VA BENEFITS

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VA Benefits | Helping Elderly Veterans And
Their Spouses Obtain Benefits

Military service history may qualify you or a family member to receive a VA pension. As in most federal programs, there are a myriad of eligibility requirements. Denial of applications is common. Consulting a VA Accredited elder law attorney is one way to avoid commonly made mistakes. At the Mortellaro Law, we are dedicated to ensuring elderly veterans in Tampa receive all available benefits. We focus our representation on non-service connected disability. Even if current circumstances make you ineligible, there may be tools that we can use to help you qualify for a VA pension.

VA Aid and Attendance: An Overview

The Aid and Attendance benefit has been in existence for more than 60 years through the Department of Veteran Affairs. Yet, it remains one of the least known benefits that could positively affect the lives of millions of Americans. Part of the reason is the lack of effort by the VA to advertise this benefit to veterans or their surviving spouses. And those in the healthcare community who might have heard about A&A are usually unclear or uninformed about the details for qualifying.

Your best source of clear and concise information about this benefit is a VA-accredited attorney. Our firm has been assisting veterans and their families for more than a decade. Our VA-accredited attorney can tell you what is available to your family and how to qualify to obtain it.

What is Veteran’s Aid and Attendance?

Aid and Attendance is a monthly payment to qualifying veterans or their surviving spouses to defray the cost of long-term care for those who need assistance with the daily activities of living such as dressing, bathing, toileting, eating and transferring. It is important to note is that this is a non-service-connected benefit, meaning it does not require the veteran to have been injured or disabled during his or her military service.

What does it pay?

So how much can you receive? The answer depends on who you are and how you document your financial situation. In 2020, an unmarried veteran can receive a maximum allowable benefit of $1,911 each month. An unremarried surviving spouse’s maximum is $1,228. A veteran and spouse can receive a maximum of $2,266 a month. We say “maximum” because there are income qualifications that could lower the benefit amount. The good news: A&A is adjusted annually for cost of living increases.

Determining Eligibility

The first step is checking eligibility. First, the veteran must meet requirements for age (65 or older) and service (minimum 90 consecutive days of active duty with at least one day during a recognized period of wartime, with a better-than-dishonorable discharge status). In the case of a surviving spouse, the claimant must have been married to the veteran at the time of death and has not remarried.

Eligible periods of war

World War II: Dec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946.

Korean conflict: June 27, 1950 – Jan. 31, 1955.

Vietnam era: Feb. 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. Aug. 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.

Persian Gulf War: Aug. 2, 1990, through date to be prescribed by Presidential proclamation or law.

Next, the veteran, or the surviving spouse, must complete a medical assessment to show he or she needs assistance with at least two of the activities of daily living (ADLs). These ADLs are defined as bathing/showering, toileting, dressing, eating, and walking/transferring. The VA also recognizes that a person may function in those areas, but because of dementia or Alzheimer’s there is a need for a protective living environment. The medical assessment requires a form filled out by the claimant’s regular physician, and forms from an ALF or in-home caregiver, depending on circumstances.

Income and Asset Tests

Then there are income and asset restrictions. The VA counts the gross income from sources such as, but not limited to, Social Security, pensions, required minimum distributions from IRAs, dividends and interest, annuities and rental income. However, the income is measured against unreimbursed medical expenses (UMEs), such as Medicare Part B premiums and supplemental healthcare premiums. The biggest expense for many seniors is the cost of living in an assisted living facility or memory care facility, or having in-home healthcare services. If the UMEs are greater than the gross income, the claimant may receive the maximum benefit. If the UMEs are not greater than the gross income, it is allowable to create a contract with a family member to provide caregiver services for a fee. Now the claimant can apply for the maximum benefit amount.

The asset test is more complicated. The limit for assets in 2020 is $129,094, but the list of what counts as an asset and what does not gets tricky. For example, the home you live in and its tangible contents do not count. But you are moving into an ALF, so you sell the house. Sticking point: Now those proceeds from the house sale are considered an asset, and maybe that pushes you over the limit. The best way to assess your situation is to speak to a VA-accredited attorney.

