the unreimbursed cost of health care, provided those expenses exceed 5% of the income.
Goodman offers two scenarios to illustrate this figure:
Combined income of veteran and his spouse: $3,000 a month
Cost of memory care facility for veteran: $5,000 a month
Income for VA purposes (IAVP): less than $0 a month
Amount the VA pays for Aid & Attendance benefit: $2,266 a month, or the maximum for a veteran and spouse
Combined income of veteran and his spouse: $3,000 a month
Cost of in-home care for veteran: $2,000 a month
Income for VA purposes (IAVP): $1,150 a month — $3,000 – $1,850 ($2,000 – 5% of gross income, which is $150) = $1,150
Amount the VA pays for Aid & Attendance benefit: $1,116 a month — $2,266 (maximum benefit) – $1,150 (IAVP) = $1,116
Many benefits are available to both veterans and older adults, but they can’t collect maximum amounts from each program at the same time. If a veteran gets disability compensation or housebound benefits, or qualifes for Medicaid, this may reduce or negate their Aid and Attendance benefit.
Disability compensation offsets VA Aid and Attendance. A calculation of a veteran or surviving spouse’s Aid and Attendance benefit will subtract any monthly disability pay.
If a veteran or surviving spouse qualifies for Medicaid to pay for senior care, this trims their Aid and Attendance amount to $90 a month.
Veterans may be eligible for housebound benefits if they get a monthly VA pension; have a permanent, service-related disability; and must spend nearly all their time at home for health reasons. However, veterans can’t attain this benefit and Aid and Attendance at the same time.
Veterans can apply through the mail or in person. They will need to download the VA Aid and Attendance form, VA Form 21-2680, the examination for regular Aid and Attendance. The examination information section needs to be completed by the senior’s doctor. Veterans can complete the rest of the form independently, or take it to a VA regional office for assistance. Either way, seniors should be prepared with their:
Seniors can also send details about their day-to-day lives, such as how a disability affects their routine or difficulties with transportation. However, this is typically not necessary, says Goodman, and can prolong the application response time.
While veterans and their families can fill out successful applications themselves, sometimes trained help is needed. A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors can answer basic questions about Aid and Attendance, and may be able to refer to VA-accredited consultants for help in filling out the application. Veterans’ organizations like the VFW, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which have local posts and chapters in most cities, provide assistance filling out Aid and Attendance forms for no cost.
Elder law attorneys often assist veterans and their families with their application. The VA maintains a free, online database to help veterans find VA-accredited attorneys in their state.
“Attorneys are not permitted to charge for the completion of the claim forms. However, they are able to charge for the associated advice and planning,” says Goodman. “Also, if the veteran is or may become eligible for Medicaid, an attorney can provide advice about which benefit is more beneficial, which one should be pursued first, and how to plan for both.”
In rare, best-case scenarios, checks for monthly benefits come within 60 days of the application being submitted. Other times, the wait can range from 10 to 12 months, Goodman says. Veterans 85 and older may benefit from “priority processing” by the VA, which aims to speed up this process.
The good news? Once the VA confirms a veteran or their surviving spouse is eligible for Aid and Attendance, they’ll receive retroactive payments covering the previous months when the application was pending.
The VA Aid and Attendance program helps with senior living and in-home care affordability — making daily assistance more attainable for many veterans and their families. For more information, download our VA Benefits and Long-Term Care: Guide to Aid & Attendance e-book.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA Aid and Attendance benefits and Housebound allowance.” https://www.va.gov/pension/aid-attendance-housebound/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Eligibility for Veterans Pension.” https://www.va.gov/pension/eligibility/