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Savvy Senior: Underutilized benefit can help veterans and their spouses

Dear Savvy Senior: I understand that the Department of Veterans Affairs has a benefit that can help veterans and spouses with long-term care costs. We recently had to move my elderly father into an assisted living memory care facility, and my mother also will probably need care in the near future. What can you tell me? — Searching for Aid

Dear Searching: The VA does indeed have an underutilized benefit that can help wartime veterans and their surviving spouses pay for a variety of long-term care costs.

This benefit, called Aid and Attendance, is paid on top of existing VA pensions for eligible veterans and surviving spouses. In 2024, it pays a maximum of $2,727 a month to married veterans, $2,300 a month to single veterans or $1,478 a month to a surviving spouse. The money is tax-free and can be used to pay for assisted living, memory care, nursing home or in-home care services.

Currently, around 156,000 veterans and survivors are receiving the Aid and Attendance benefit, but many thousands more who are eligible either don’t know about it or don’t think they qualify.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify, your dad must have served at least 90 days of active military service with at least one day of service during a period of war, and not have been dishonorably discharged. Single surviving spouses of wartime vets are eligible if their marriage ended because of death.

Additionally, your dad will have to meet certain thresholds for medical and financial need.

To qualify medically he must be either disabled or over age 65 and need help performing basic everyday living tasks such as eating, bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom. Being blind or in a nursing home because of disability or receiving Social Security Disability or SSI also qualifies him. Single surviving spouses have no age restrictions, but they must require help with everyday living tasks to be eligible.

To qualify financially, your parents’ net worth — assets and annual income combined — must be below $155,356 in 2024.

When calculating their annual income, subtract any out-of-pocket medical expenses, prescription drug costs, insurance premiums and long-term care costs.

The VA also has a three-year review to determine if your parents transferred any assets to ensure that they would qualify for benefits. If so, they may be subject to a penalty period of up to five years.

How to apply

To apply for Aid and Attendance, fill out VA Form 21-2680 and mail it to the Pension Management Center for your dad’s state. You’ll need to have your dad’s doctor fill out the examination information section. Or you can apply in person at a VA regional office.

For more information or to download application forms go to VA.gov. You can call the VA at 800-827-1000 if you have questions.

If you need help, you can appoint a veteran service officer, a VA-accredited attorney or claims agent to represent your dad. See VA.gov to locate someone.

If your dad is eligible, it can take months for his application to be processed.

If your dad’s Aid and Attendance application is approved, the VA will send a lump sum retroactive payment covering the the day you filed the application until the day it was approved. Then your dad will receive monthly payments going forward.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

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