VA Aid & Attendance: The Best Kept Secret

Your father served in the Fifth Marines during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Mother passed away five years ago, and dad has been living by himself. He’s still able to take care of himself in his own home, and the last thought on his mind is moving into an assisted living community. It is part of that independent spirit everyone loves about the old man. But in the last few months, you’ve noticed subtle changes, such as he’s forgotten to take his daily medication and he may be missing or skipping meals.

Even though he wouldn’t admit it publicly or privately, dad could use a little help at home, like someone to remind him to take his daily medication and maybe help cooking meals. What kind of options does your dad have?

Believe it or not, there’s a great option available for grandpa and countless other veterans who proudly wore our nation’s military uniforms. It’s often called the best kept secret. It’s not Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe, or a formula to win the lottery. It’s the Veterans Administration’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit. For more than 30 years, this little known benefit has financially helped seniors stay at home longer, receive services at home, and even help pay for some of the costs of assisted living.

The VA Aid and Attendance Benefit is a special monthly needs-based program available to wartime veterans or surviving spouses. Aid and Attendance is not a stand-alone benefit. Rather, it’s an additional allowance that a veteran or surviving spouse may be entitled to because of his or her wartime service and non-service-connected disability, if certain medical and financial requirements are met.

Approximately one out of four seniors could qualify for the Aid and Attendance Benefit under the right conditions. What are those conditions?

  • The veteran served at least 90 days of active military duty, one day of which was during a war-
    time period.
  • The veteran was honorably discharged from the service. When applying for this benefit, the applicant would be asked to show his discharge papers, the DD-214.
  • Must require the assistance of another person to perform some of the activities of daily living (ADLs). The ADLs are eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, and transferring (walking).
  • Meet the income and countable asset criteria established by the VA.
  • Must be 65 years and older or totally disabled.

The dates of military service determined by the VA are as follows:

  • World War II: Dec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946
  • Korean War: June 27, 1950 – Jan. 31, 1955
  • Vietnam War: Feb. 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975
  • Persian Gulf War: Aug. 2, 1990 – present

To qualify, it doesn’t mean you had to be involved in the fighting, or even in the theatre of operations. For example, Grandpa Joe served during World War II, but was an aircraft mechanic in England. Or Uncle Bob was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, but was stationed on Guam. Under the guidelines created by the VA, both Grandpa Joe and Uncle Bob could qualify.

The next question is already anticipated: my dad/uncle/friend at church/golfing partner served in military during the late 1950s, in the period considered the Cold War, stationed in Germany. Isn’t he eligible for Aid and Attendance? Unfortunately, as it now stands under current VA guidelines, he’s not eligible.

What can Aid and Attendance funds be spent on? Let’s go back to the story’s first example. Your father isn’t ready for a nursing home, but needs a little help at home, maybe someone to prepare meals, make sure he’s taking his medication, etc… There are licensed agencies in your communities who could provide a personnel (a nurse or a sitter, for example) to check in on grandpa a couple of days a week. Aid and Attendance money could be used to help offset that cost.

It’s very common for family members to lend a helping hand. We don’t think much of it because it’s family and they’re not paid for running errands, doing laundry or whatever other task the older family member may need. Again, they’re family. The VA Aid and Attendance funds could be used to pay someone for those tasks and chores, but there are a few extra steps involved. There’s a legal document called a Personal Services Contract (PSC). A PSC is a contract drawn up by an attorney that outlines services between an employer (person receiving VA benefits), with an employee (another family member or close friend.) An hourly fee is established. The employee, whoever it may be, keeps a log to show what services were done and for how long.

Of course, the PSC aspect or having an agency come in to help out does hinge on the fact of whether income requirements are met. Don’t prejudge your situation! Just because your relative has too much money may not disqualify him from getting these benefits. Qualified financial and estate planners in your area know how to protect assets and get folks approved for Aid and Attendance Benefits on a regular basis.

Filing for VA Aid and Attendance is a lot like filing for Medicaid: it’s complicated. People make the mistake of trying to apply for the benefit on their own and make mistakes in the application process. The slightest mistake will disqualify you for up to a year. So, if you’re considering applying for the Aid and Attendance Benefit, please seek professional help.

Once applied, realize this isn’t a quick process. It might take six months or longer before you’re approved to receive Aid and Attendance. But don’t worry: once approved, the benefit is retroactive to the application date. So, if you applied on June 1, 2013, but we’re approved until Dec. 1, 2013, your first benefits check would be six-months worth. The following month would contain the regularly monthly amount.

Potential changes are on the horizon for the Aid and Attendance program. In June 2012, legislation was introduced that could call for a three-year look-back period for someone applying for the Aid and Attendance Benefit. The VA look-back would be similar to Medicaid’s five-year look-back, where an applicant’s financial history is reviewed for improper transfers. At this writing, the legislation is making its way through Congress. There is no timeframe as to when the VA look-back would start, if signed into law.

Now you know the best-kept secret. Does it sound like it can help you?