VA Benefits: Can They Help Pay for Long-Term Care for My Spouse or Parent?
Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits can help if your loved one needs long-term care. Depending on their specific needs, VA benefits may include disability compensation, VA pension, or long-term care assistance.
The amount of the benefit can vary. It depends on what you can demonstrate as your needs, costs, and resources. It’s a good idea to have a professional help you get qualified for the highest amount possible.
Getting the maximum VA benefits can reduce your out-of-pocket costs, relieve your burden as a caregiver, and ease the transition to long-term care by allowing your spouse or parent to remain in their home longer without the need for family to provide care themselves.
Overview of VA Benefits
Depending on your needs and eligibility, VA benefits may include:
- VA Compensation: for veterans with a disability caused as a result of service.
- VA Pension: a pension for veterans based on medical and financial need.
- Other long-term care benefits (Aid and Attendance): veterans are often eligible for benefits that help with in-home care or adult day-care.
VA Compensation is only for veterans whose military service resulted in a disability. A greater proportion of veterans are eligible for a VA Pension. For veterans who need long-term care, Aid and Attendance is an added benefit that can help with this cost.
Main Advantages for Long-Term Care
VA benefits can have a significant positive impact on long term care planning. Especially for those who may need daily care, but don’t yet need full-time skilled nursing.
There are three main ways that receiving VA benefits will help:
- First, it reduces the out-of-pocket costs to the veteran or their family.
- Second, it relieves the spouse or adult-child caregiver by providing financial support or direct caregiving services.
- Third, by providing resources to keep the individual at home longer it delays the necessity for the individual to leave home.
The VA describes a VA Pension as a program for “wartime Veterans who meet certain age or disability requirements, and who have income and net worth within certain limits.” So there are three components of VA Pension eligibility: the veteran’s military record, age or medical need, and financial need.
The military record component requires that the veteran (a) served during a time of war and (b) did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The “wartime” requirement means that you must have served on active duty during a time of war. For most veterans, this means at least 90 days of active duty, some of which (at least 1 day) were during WWII or the conflicts in Korea or Vietnam will meet this requirement. (The criteria are somewhat different for Gulf War veterans; you can view details at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.)
Veterans meet the age/medical eligibility requirements if they are at least 65 years old or have a disability that is permanent, requires long-term care, or qualifies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Aid and Attendance
VA Aid and Attendance benefits provide monthly payments added to the amount of a monthly VA pension. If your loved one needs help with the activities of daily life they may qualify for this additional benefit.
If one of these applies to your loved one, they could qualify for Aid and Attendance:
- Do they need help with the activities of daily life, like bathing, feeding, and dressing.
- If they are largely bedridden due to illness or disability.
- Do they have severely limited vision.
- If they are a patient in a nursing home.
Finally, veterans must show a financial need for a VA Pension. This means that income and assets must each be below certain limits set by the US Congress. This is one of the areas that an attorney can be particularly helpful—by helping you plan ahead and taking steps to ensure that you meet and maintain financial eligibility.
Use of VA Pension Award amount
Veterans can use their VA pension in the home or use it to contribute to the cost of a senior living community. This flexibility is a major benefit of a VA pension.
If you’re currently caring for your spouse or parent, or are worried that you may need to place them in a facility before they’re ready because you can’t meet their increasing care needs, VA benefits can help cover the costs of in-home care so that your loved one can stay in their home longer and the burden of care doesn’t fall on you and your family.
VA Pension Benefits vs. Medicaid
VA benefits are most useful in the earlier stages of the long-term care needs spectrum. It can be especially helpful for the veteran who needs daily assistance but doesn’t yet need to move into a skilled nursing facility.
Eventually, if your parent or spouse’s needs increase, Medicaid will probably be the best option because it can cover the full cost of a skilled nursing facility. In the meantime, it’s good to think of a VA Pension as a way to bridge gaps and ease transitions.
Planning in Advance for VA Pension
Whenever possible it’s worth planning in advance to ensure eligibility for VA Pensions. Because there are caps on income and assets, planning ahead to keep these within required limits is vital. There is a three-year “lookback” rule for assets. This means that at the time you apply for VA benefits any assets that were transferred in the past 3 years are still counted against financial eligibility. There are ways to manage this, but planning ahead will make it much easier.
If you have assets that are above the eligibility limits, a trust is a good option in order to protect assets you want to save for healthy spouse or children.
As long-term care costs increase, they may exceed your VA pension award. At that point, you can request an increase in pension if you’re not already at the maximum amount. Other options may involve the sale of assets, but this can be tricky.
For instance, a veteran’s primary residence is not countable as an asset. But if you sell it, it converts into a cash asset which IS countable and puts you at risk of losing VA eligibility. Here, putting the house into an appropriate irrevocable trust is a great solution.
What if I need help NOW?
If you didn’t plan ahead then you need to think about two things. First, you want to get the process moving as soon as possible. We can file an “intent to file” for benefits with the VA. That will get the process moving. Next, you need to think about establishing eligibility. The first step here is to make sure you have the veteran’s discharge papers from the military—use form SF-180 to request them.
- Submit your “Intent to file” with VA
- Request discharge papers using form SF-180.
With that in motion, we can start to gather everything we need to establish the veteran’s medical and financial need and to qualify for the maximum award possible.
VA benefits can reduce costs, save you time, and ease the transition to long-term care by allowing people to remain in their own homes longer.
You can think of VA benefits as a donut-hole. They’re a great way to fill in gaps.
This is especially helpful where a family is no longer able to care for their loved one, but before they need a skilled-nursing level of care. Many families are very concerned about how their loved one will respond to a new environment after being in the same place for many years. It’s a fair concern.
VA benefits can help pay for a senior living community or for in-home care. Both of these are much easier on your parent or spouse than moving directly to a skilled nursing facility. In-home care allows your parent or spouse to remain in the home longer, but without the burden of care falling on you and other family members.
This really smooths the transition to long term care. It’s less dramatic and unsettling. It allows people to maintain a sense of status quo. VA Pension allows you to create a softer landing for your loved one.
If you’re a spouse, family caregiver, or adult child of a veteran who will need long term care you should be looking into a VA Pension now. Plan ahead to ensure eligibility and qualify for the highest amount possible.
If your loved one needs long-term care immediately it’s critical to get the process started and avoid mistakes so you can start getting your benefits as soon as possible.
Call/click now to see how much you’re eligible for