Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of columns that will be presented in this newsletter by Sam W. Boone, Jr., a local attorney whose primary practice areas include elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration. It is hoped that the information will be valuable for caregivers and family members dealing with issues related to elder law.
As you reach the point in life when you are caring for a loved one as he or she ages or starts to lose the capacity to take care of themselves, you are faced with dozens of challenges and decisions. And the likelihood is you are stepping into an area about which you know very little. The complexity of the situation goes far beyond how to deliver care to your friend or family member. It also includes how to pay for that care.
In my role as an elder law and estate planning attorney, one of the most common comments and questions I hear is, “Dad is a veteran. Isn’t there some way the VA can help?”
The Veterans Administration offers a relatively unknown program called Aid and Attendance as part of an Improved Pension Benefit. This Improved Pension allows for veterans and surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person to assist in eating, bathing, dressing, undressing, medication and more to receive additional monetary benefits. It also includes individuals who are blind or a patient in a nursing home because of mental or physical incapacity. Assisted care in an assisted living facility also qualifies.
This most important benefit is unnoticed by many families with veterans or surviving spouses who need additional monies to help care for ailing parents or loved ones. This benefit is not dependent upon service-related injuries. Aid and Attendance can help pay for care in the home, nursing home or assisted living facility, and it does not require a disability rating.
Many families overlook the A&A Pension as it pertains to veterans who are still independent but have an ill spouse. Keep in mind that in this situation, if the spouse’s medical expenses completely deplete their combined monthly income, the veteran can file as a veteran with a sick spouse.
These VA pension benefits can make a huge difference in the ability of the veteran or widow or widower to afford basic costs of living, in-home caregivers in order to be able to stay at home, or to afford to live in an assisted living facility of his or her choice without Medicaid. Planning for eligibility for veteran’s pension benefits is somewhat similar to, but less complicated than the intricate planning often necessary for Medicaid eligibility. A worrisome concern is, however, that the simpler rules for VA pension benefit eligibility may entice seniors or their agents under Powers of Attorney to carry out transactions that will cause later Medicaid ineligibility if the veteran or the veteran’s spouse, widow or widower should require nursing home Medicaid benefits within five years.
It is crucial not to preclude later Medicaid eligibility. Because of this, VA pension eligibility planning needs be done with careful analysis of its implications for eventual Medicaid eligibility for the veteran or his or her spouse. Veteran Service Organizations (such as VFW and American Legion) provide an instrumental service as they provide no-cost assistance in preparing and filing applications for veterans benefits, but, unfortunately, they are not qualified to assist veterans or their families with eligibility planning. Furthermore, they are not qualified to counsel veterans or their families in regard to Medicaid eligibility and the sometimes-conflicting standards and techniques that apply to the two sets of eligibility rules. Such planning requires the careful guidance and assistance of an experienced elder law attorney.
These programs are difficult to understand and often far too complicated for most people. But there is an answer, and as an attorney accredited by the Veterans Administration, I may be able to help.
Sam W. Boone, Jr. is a Gainesville-based attorney practicing elder law and estate planning. He is past-president of the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys and is accredited by the Veterans Administration. To learn more about elder-law issues, go online to www. http://boonelaw.com, or call (352)-374-8308.