UNDERSTANDING THE VETERANS' PENSION By: Linda Melancon
Every year our nation celebrates Veterans Day, a day on which we honor the sacrifice of the men and women who have bravely worn the uniform of the United States of America. Despite their great service to our country, many veterans who are now senior citizens find themselves struggling to meet the burden of paying for long term care. The maze of understanding veterans' benefits can be overwhelming, which explains why so many wartime veterans and their spouses are unaware that they may be entitled to benefits.
A common misconception is that only those veterans who were disabled while serving on active duty are entitled to benefits. This type of benefit (known as "compensation") is available only to those whose disability is
connected to the veteran's service, but it is not the only type of benefit offered. Another type of benefit called the veterans "pension" may be available to help meet the costs of long term care for wartime veterans or their surviving spouses, even if their current medical needs are not associated with their service. This pension has several eligibility requirements. First, the claimant must be a veteran, or a surviving spouse of a veteran, who served on active duty for a period of at least 90 consecutive days during a period of war. Service in combat is not required, but the veteran must have served during wartime and must have been honorably discharged. Second, the claimant must be over 65 or be permanently and totally disabled. Third, the claimant must satisfy both an income and assets test.
Income for Veterans Administration purposes is the gross household income (all amounts paid by any source to any member of the household) minus certain medical expenses that are not being covered by Medicare, insurance, or other benefits. It is difficult for many to satisfy the income test unless they understand how to take advantage of special provisions that allow for the annual costs of assisted living or home health care to be included in the calculation as deductible medical expenses. If the claimant receives a "rating" of being housebound or is in need of regular aid and attendance, then these long term care expenses may be deducted in order for the veteran to meet the income requirement.
Additionally, the claimant must meet the assets test. Generally, this allows you to have up to 580,000 in household assets (stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, etc.) in addition to your home and vehicles. Although assets may be transferred or rearranged in order to meet this requirement, it is extremely important that a competent Medicaid planning practitioner be consulted before any such action is taken. It is very likely that a claimant who is housebound or living in an assisted living facility will need nursing home care at some point in the near future. Nursing home care is very costly and many will have to rely on Medicaid to help cover the expense. Medicaid will impose an ineligibility penalty period if assets are given away within five years of applying for Medicaid benefits. It is clear that a person who shifts assets in order to qualify for a veterans' pension may inadvertently exclude himself or herself from Medicaid eligibility.
If you are a wartime veteran, or the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran, you should work with a team of veterans' benefits and Medicaid planning professionals in order to ensure that you receive the benefits that you have earned through your service.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon has engaged in the practice of law in Ascension Parish for the last ten years. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, estate administration, and Medicaid planning. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at 744-0027.