Older veterans (age 65 and over) and their surviving spouses often struggle to make ends meet and still pay for necessary medical care and treatment. The good news is that VA Aid & Attendance benefits are available for those who can navigate the process to apply.
In this blog post, I will explain what the Veteran's Affairs Aid & Attendance benefits are, and how to apply for VA Aid & Attendance benefits. I will also explain how an estate planning attorney can help you arrange your financial situation, so your assets don't interfere with your application.
Older veterans (age 65 and over) and their surviving spouses who meet certain medical need requirements are eligible to receive aid & attendance benefits. To qualify, veterans or surviving spouses of veterans must be able to show one or more of the following:
They must also qualify financially, measuring their monthly income and disposable assets against their living and medical expenses.
Many veterans' assistance organizations say there are three steps to applying for VA Aid & Attendance Benefits: gathering the documents, completing the forms, and mailing in the application. However, as an estate planning attorney, I know that there's one more step: planning to meet the financial requirements.
Step 1: Prepare Your Financial Circumstances
Applicants who the VA determines have sufficient readily available assets to meet their needs may not qualify for benefits. The asset test is the last step in an aid & attendance application, but it's a good idea for vets to prepare for it well in advance. While there is no concrete number that will disqualify an applicant, the VA will consider how accessible the funds are to the vet, what he or she needs to maintain his or her health needs, his or her life expectancy, and other factors. Unfortunately, the decision is very subjective and can be difficult to overturn once made.
Estate planning and elder law attorneys have specialized knowledge and tools they use to help protect these assets, ensuring the assets will not interfere with a veteran's eligibility. I meet with clients preparing to file for VA Aid & Attendance benefits in advance, to arrange their financial situation ahead of time and avoid disappointing surprises later on.
Step 2: Gather the Documents
The more information you can provide to the VA up front, the better your chances are of being approved. I suggest you be prepared to submit the following items, where applicable:
Step 3: Complete the VA Forms
Veterans applying for Aid & Attendance benefits must complete VA Form 21-527EZ. Surviving spouses of veterans should use VA Form 21-534EZ. There are also forms to be completed by an applicant's physician, care provider, and nursing home or care facility. Veterans' services organizations and private attorneys can assist veterans and their families in gathering these documents and completing the forms to ease the process.
Notably, these forms must be completed by the veteran or spouse himself or herself. The VA does not recognize state-approved powers of attorney or durable powers of attorney. Often, veterans' families, and especially children, are frustrated when they discover the estate planning they had done years before is not enough to satisfy the Veterans Affairs office. If your loved one is not able to complete the application, even with the assistance of a lawyer or agency, you may need to use a duly appointed service organization or be named a legal guardian by the court.
Step 4: Mail in the Application
Once all the documents are gathered, and every form has been completed and signed, you must make sure you mail the application to the right place. The VA has processing centers across the country that review Aid & Attendance benefits applications for particular regions. If you send your application to the wrong office, it could delay the decision in your case. For Michigan residents, the regional VA processing center is located at:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
Attention: Milwaukee Pension Center
PO Box 5192
Janesville, WI 53547-5192
You should keep a copy of everything you send in. Spend the extra money to mail the application using Certified Mail "Return Receipt". This provides you proof the application was received if there is a problem.
Applying for VA Aid & Attendance benefits can be a daunting process. But if you are eligible, it could provide up to $2,120 per month (for couples in 2017) to help with medical needs and attendant care costs. Before you file, make sure to meet with a VA accredited elder law attorney, so you know your financial situation is protected and won't interfere with the application.
Rebecca J. Braun, J.D., is an estate planning and elder law attorney for Mobile Legal Services in Southeast Michigan. She is VA accredited to assist veterans aged 65 and over manage their estate planning needs. She will travel to clients, free of charge, in Monroe, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Southern Macomb Counties. Contact us for an initial assessment.