Helping Veterans Pay for Long-Term Medical Care

By Tamara Polley

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“How are we going to pay for long-term medical care?” We hear that question frequently these days. For veterans who served during wartime and their surviving spouses, an underused Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit may help. Its formal name is Improved Pension but it is more commonly known as the Aid and Attendance Pension. As with all veterans’ benefits, it is tax free.

To qualify, three sets of criteria must be met, involving military service and medical and financial need.

Service: In order to qualify, the veteran must have served at least one day in the military during a war period, had 90 days of consecutive service, and received a “better than dishonorable” discharge. The surviving spouse must have been married to the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death, have been married to the veteran for at least 12 months unless they had a child (if so, the 12-month minimum does not apply), and cannot have remarried after the veteran’s death.

Medical: The Aid and Attendance Pension provides benefits for veterans and surviving spouses who are blind or in a nursing home, or who need help with the activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, dressing, or personal hygiene. The benefit is available to help with nursing home costs, assisted living, or at-home care.

Financial: Although the regulations do not have a specific limit on the amount of assets a veteran may have, the claimant is only allowed to have enough assets “as would reasonably be expected to be utilized during the claimant’s lifetime.” The general rule is that the veteran should not have more than $80,000 in “countable” assets, which do not include the individual’s primary residence or vehicles.

If the veteran or the surviving spouse meets the above qualifications, then the amount of the pension awarded will be calculated by subtracting the claimant’s unreimbursed medical expenses from his or her income. The maximum benefit available for a single veteran is $1,703 per month, and for a married veteran, it is $2,019 per month. For a surviving spouse, the maximum monthly benefit available is $1,094.

For information and help in applying for the Aid and Assistance program, veterans or their surviving spouses can contact their county’s Veterans Service Office.

Tuolumne County: 105 E. Hospital Rd., Sonora, 9am-noon, 1-4pm weekdays, drop-in basis only, 533-6280.

Calaveras County: 509 E. Saint Charles St. at Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas, 9am-5pm weekdays by appointment only, 754-6624.

Amador County: American Legion Hall, Highway 49 and Airport Road, Sutter Hill, 7am-4pm Mon.-Thurs., drop in or call for appointment, 267-5764.

If you meet the service and medical qualifications, but are told you will not qualify for financial reasons, seek the advice of an attorney familiar with veterans’ pension regulations. With appropriate planning, you may be able to qualify.

Although the VA allows for the transfer of assets in order to qualify, simply “giving it all away” is usually not the best plan.

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