Many older adults that served in the military qualify for some little known financial aid in their retirement years. This goes for the spouse of military veterans as well. BUT, many of them don’t even know it. In this article, we will talk all about veterans benefits that older adults may not know they qualify for.
Unfortunately, navigating your way through veterans benefits can be a very difficult and painstaking task. My hope is that this article will at least point you in the right direction to move forward.
Let me start by admitting that this topic is in no way part of my “expertise” as a physical therapist. However, because I work with a largely geriatric population, this topic applies to many of the patients and families that I work with on a daily basis.
The inspiration for this article was born when I sat down with a friend named Dee Miller. She told me a fascinating story about how her relentless effort resulted in hundreds of extra dollars per month for the care of her 92 year-old mother. Read on to learn more about her experience and how it might apply to your situation.
Dee Miller is a baby boomer, a retired RN, and quite a little firecracker in her own right. She is also a caregiver for her elderly mother. Dee lives in Kansas, and her mother lives in Texas, but the term “caregiver” still applies. Dee was gracious enough to sit down and do an interview with me. Our whole conversation can be summarized by Dee’s understated quote “Veterans benefits are very complicated.”
But don’t be completely discouraged. There is hope!
First let’s discuss the long distance nature of Dee’s caregiving arrangement with her mother. Maybe most importantly, her mother’s preference is to be in Texas rather than to move to Kansas where she would be nearer to Dee. But Dee doesn’t mind. “Most people have their mothers or dads living close to them. That’s the usual. They say that’s the ideal, and I don’t know that it really is. Because when I go [for a visit], it’s a really special time, and we do a lot of things together. And she has other people too. So I’m not sure what the ideal is. I can also have more of my own life. It’s important that I can split the direct care off.”
It’s especially important for Dee to be able to “split the direct care off” because on top of everything else, Dee is a caregiver for her paraplegic husband. She is not exactly a member of the “Sandwich Generation,” but she brings up an exquisite point. “The Sandwich Generation, which normally refers to caregivers with children still at home, should also be applied to the growing number of baby boomers who are now caring for a chronically-ill spouse, as well as a chronically-ill parent or two! There are a million details to keep up with on every patient. It just multiplies; and until funding was secured for my mother to get this dream team in place, the burden was greater by far.
Dee went on to say “In Kansas, it would have been next to impossible to find someone that would have taken my mother.” The reason for the difficulty is that Dee’s mother relies on Medicaid, section 8 housing, and her VA benefits (from her deceased spouse) to pay for her living arrangements. In Kansas, it is rare for assisted living facilities to take Medicaid payment. In Texas, it is more common for Medicaid to pay for (at least part of ) the assisted living bill. Click here to learn more about how retirement living options are paid for.
Assisted living versus Nursing Home Care
Dee insists that mother live in an assisted living facility rather than a long term care facility (aka. nursing home). Click here to learn more about the difference between the two. “They may need assisted living, but if you put them in a nursing home then they begin to go down to the least common denominator. You want to keep them in the least restrictive environment.”
Had Dee decided to move her mother into a long term care facility, navigating veterans benefits would have been somewhat easier. But Dee’s resolve is iron-clad, and she was willing to fight for her mother’s needs. Plus, if she had settled for nursing home placement, that would have disqualified Dee’s mother from some of the veterans benefits that she was ultimately fighting for. This topic will be discussed further at the end of the article, but suffice it to say that there is a benefit for veterans (or their spouse) called the pension aid & attendance benefit. Those that live in nursing homes cannot receive this benefit.
As Dee explained it to me, “They may stay in their own homes, with the assistance of a caregiver (family member or a professional caregiver both qualify) OR they can go to assisted living and get this benefit. “Assisted” means that they can care for themselves to a degree, whereas a nursing home is supposed to provide full nursing care. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the family isn’t going to need to be involved. It just means the family member or a substitute cannot be paid out of VA funds. The VA pension, with nursing home care, goes to the nursing home except for a very small stipend. With assisted living, it varies by state on how much can be reserved for private duty care. If the patient stays in his/her home, however, all of the pension is retained as long as Medicaid is not involved.”
