Do you like riddles and brain teasers? Try this one: When is a government benefit that pays for caregivers, assisted living and a nursing home not a benefit? When hardly any people know they’re entitled to it.
It’s been referred to as the best kept secret, even though it’s been in existence since 1953. The best secret is the Veterans Administration’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit.
This little known benefit is a needs-based program paid to a veteran or the widow/widower of a veteran (who hasn’t remarried) whose health conditions require non-medical, or personal care. What kind of care, you ask? How does adult day care, skilled nursing care or home care sound? Yes, Aid and Attendance can be used for that. And it can be used to pay a family member other than a spouse to care for the veteran at home.
Sounds like a wonderful program, right? It is, so why aren’t more veterans taking advantage of Aid and Attendance?
Basic knowledge of the program is the biggest reason. Most seniors who served their country – and there are more than 25 million war veterans eligible for VA benefits, with 4.6 million over the age of 65 – have either forgotten or aren’t aware of programs like Aid and Attendance. They know about VA disability, which is an entirely different subject, but not Aid and Attendance. Most veterans believe they are only entitled to benefits if they were actually wounded or disabled while they were serving in the armed forces, and that’s not the case at all with Aid and Attendance.
And when you’re dealing with a government entity like the Veterans Administration – it is the second largest federal government agency – not every employee may be knowledgeable about the program, or even know what you’re talking about. Aid and Attendance is dubbed the VA’s best kept secret for a reason.
When Aid and Attendance was created in the 1950s, there were no assisted living facilities, nursing homes or programs to help people as they naturally aged. The nursing home industry didn’t take off until the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Until then, the common thing was for parents to move in with their grown children because that’s how it was always done. Times have definitely changed, but the aging process hasn’t.
Remember, no one wants to go to an assisted living facility or nursing home. But there are instances when that’s simply not possible. As you might know from personal experience, families provide the majority of care for aging veterans and spouses, a responsibility that can take a tremendous toll on the primary caregivers. This can and does lead to both emotional and physical exhaustion, and it’s not unusual for the caregiver to pass before his or her charge because of the extra stress. Aid and Attendance helps veterans and spouses receive non-medical care they need to continue living independently in their own homes.
Knowing the program exists is only the first step in receiving the Aid and Attendance benefit. If you’re a veteran or the spouse of a veteran, it’s time to find out if you’re eligible for these benefits. Here’s the eligibility criterion:
- 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): 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.
And, of course, the veteran must have served during the times determined by the VA. Those dates are:
- 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
Military service is deemed as having served in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine and the Merchant Marines (particularly during World War II). Even if the veteran didn’t serve in the actual combat zone, that doesn’t mean he or she may not qualify for Aid and Attendance. Grandpa could’ve served on a Navy cargo ship in the South Pacific in 1943 and qualify under the current VA guidelines. However, if Grandpa were on a destroyer in 1949, you wouldn’t qualify for Aid and Attendance. Even though you were drafted into the service and proudly served your country, that period of time was not considered wartime.
Another reason why many veterans and their spouses don’t pursue VA benefits is the time involved. The VA has a reputation for being slow in approving benefits. However, that’s changing. The VA has made tremendous strides in improving the process over the last several years; the process still takes months but it is quicker than it was. But don’t worry: once approved, the benefit is retroactive to the application date. So, if you applied on Feb. 1, 2015, but not approved until July 1, 2015, your first benefits check would be six-months worth. The following month would contain the regularly monthly amount.
Now that you’re a little more familiar with Aid and Attendance, do you think it’s a program for yourself, a loved one or someone you know?