“By Failing to Prepare, you Prepare to Fail” - Benjamin Franklin

Are You Accessing the VA Benefits Available to You for Long-Term Care?

There are numerous benefits available to Florida senior veterans and their dependents from the Department of Veterans Affairs. From health care benefits and funeral assistance to monies tied to pension and service-connected disability compensation, there are a myriad of benefits available. Unfortunately, many veterans today are only accessing a fraction of the resources that exist to help them and their families live in comfort.

For many, there is a misconception that to access these benefits the veteran must have a service-connected disability. While VA Disability Compensation exists as a “tax free monetary benefit paid to Veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service,” it is only one benefit available to veterans. It exists to support veterans who were injured during service and “may also be paid for post-service disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service.”

What many do not know, even veterans themselves, is that there are also monthly, tax-free benefits available to wartime veterans and their dependents who were not injured during service.  Perhaps the least used of the monthly benefits available is VA Pension. The VA Pension is a payment made each month to the veteran. It has three levels: basic, homebound, and aid and attendance, and can be received by the veteran, his or her surviving spouse, or dependents, or a combination of qualifying individuals.

For Florida seniors who are veterans, this can be a tremendous benefit available to help them pay for the high costs of long-term care. Unfortunately, there is no automatic qualification to receive this benefit for the veteran and/ or his or her dependents.  To qualify, the first test the veteran must pass is that of having a qualifying service record. The veteran must be able to prove that he or she served for a consecutive 90 days with at least one of those days occurring during a period of war. The veteran must also show that he or she was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

As a veteran, or the loved one of a veteran, the above mentioned` information can be found on the DD Form 214. This is a Certificate of Release or Discharge that outlines details such as the military service dates, assignments, the reason(s) for leaving service as well as the characterization of your discharge. If you need to acquire the DD Form 214, you can obtain one from The National Personnel Records Center using SF Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records.

The rules governing the VA Pension program changed substantially on October 18, 2018.  To qualify now, in addition to the wartime service test, the veteran must also qualify in several more ways. There is now a resource limit established for the veteran’s assets. Prior to this rule change there was no set amount in place. This amount will change annually, with the amount for 2019 being $126,240, less excluded assets that the veteran is allowed to own.

The VA also established with this rule change a thirty-six month “look-back” period. This is a time period, similar to the Florida Medicaid program, during which the Department may review assets to determine if they have been transferred away for less than fair market value. If it is found that a transfer was made during the "look back" period, then a penalty period may be assessed that is commiserate with the gift that was made.

These are just a few examples of how the rules for the VA Pension program have changed. Again, similar to the Florida Medicaid program, we can only expect that the rules will change again in the future as more Americans need assistance, unless the budget for these programs is increased significantly. We encourage you to ask us your questions on this or any other elder care related matter. We are your community law firm here to support you.

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