Final installment of a five-part series detailing a personal journey into planning for the later years of life precipitated by my father-in-law’s abrupt move to a personal care home.
Even among veterans, VA benefits can be an enigma. VA benefits are available for low-income/low-net-worth veterans and their dependents. Any veteran with active duty service over 90 days is eligible for VA benefits. Benefits include education programs, home loans, life insurance, disability compensation and medical care. If you had wartime service or were injured in the line of duty, you may be eligible for a VA pension. For any benefit, there are asset and income limits to be eligible. Service-related benefits may also be constrained by time limits. Each case is different, and each program has different requirements. In our case, Dad needed to have income below $30,460. Net worth limits depend upon the program. The combination of income and net worth has to demonstrate need. In conversation, I’ve heard anywhere between $80,000 and $300,000 net worth. Unlike Medicaid, the VA does not require a look-back period, so you can gift assets to demonstrate need.
The VA works very hard to provide benefits for veterans, but they are inundated with requests. It is difficult to navigate the bureaucracy. Make sure your applications are complete; leave no line blank. If the question does not apply, make sure you write N/A, no or zero if it is a financial question. Processing will be delayed by incomplete forms. The VA cannot tell if you meant to leave a line item blank or if it’s not complete. Provide appropriate backup as requested. When completing the pension application, don’t forget to include unreimbursed medical expenses, including the cost of Medicare and medical insurance. The VA will use these to offset income. You will also be required to provide the original military discharge papers. In addition, you will need all dependent information and spousal information including copies of marriage licenses, divorce decrees and death certificates.
Amazingly, very little of the process is automated. Paper moves from department to department, checked and verified by different staff on each leg of the journey. You will find yourself wondering if these staffers ever communicate or even make notes as you make call after call, and complete yet another form with the same information.
Bank statements, income statements, doctor examinations, nursing home information, deeds to non-residence property and power of attorney may be requested. Each document may have a corresponding VA form to complete. Because Dad was diagnosed with dementia, and had already availed himself of VA medical benefits, we were able to use a “Fully Developed Claim” form. This streamlines the process and assures a decision within 90 days. But to take advantage of the accelerated processing, Dad had to agree to allow his power-of-attorney designee to take charge of his finances. My sister-in-law, his power-of-attorney designee, had to agree to a credit check and provide personal references. Additionally, both have to meet with a VA representative to officially declare him incompetent. Hard words for a proud man. That is scheduled for June 21. I’ll keep you updated.
To navigate through the myriad of confusing forms and protocol, utilize the services of the American Legion. An American Legion representative can be your advocate at no charge. They appreciate it if you are a member of the American Legion, but that is not a necessity. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have an advocate who knows the system. Our claim took less than 30 days to process. I’ve talked to others who have taken well over a year.
As I conclude this series, I have the following guidance:
1) Before embarking on any course of action, consult a lawyer, accountant or financial professional.
2) Look for someone who specializes in eldercare.
3) Get multiple opinions. Every situation is different.
4) Create a balance sheet and cash flow statement.
5) List insurances and legal documents
6) Obtain a copy of the most recent tax return.
7) Make a list of beneficiaries, power-of-attorney designee, executors and other advisors; include names, addresses and telephone numbers.
Take this with you when you visit an advisor. Keep it on hand when you are speaking to the American Legion or the VA. I carry a flash drive with my father-in-law’s information. When I get that phone call, I have everything at my fingertips. Good luck!
Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax or legal professional to determine which direction is best suited for your specific needs.
About the author, Victoria Rogers
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