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Michigan Elder Law Today

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Applying for Aid and Attendance is Not a Do-It-Yourself Project

The VA Aid and Attendance benefit is one of the best options for older wartime veterans or their widows who need elder care assistance.

Long term care is expensive, and the receipt of these veterans services can help avoid the high costs of nursing home care, assisted living, or home care in depleting an older person’s assets.  That’s important because, once an older person is out of money, their only care option is to apply for Medicaid. 

One of the most positive features of this VA benefit is that once a veteran or their surviving spouse qualifies, they receive a deposit in their checking account each month from the VA.  Since the veteran or widow receives this special monthly pension directly, they have the flexibility of using the funds to pay for either home care, senior living residences, assisted living, or a nursing home as their individual needs may require.  A married veteran can receive $2,019.00 per month and a widow can receive $1,094.00 per month.

In my elder law practice in Auburn Hills, I frequently meet with the adult children of seniors who are applying for Medicaid nursing home benefits on behalf of their elderly parent.  The older person may have Alzheimers, be unable to care for themselves due to the effects of a stroke, or they may just be frail and elderly and need a great deal of assistance.  All too often, this elderly person is a war time veteran or widow of a wartime veteran and they are not receiving any veterans services.

When I inquire why the elder is not receiving veterans assistance, sometimes the family just never heard about the benefit.  All too often, however, the family applied for Aid and Attendance but gave up during the application process, so the elder never received the benefit.  Then they spent all of their money down on their care and the only option they have left is to apply for Medicaid to pay for a nursing home. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for me to see people who could have been receiving VA Aid and Attendance for 5 years or more and they have left over $100,000 on the table.  If the older veteran or their widow had been receiving this money all along they would now have a lot more care options and their estate would not have been so depleted.

How does this happen?  As your learn more about the VA Aid and Attendance program, you may see that one of the most frustrating aspects of this is the application process.  I wrote earlier about how applying for Medicaid is not a do-it-yourself project and that may apply even more to veterans Aid and Attendance.  The reasons for this are varied.  One reason is that you can never actually speak to the person who is processing the application at the VA.  All communication is through somewhat confusing letters the VA sends out from time to time.  While there is an 800 telephone number you can call, it often takes 10 to 15 attempts to get through and, after you wait on hold for 10 to 20 minutes, you can only speak to an operator who may look at a database and give you vague information about what is going on with your parent’s VA claim.  This operator is not actually involved in processing the VA application.

Another reason is there are many documents that need to be submitted in addition to the application, but the instructions with the application do not reference these other documents.  For instance, a certain doctor’s form must be submitted and the issues the doctor’s form should address will be different based on if someone is receiving home care, living in independent senior living with some services, or assisted living.  The instructions do not disclose this.  There are also different forms that have to be submitted to document your care expense depending on if you receive home care or care in some type of elder care facility.

In regards to income and assets, you must ensure that a qualifying case is in order before applying.  If an older veteran or widow is not currently eligible due to “excess assets,” an elder law attorney can assist in preserving assets while still qualifying for this additional income from the VA.

Some people, who appear very nice in cordial in our consultation, tell me how they found the process so frustrating that they lost their temper and yelled at and told the VA operator off.  You can imagine that those applications do not go to well after that.

The application process is complex.  Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has passed a law providing that no one can charge to assist in preparing a VA application until such time as the VA has denied the application.  Then an accredited attorney or claimant’s representative can charge to handle the appeal.  You really want to avoid such a situation though because it could be years before the appeal is sorted out and the elder receives any benefit.

However, the process does not have to be so frustrating if you get help.

If is very important that a complete and correct application and all supporting documentation be submitted with the initial application.  It will still take the Department of Veterans Affairs about 4 to 6 months to process the application, but if it is done correctly the first time, the only correspondence you receive from the VA should be the approval letter. The VA will then pay benefits back to the first day of the month of the month after the application was submitted.

The way I help with VA applications is I do the application for free for my clients with whom I have done long-term care planning work.  Between gathering all the information up, preparing the application, and following-up, this may take about 10 hours of time.

Sometimes individuals call me up and ask me to send them all the forms I have referenced in this post so they can file the application for their parent.  I cannot do that because, not only is there a variation in what forms needs to be submitted for each person, how the forms are filled out, i.e., what the forms need to say and contain, will be different for each person's situation.

That’s why applying for VA benefits and Aid and Attendance is not a do-it-yourself project.  The benefit programs, laws, and regulations that affect seniors have become complex in the last 20 years.  That is why the specialty of elder law developed and that is why the Department of Veterans Affairs has required attorneys to be accredited with the VA before an elder law attorney can assist with VA applications.  It’s a complex area that people tend to deal with only once in their lives.  A great deal of money is at stake, money that can really help out the older person. 

If you are considering filing a VA claim or application for a frail older person who has suffered a stroke, has Alzheimer’s disease, or who just needs long term care, be careful.  They are relying on you and they need your help.  Don’t just fill out applications and submit them before knowing the rules and legal process.

Helping an elderly parent who needs long-term care is time consuming and stressful.  Why not consider lighting your load and having a professional help you with one aspect:  the application?   We will still need you to gather up some documents, but you will find the whole process less time confusing and stressful and your parent will receive some much needed money to pay for care.


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