The Veterans Administration offers assistance to low-income veterans and surviving spouses, 65 years and older, through its Special Pension or Aid and Attendance programs.
Veterans who served at least one day during a wartime period may be eligible for these programs. The benefits are available for veterans and their spouses to receive monetary benefits for in-home care, nursing home care, assisted living and other needs.
Veterans benefits can be extremely complex to navigate. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs only examines a veteran’s current income, assets and expenses at the time of application to determine eligibility and amount available.
However, the rules for benefits are expected to change in 2017. The changes were intended to address past applicants who would conceal or transfer assets to qualify for the benefits. The proposed changes could potentially disqualify candidates who were previously eligible to receive the benefit.
The biggest change under the new proposed eligibility requirements means that the Veterans Administration will likely implement a three-year look-back period of an applicant’s financial history to determine eligibility for benefits. This is similar to Medicaid’s five-year look-back period.
Further, the bulk of the proposed changes is dedicated to making it more difficult to qualify for veterans benefits. Other changes seek to limit an eligible veteran’s net worth, tighten regulations for calculating assets if a primary residence is sold, and penalize gifting or transferring covered assets within the three-year look-back. The most serious limitations under the proposed changes are those now defining allowable medical expenses.
Finally, under the proposed rules, there is a presumption that any transfer made during the three-year look-back period – including donations to places of worship or charity organizations – was done for the purpose of becoming eligible for the pension. The proposed rules offer little recourse for appeal to explain the legitimacy of any transfers in that three-year window. The discharge and service rules are expected to stay the same.
While the proposed changes are not yet final, the changes could be enacted as early as this summer. Therefore, senior veterans should start planning as soon as possible to take advantage of veterans benefits while they are still more widely accessible.
With proactive planning, some veterans could experience a high-quality assisted living facility, while those who do no plan ahead could struggle to pay for basic care.
As a rule of thumb, veterans are advised to make any transfers and, when appropriate, to file applications for benefits before the proposed rules become final. An elder law attorney can guide these plans.
Andrew Olsen is an attorney in the CSH Law Elder Law Practice Group in Wilmington, NC, where he practices in the areas of elder law, estate planning probate, guardianship, alternative dispute resolution, estate and trust litigation, special needs planning and veteran’s benefits. To contact Olsen, call (910) 777-5733 or email him at [email protected].