How to Get the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit — A Valuable Benefit for Veterans and their Spouse’s Who Require Long Term Care: Expert Interview with Debbie Burak
After struggling to help her mother, the wife of a World War II veteran, receive benefits from the Veterans Administration, Debbie Burak founded VeteranAid.org to ensure that other families of veterans wouldn’t have to go through the same ordeal.
The site is devoted to informing veterans and their families about the little-known “Aid and Attendance Pension” benefit, which allows for veterans and surviving spouses who require the attendance of another person with eating, bathing, dressing, undressing, medication dosing or other needs to receive additional monetary benefits.
Here, Debbie shares her story and offers insight into how the program works and who qualifies. Read on:
Can you tell us the story behind VeteranAid.org?
VeteranAid.org was created as a result of my own personal experience as the daughter caring for aging parents over a nine-year period.
My dad was a WWII Veteran, and with several request to the VA for any resources to help defer costs, we were told seven times that since he was not injured during his time of service, he was not eligible for any assistance.
I learned after his passing and having to move my mother that there was, in fact, a VA benefit that would have helped to pay for their care, and they had missed out (at that time) on over $140,000 from the “Aid and Attendance” benefit.
I made an application for my mom as the “surviving spouse” who was awarded the full pension, but she did not live to see the VA release her monies.
I knew that I had knowledge of a hidden financial resource that veterans and their widows were not informed about, and that the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit could be the determining factor in the quality of care and services to be afforded. And so it is that I set out to change the ending for others and to try and be a light for those only just beginning the journey of caring for an older loved one.
I launched the website in November 2005 with the intention of raising national awareness of this little-known benefit, with the goal of making it as common knowledge as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Read more about my story here.
The site is dedicated to my mom and dad, Frank and Lillie Cicirelli.
How did you become so passionate about helping veterans?
Again, through my own experiences of dealing with the failings of the VA, and having so much respect for the sacrifice of service to our country, I felt compelled to do my part to honor that.
I had first-hand knowledge of the impact this VA benefit provides, and remaining silent was not an option for me.
When our veterans are no longer strapping young men and women stepping up to defend our country, but instead need a grateful nation to step up in their time of need, there has to be a way in which to make that happen.
What is the Aid and Attendance Benefit?
Aid and Attendance is a Pension Benefit, and is part of a three-tier pension known as “Improved Pension,” which consists of “Basic,” “Housebound,” and the highest level of “Aid and Attendance.” It is frequently referred to as “A&A.”
It is a tax-free financial resource that can help with the costs of care in later years, when either the veteran or his or her widow or widower now requires the assistance of others for daily living. It can help with care being provided either in-home or in a facility.
Current max awards to help demonstrate the impact this pension can represent are as follows:
Surviving spouse: $1,149.00
Married veteran: $2,120.00
Veteran with ill spouse: $1,406.00
Unlike “Compensation” for service-connected injuries, Aid and Attendance does not require that veterans had to be injured during their time in service.
They do not have to be service-connected, they do not have to have retired from the military, nor do they have to actually have been in combat.
This pension is means-tested as a “needs based” pension, and financial requirements do have to be met.
Who qualifies for A&A?
- A veteran who served at least 90 days, one of which was during an approved period of war. A list of those timeframes can be found on the VeteranAid.org website.
- Must have an Honorable Discharge.
- A surviving spouse is also eligible at a reduced rate listed above.
- For veterans of more recent conflicts, they must have served 180 consecutive days with an Honorable Discharge.
What’s noteworthy is that any veteran who is rated at 100 percent service-connected who now requires the assistance of others due to that service-connected disability has the ability to have the addition of A&A on top of their “compensation.” The 100 percent rating is the only exception where a veteran can draw both “compensation” and “pension.”
For our low-income veterans who meet the criteria, they are eligible for the lower level of “Basic” if they fall below the monthly income of $1,055. There is no requirement for needing assistance with daily living for the “Basic” level.
What do veterans and/or their families need to do in order to sign up for A&A?
They would need to complete the appropriate VA application either as the veteran VA form 21-527EZ (Veteran) or 21-534EZ (Surviving spouse), as well as all other forms and supporting documents that have to be included with the application; and then send them to the appropriate Pension Maintenance Center assigned to their state. A listing broken down by state can be found on the VeteranAdid.org website.
How well-known is this program among the veteran community?
The A&A program is not all that well-known in veteran communities; which, given that it has been an entitlement for the past 64 years, is a rather disturbing issue. Millions upon millions of senior veterans and their widows have done without the care they needed simply because they were not aware of this VA financial resource.
What do you think are the biggest areas of confusion or misinformation surrounding this program?
The belief that the veteran had to be injured during their time of service to be eligible for anything other than utilizing the GI Bill for school or VA loan to purchase a home.
The misinformation at local VA offices is far too common, since the majority of their training focuses on “compensation” claims and not “pension.”
The first question asked at the VA office is often, “What is the applicant’s monthly income?” When the response is, for example, $1,150, the applicant will be told they exceed income limits.
Applicants are never asked if they have services coming into the home for care or if they are in a facility, which are truly the “key” questions, since those amounts being paid for care are allowable medical deductions; and once you deduct that expense, you will find that most are either zero or negative at the end of the month. The result is that they do not exceed income thresholds and, in fact, do qualify.
I’ve lost count of the number of folks I have dealt with who left a VA local office being told they did not qualify because this question was not asked.
What seem to be the most common challenges for those applying for A&A?
- Not sending in a completed aid and attendance form with all necessary documents supporting the claim.
- Not keeping a complete copy of everything for your own records.
- Dropping documents off at a local VA office rather than sending them to the appropriate Pension Maintenance Center for their state.
- Not mailing Return Receipt for proof of delivery.
Do you have any tips for navigating the application process?
Educate yourself about the pension and use the VeteranAid.org website and supporting forums for everything you need in the way of forms, mailing addresses and questions you may have about a specific issue your applicant may have. The website is written to basically walk you through this process. The forums, with over 4,600 registered members, are a virtual library.
What other resources do you think veterans nearing their retirement years should be aware of?
To be aware that this pension has become a “calling card” for a great many Financial Planners who offer to restructure assets for the purpose of qualifying financially; often, this has negative impacts. While the VA does not currently count annuities as an asset, Medicaid does. When you are looking at long-term planning, it is advisable to factor in all possible scenarios.
Veterans should also stay up to date on a current rule proposal dealing with net worth, asset transfers and income inclusions for needs-based benefits, which they can learn more about here.
Connect with Debbie on Facebook.