Veterans Aid and Attendance
There are now over 25 million US veterans eligible for some type of VA benefits, many of whom have no idea Aid and Attendance pension benefits exist (and their local VA office won’t tell them about it!). Moreover, World War II veterans are dying at the rate of approximately 1,800 per day. Thus, the need for this type of planning is greater than ever. Many of the veterans or their surviving spouses you discuss this planning with may not qualify, but they could become traditional wealth planning clients. Alternatively, this benefit may be of interest to their aging parents, siblings or other family members.
What is Aid & Attendance?
Aid and Attendance is a “special monthly pension” available to wartime veterans or surviving spouses of wartime veterans. Aid and Attendance is not actually a stand-alone benefit. Rather, it is an additional allowance that a veteran or surviving spouse who is already entitled to certain VA pension benefits (because of his or her wartime service and non-service-connected disability) may additionally be entitled to upon meeting certain medical and financial requirements. Aid and Attendance differs from compensation, which is available to all veterans who suffer from a service-connected disability.
A veteran or surviving spouse (called a claimant by the VA) must first be eligible for what the VA refers to as regular pension. Regular pension is available when a wartime veteran (one with 90 days of active duty, and at least one day beginning or ending during a period of War) has limited income and assets and suffers from a non-service-connected permanent and total disability. In some circumstances, being over the age of 65 may qualify a claimant without the need to show a disability.
Permanent and total disability includes a claimant who is:
- In a nursing home;
- Determined disabled by the Social Security Administration;
- Unemployable and reasonably certain to continue so throughout life; or
- Suffering from a disability that makes it impossible for the average person to stay gainfully employed.
Asset & Income Requirements
The financial eligibility requirements of Aid and Attendance benefits address a claimant’s net worth and income. A married veteran and spouse can currently have no more than $80,000 in countable assets (less for a single veteran or surviving spouse), which includes retirement assets but excludes a home and vehicle. However, the $80,000 limit is a guideline only; it is not a rule set by the VA. The VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses to determine whether the veteran or surviving spouse is entitled to special monthly pension benefits.
Does the Claimant Require the Aid and Attendance of Another?
If a claimant can show, through medical evidence provided by a primary care physician or facility, that the claimant requires the aid and attendance of another person to perform activities of daily living, that veteran or surviving spouse may qualify for an additional monthly special pension commonly referred to as aid and attendance pension benefits.
The VA defines the need for aid and attendance as:
- Requiring the aid of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, dressing or undressing;
- Being blind or nearly blind; or
- Being a patient in a nursing home.
As stated above, the VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, his or her life expectancy, and his or her income and expenses to determine whether the claimant should qualify for special monthly pension. Unlike Medicaid, there is no look-back period and no penalty for giving assets away. However, one must use caution when considering a gifting strategy to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special monthly pension benefits, as this will cause a period of ineligibility for Medicaid which could be as long as five years. Other Medicaid planning strategies may apply when trying to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special pension with aid and attendance.
The Application Process
While the application process for special monthly pension can be agonizingly slow – some applications take over a year before the VA makes a decision – the benefit is retroactive to the month after application submission. Having the proper legal assistance can cut the processing time in half.
If you are a veteran or the spouse of veteran who wants to learn more about the legal assistance our attorneys can provide in applying for these valuable and hard earned benefits, then we would encourage you to contact our firm at (352) 753-9333.