Statistically, many of us will live in an assisted-living facility at some point – and they’re not cheap. The AARP estimates that a nursing home can run $50,000 a year; round-the-clock, in-home care by trained providers can cost even more. The good news, for those of us who are veterans, is that the government provides benefits for veterans and their spouses to help with these expenses – over two thousand dollars a month for a married veteran, for example, and over a thousand for a surviving spouse. The bad news, for folks who aren’t attorneys and don’t like dealing with bureaucracies like the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), is that you’ll probably have to work long and hard to see any of that money.
Three pension levels
Briefly, there are three levels of pension benefits which veterans may apply for. There’s the Basic pension, which is available to all veterans who have reached age 65, and doesn’t take into account your living arrangements. The Housebound pension is for those who need some limited help with daily living activities. The Aid and Attendance pension is for veterans who cannot function on their own without regular assistance. Senior care and wellness expert Peter Mangiola explains the intricacies of this third pension, which can help pay for help in the home or in an outside facility, in this Using Veterans’ Benefits guide.
Counting your assets
Besides establishing the level of physical assistance you should apply for, you must also prove that you can’t pay for the help yourself. According to the national veterans’ assistance organization Veteranaid, in general your assets (not counting your residence, vehicle, and life-insurance policies) cannot exceed roughly $80,000. The bottom line, they say, is whether it “realistically appears that the veteran or surviving spouse may outlive their assets.” Veteranaid has a website which answers many of the real-life questions that come up when determining eligibility, and their “How to Apply” page lists the papers, proofs and statements that you should assemble before making yourself known to your regional VA office.
Navigating the maze
The process is generally so long, tedious and complicated that it’s not unheard-of for veterans to die before the VA has processed their request. Robin Cook took time out from her marketing firm in Peoria, Arizona to help her uncle navigate the process, even though both local social workers and the staff at her uncle’s assisted-living facility told her she’d be wasting her time. Just getting the paperwork together took her two months, but after another three her uncle was approved. When the funding stopped for seven or eight months Ms Cook was forced to generate another barrage of letters – but, she reports, “suddenly it was reinstated.”
Ms Cook managed to find a financial-services firm that was willing to steer her paperwork through in return for the good will involved, but not everyone is so lucky. Tales abound of veterans spending much of their benefits paying for help, or being pressured into buying annuities that will help pay for it. Fortunately the VA has compiled a list of “accredited attorneys, claims agents or veterans’ service organizations representatives” who have been approved for this work.
Start early on all of this if possible. Even if you don’t need the assistance quite yet, make sure you have all of the paperwork together – that can take months in itself. And it wouldn’t hurt to do a little research on experts who are qualified to help veterans in your situation. Just in case you run out of steam.
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