As part of our blog series busting myths about senior care, today we’re taking on some of the mistaken beliefs surrounding senior veterans and VA benefits. Many eldercare experts will tell you that the VA’s Aid & Attendance pension benefit is one of the most overlooked and underused veterans’ programs. That’s because many eligible veterans don’t know about Aid & Attendance, and some vets and their families wrongly assume that their service doesn’t qualify them for the program. But the Aid & Attendance program can help families pay for help when senior vets, their spouse, or their widows can no longer care for themselves. If you are a veteran or the child of one, here’s what you need to know about Aid & Attendance.
What is the Aid & Attendance pension benefit?
The Aid & Attendance pension benefit is designed to help seniors who are veterans pay for help they need at home or to help cover the cost of assisted living or nursing home care. For veterans who meet the financial means test and need help with activities of daily living, the VA pays up to $1,881 per month for a single veteran and up to $1,177 for a surviving spouse.
Myth: Only career-military retirees qualify for VA benefits
It’s true that there are certain military retirement benefits that are only available after a career of service, but any veteran (or widow of a veteran) age 65 or older who served for at least 90 days of active duty, including one full day during a time of war as defined by Congress, may be eligible for the Aid & Attendance pension. These time periods include:
- December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946: World War II
- June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955: Korean conflict
- February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975: for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam
- August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975: for other Vietnam-era veterans
- August 2, 1990 – through a future date to be determined by Congress or the President: Gulf War era
Other requirements for the Aid & Attendance pension include an honorable discharge, assets and yearly income below certain thresholds (more below), and a documented need for help with activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, and other self-care tasks. The Aid & Attendance pension can be used to pay for in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care.
Myth: Only combat veterans or those injured in combat are eligible for VA benefits
Any veteran who meets the VA’s eligibility requirements described above can apply for the Aid & Attendance pension benefit. For this program, there’s no requirement that the veteran was injured in combat or even that the veteran was in combat – only that he or she served during one of the times of war defined above and meets the program’s income, asset, and care-needs requirements.
Myth: My parents don’t qualify for a standard VA pension so they won’t qualify for Aid & Attendance
It’s true that your parents must meet the VA pension eligibility requirements to qualify for the Aid & Attendance benefit. But if their income is just slightly too high for the standard pension, they may still qualify for the Aid & Attendance program.
Here’s why: the maximum annual income limits are higher for veterans who need aid and attendance than for those who don’t. As an example from the VA’s Veterans Pension Rate Table (updated on December 1, 2016), a veteran age 65 or older with no dependents meets standard VA pension income requirements if he or she earns no more than $12,907 per year. But, if that same veteran needed daily help at home or nursing home care, he or she could have an yearly income as high as $21,531 and still be eligible for the Aid & Attendance benefit. Additional dependents raise the income cutoff higher. Qualifying veterans who are married to other vets and who both need aid and attendance services can earn up to $34,153 yearly and still be within the VA’s Aid & Attendance limits.
Applicants must also have assets (savings and investments) of less than $80,000, not including their home and car.
Myth: Spouses and widows of veterans can’t get VA benefits
Widowed spouses of qualified veterans can apply for Aid & Attendance. The income limits are lower for widows than for veterans, but otherwise the eligibility requirements are the same: a veteran who served honorably during a time of war and a documented need for help with activities of daily living.
Myth: You have to live in a VA-run facility to get benefits
The Aid & Attendance benefit gives veterans a choice of where to spend the funds. Veterans and spouses who apply for Aid & Attendance must have a letter from their doctor describing their daily care needs and a signed form from their nursing home if they already live in one. But there is no requirement that the money go to VA facilities.
Other things to know about Aid & Attendance
When you start looking into the Aid & Attendance program, you may hear that it can take a long time for your application to be approved by the VA. This is true. In fact, depending on which VA processing center you send your paperwork to and their workload at the time, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year for approval, although VeteranAid.org says the average processing time is 6 to 8 months. Once the application is approved, payment is retroactive, starting with the date you applied.
You can learn more about the Aid & Attendance pension benefit, eligibility, and application process at our sister site, VeteranAid.org. To find in-home care, assisted living, and nursing homes in your area, contact SeniorAdvisor.com at 1-800-805-3621.