“Not everybody can have this situation with the section 8 housing combined with all the other funding. Every state is different. Veteran’s benefits vary according to the state when a person has Medicaid, otherwise they do not vary. It gets really complicated when a person is on Medicaid. Which most people are by the time they’ve been in a care facility for a while.”
Dee broke it down for me this way
“What mother qualified for was the maximum amount that any spouse of a veteran could get. However, the amount of money she could keep for her use varies by state” For example, if she lived in North Carolina, she’d be able to keep over $1,100 per month. In Texas, she is able to keep $432. The rest of the money goes back to the state since she is receiving Medicaid benefits. This extra $432 that she receives as a Texas resident can be used for her private care. If she lived in Kansas, the amount she could keep would be much less. Again, this is different from state to state. Dee’s mother gets an additional $85 per month from the state of Texas. Dee explained that all states have an allowance for residents getting Medicaid if they live in a care facility. She added “most states allow at least 20% more for those in assisted living than for those in a nursing home because there are usually fewer personal expenses.” So in total, she gets $517/month to spend on her care and personal needs.
What’s the big deal about an extra few hundred dollars?
“I could not keep my mother in assisted living without having private duty care as well. If I could get this VA funding then it would be the magic because it would provide several hundred dollars per month (over $5,000 annually) for private duty care.”
After over a year of constant paper work and phone calls, Dee was able to secure the money mentioned above for her mother. So now she’s living in an assisted living facility that she is happy in, and she’s getting the private duty care that she needs. She get’s monthly visits with an RN from an outside agency. In addition, she has 2 private duty caregivers. One of those is a family friend that Dee hired to be a caregiver for her mother. The other is an aide that is employed through a private agency. All of this extra care is paid for by those extra $517 hard fought dollars/month. Click here to learn more about hiring a caregiver on your own as opposed to going through an agency.
Dee admits that the process is not easy. It’s hard, and it’s slow. She and her spouse had to take a home equity loan until the funding came in. “When you put a person in assisted living, you’ve got to be able to fund it for a while and maybe never see that money again. There’s just no other choice. Most assisted living facilities do not take somebody on the contingency that funding is coming.”
The happy ending
Dee has finally been assured by a VA specialist that her mother is going to be able to keep all this new found money for her personal care needs. Dee summarized by saying, “Mother is very happy there, and that’s the bottom line.”
And her advice to other caregivers that are managing their elderly parent’s affairs from a distance…“You’ve got to go and make your presence known. It’s very possible. The only thing you’ve got to have is good people. If you’ve got good people, whether they’re inside the facility or outside the facility, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t manage from two states away. You can!”
How does this information pertain to your situation?
After having this conversation with Dee, I was intrigued to learn more. With her help and some of my own research, I learned about several sources that will surely be helpful to others who are currently stuck in the middle of the VA benefits maze.
The Senior Veterans Council
Basically, they offer a package to help you navigate the big, messy system that we’ve been talking about throughout this article. Click here to visit their website.
In Dee’s words “they will take you so far with free services, and then you can decide if you need to pay for more services. For $1,300 I could have gotten all the help I needed for my mother. The money goes to the Senior Veterans Council. They do not take your house. There are agencies out there that offer to help you with veterans benefits, but they may end up taking your house.” That actually sounds like a glowing recommendation to me. Especially if you don’t have the time or the resolve to fight this battle on your own like Dee did.
- He is an accredited VA agent for the Senior Veterans Council
- Phone: 877-787-3434
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: DCole@seniorveteranscouncil.com
Pension Aid & Attendance Benefit
In the words of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “Veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person, or are housebound, may be eligible for additional monetary payment.” This monetary payment is known as the pension aid & attendance benefit.
The pension aid & attendance benefit may be an option for those that need assistance in their home (or in an assisted living facility, but not a in a nursing home), suffer from specific diagnoses (namely one form of dementia or another), and have wartime service. The two links below that will provide a lot more detail.
Click here if you’d rather watch a video about it. The video is 26 minutes, but full of valuable information. Scroll to the bottom of the page after you click the link.
Whew! That’s a lot. But if you’ve been struggling, now you know that there is hope. You’ve now got a couple resources that will hopefully ease your burden. Best of luck to you.