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Dear Savvy Senior,
Does the VA provide any financial assistance to help veterans or their spouses pay for long-term care? My father, who served in the Army many years ago, receives some in-home care right now, but will eventually need to move into an assisted living facility because his health is deteriorating. Can the VA help?
That's a great question. There's actually a little-known veterans' benefit that helps wartime veterans and their surviving spouses pay for a variety of medical and long-term care costs. Here's what you should know.
The VA benefit that may help your dad is called "Aid and Attendance," a special pension benefit established in 1952 that provides a tax-free monthly income up to $1,644 for a veteran; $1,056 for a surviving spouse; or $1,949 for a veteran and one dependent.
The money can be used to pay for in-home care, assisted living and nursing home care as well medical expenses, prescription drugs and more.
Today, around 150,000 veterans and surviving spouses receive this benefit, but hundreds of thousands more are eligible and either don't know about it or don't think they can qualify for it.
To qualify, your dad must have served at least 90 days of active military service with at least one day of service during a period of war (stateside or overseas), and must have been honorably discharged. (Single surviving spouses of wartime vets are also eligible if their marriage ended because of death.) Your dad will also have to meet certain physical and financial requirements to be eligible.
To qualify physically, he must be at least age 65 and need help with basic everyday living tasks such as eating, dressing and undressing, bathing or going to the bathroom. Being blind or in a nursing home or assisted living facility for mental incapacity also qualifies. Or, if he is under age 65, he must be completely disabled. (Single surviving spouses have no age restrictions, but they must require help with basic everyday living tasks to be eligible.)
To qualify financially, your dad must have limited assets (usually under $80,000) excluding his home and vehicle. And his annual income (minus medical and long-term care expenses) cannot exceed the Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR), which in 2009 is $19,736 for a single veteran; $12,681 for a surviving spouse; or $23,396 for a veteran and his spouse.
To calculate your dad's income qualifications, add up his income over the past year (including Social Security, pensions, interest income from investments, annuities, etc.), minus any out-of-pocket medical expenses and long-term care costs over that same period of time. If the final tally is under the MAPR, and he meets the other requirements, he's eligible for aid.
How to apply
To learn more, check to see if your dad is eligible, or to apply for Aid and Attendance, contact your state or local veterans service organization. They can walk you through the process and help you with the paper work.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a regular contributor to NBC's "Today" and author of "The Savvy Senior."