Moving Forward

Applying for government benefits can be a daunting task, one that can seem difficult for even the most organized person when facing a blizzard of forms. Many people who attempt to navigate the application process on their own tend to give up after a year or more of problems and denials. In most instances, using an experienced attorney will increase the chances for approval and reduce the wait time.

An experienced attorney can use either Proactive Planning or At-Need Planning to assist you in obtaining this tremendous benefit.

At Mortellaro Law, our initial consultations are always free. Talk to us today; feel better tonight.

VA: Proactive Planning

Let’s start with the obvious: It is always in everyone’s best interest to be proactive when it comes to planning for long-term care benefits. The sooner you learn the regulations and qualifying process for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Aid and Attendance benefit, the sooner you can position yourself financially in order to create a smooth path to approval.

The most important thing to understand is that the VA instituted rules changes in October 2018 that significantly altered the landscape for qualifying for this benefit.

On our A&A overview page, we discussed the VA’s income and asset tests used to determine eligibility for this tax-free benefit. Prior to Oct. 18, 2018, there was a lesser need for proactive planning. Attorneys could assist claimants who exceeded the asset limit by setting up irrevocable trusts, transferring assets into the trust and then immediately applying for the A&A benefit. Annuities were other tool commonly used to eliminate an asset from being counted under the regulations.

But in October 2018, the VA’s most significant rule change instituted a three-year “look-back” period at transfers involving trusts, annuities, gifts, and jointly owned financial accounts. This eliminated, or certainly made more difficult, some avenues for qualifying a claimant quickly. For example, if an asset was transferred after the Oct. 18, 2018 rules changes, the VA may count it as income or an asset. If that calculation results in an overage, the claimant receives a denial or a penalty. Depending on the circumstances, the penalty could create an ineligible period of up to five years.

That’s why it is worthwhile to consult a VA-accredited attorney for proactive planning before you need care. Dwelling on a day when you might need the assistance of another person to bath or use the toilet is not something people like to think about. But if you have substantial assets that you want to preserve or pass on, then it makes sense to talk with an attorney who can show you how to prepare for the look-back period.

That said, depending on your circumstances, if you need assistance with this benefit right now, there are At-Need Planning strategies that are available.

At Mortellaro Law, the initial consultation is always free. If you are a veteran of wartime service, or the surviving spouse of such a veteran, give us a call to begin Proactive Planning for the Aid and Attendance benefit today.

VA: At-Need Planning

Ideally, you have been a Proactive Planner. You have talked to an experienced VA-accredited attorney about the Department of Veterans Affair’s Aid and Attendance benefit, its rules and its qualifying process. You would know that the VA’s rules changes of October 2018 altered some aspects of the qualifying process. The most significant change was instituting a three-year “look-back” period at income and assets. But alas, you did not plan to be in this situation today. You find yourself needing assistance with in-home, assisted living or memory care. You need that help as soon as possible.

You are not alone, and you are not out of luck. Though the October 2018 rules changes made the path to securing the A&A benefit more difficult, there are strategies to assist the At-Need claimants. A VA-accredited attorney can show you and your family how over-income and over-asset applicants can be successful.

In 2018, the VA altered parts of its process and changed some of its rules in regard to transfers, gifting, the use of trusts and the purchasing of certain financial products. Where they were once acceptable before submitting an application, now, an applicant must disclose any of these types of transactions that have occurred over the prior three years. Depending on the circumstances, the VA may now impose a delay penalty of months or even years.

But do not despair if you have not done proactive planning. You may not have missed the opportunity to claim this significant government benefit. Just like every person is different, every case is different. There are certain strategies a VA-accredited attorney can explore once he or she understands your situation. And don’t worry, if Aid and Attendance is not the right fit at the moment, there are other options, including applying for Medicaid Long Term Care benefits.

At Mortellaro Law, we have been assisting veterans and their families for more than a decade with estate planning and securing financial benefits while protecting their assets accumulated over a lifetime. Call us today for a free consultation. Tell us your story and your goal. We’ll explain how we can help.

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