Money Waiting: Little-Known VA Benefit Helps Pay for Caregiving
Veterans and surviving spouses of veterans may be missing out on a little-known but extremely helpful benefit from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aimed at offering an “improved pension.” Known as the Aid and Attendance (A&A) Improved Pension, this benefit is specifically designed to financially assist veterans or surviving spouses who need help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as getting dressed, eating, taking medication, or basic hygiene.
These funds can be used to help pay for in-home care (from either family members or professional caregivers) or pay for care in an assisted living facility or nursing home. Blind veterans or veterans living in an assisted living community because of mental or physical incapacity also are eligible for the A&A benefits.
Unlike other benefits, A&A is not dependent on service-related injuries, but can be utilized by any veteran, a surviving spouse who meets certain limited income requirements, or even an independent veteran with a sick spouse.
In 2017, a qualifying veteran was eligible for up to $1,794 per month, while a surviving spouse was eligible for up to $1,153 per month. A married couple with a limited income was eligible for up to $2,127 per month, and a veteran with a sick spouse was eligible for up to $1,410 per month. It’s important to contact the VA to obtain up-to-date monthly payment amounts. Like Social Security, this pension is dependable and is paid directly to the veteran by the Department of the Treasury.
Although many veterans are unaware of and may not utilize the A&A benefit, it has been an available for more than 60 years. It is actually the third tier of the VA’s improved pension plan, with the first two tiers offering “basic” and “homebound” benefits.
Each tier has its own required qualifications. For the A&A benefit, any wartime veteran with 90 days of active duty (one day beginning or ending during a period of war), is eligible to apply for the funds. A surviving spouse (marriage must have ended due to death of veteran) of a wartime veteran may also apply. The individual applying for the benefit must qualify both medically and financially.
Applying for the improved pension benefit is relatively easy to initiate, and a veteran or spouse can start by taking a quick 2-minute survey to check eligibility. The next step is to gather a long list of needed documents to prove eligibility, then complete and mail in the two required VA documents. When mailing, be sure to send via certified mail to record date of submission and keep a copy of the complete application for yourself.
The VA has established processing centers across the country that are solely dedicated to processing such applications; make sure you send the application to the appropriate center assigned for the state where the applicant (the veteran or the spouse) resides.
Because of the backlog of applications, it can often take 8-10 months to receive your determination letter stating whether or not you will be receiving the benefit. This can cause financial strain in the meantime, but some assisted care facilities will work with families of veterans is they know an application is being processed and the veteran qualifies for the benefit. The good news is that all funds awarded are retro-dated back to the date of the submission. If the veteran or spouse is older than 90 years old, the process can be expedited (it’s recommended to include a cover letter with the application noting this request).
Unfortunately, many aging veterans are unaware of the assistance their service has earned them. These funds can truly make a difference in helping care for a loved one and help make a veteran’s golden years safer and more comfortable.
Written by Megan Hammons