As we approach Veterans Day this year, we would like to remind those who served of the benefits that may be available to them through the Veterans Administration.
VA’s Improved Pension Programs
There are three categories of the Veterans Administration Improved Pension Programs, and each is need based and means-based. In order to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse must satisfy a four-prong eligibility test: (1) wartime service, (2) disability status, (3) income, and (4) net worth.
The three Improved Pension Programs are:
- Basic Service Pension
This is for veterans and spouses who are 65 and older with low income. There is no requirement of home-bound status or residency in an assisted living/nursing home.
- Home-Bound Status
This is for veterans and spouses who are home-bound but do not need medical assistance with their basic daily activities.
- Aid and Attendance
This is for veterans and spouses who are home-bound or in an assisted living or a nursing home and need help with their basic daily activities. The maximum benefit for Aid & Attendance is greater than that for the first two categories.
The Aid and Attendance Benefit can provide money to pay for home care for veterans, to pay for assisted living for a veteran or the veteran’s spouse, or for nursing home care. Veterans who qualify are eligible for up to $1,632 per month, while a surviving spouse is eligible for up to $1,055 per month. Couples are eligible to receive up to $1,949 per month.
Like MassHealth (a.k.a. Medicaid in Massachusetts), this program has certain financial eligibility requirements that applicants must meet, including an income and asset test. However, unlike MassHealth, the VA does not apply any penalty period for making gifts or other transfers of assets. Nevertheless, applicants should be mindful of their actions as some tools used to qualify for VA benefits could negatively affect the ability to qualify for MassHealth in the future if needed.
Often an applicant has a valuable asset that disqualifies them for VA benefits, and may receive advice to gift the asset away to solve the problem, and since the VA does not discourage gifting assets this may seem the right choice.
The concern with gifting assets is that the future is not always foreseeable, and our care needs are not necessarily constant. For example, statistics tell us that a housebound or assisted living resident has a 90% probability of needing to receive skilled nursing home care within 2 to 3 years. With nursing home care costs averaging more than $10,000 a month, MassHealth application is often the best choice when the level of care exceeds that which an assisted living environment provides.
MassHealth imposes a significant penalty period of ineligibility if a senior has given away any assets within five years of applying for MassHealth assistance. This means that if you were to transfer assets to qualify for Aid & Attendance, you could become ineligible for MassHealth,
Before applying for Veterans benefits, work with an elder law attorney to determine how to best qualify while maintaining your eligibility for MassHealth. With proper planning, both benefit options can be accessible to those who have served their country.
For more information on Veterans Benefits and MassHealth Planning please contact Attorney Matthew Karr at 617.299.6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org.