Q. With Veterans Day being last week, it got me to wondering, what kind of benefits does the VA have for older veterans?
A little known program provided by the VA is the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit. This can be a huge help to veterans and their families. Here is a description of how it works:
What is it? The Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit is the highest level of the Pension Benefit awarded and can provide extra monetary assistance if the veteran needs help with dressing, bathing, cooking or eating. This is paid in addition to the veteran’s monthly pension. There is also a Housebound Pension program, but benefits for both programs cannot be received at the same time. The Housebound Pension program is also paid in addition to the veteran’s monthly pension, but is at a lower rate than the Aid and Attendance Program and has different requirements for eligibility.
Who is eligible? Any war-time veteran with 90 days of active duty (only one of which needs to begin or end during war-time) may be eligible for the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit. A surviving spouse of a war-time veteran may also be eligible. The Housebound Pension program has different requirements for qualifying. Visit the website of the Department of Veterans Affairs for more detailed information about qualifying for these benefits (www.vba.va.gov).
Where do I start? If you think you or your spouse may be eligible for these benefits, do not be daunted by the lengthy application process. The benefits under the Aid and Attendance Pension program are vastly underused and will be worth any difficulty in applying. An excellent resource for information on this program and the documents needed to complete the application can be found at www.veteranaid.org. It is necessary to apply for the benefits at the regional office having jurisdiction over your claim, which is the same office where the original pension benefits claim was filed. A list of regional offices can be found at www.vba.va.gov.
What happens next? Unfortunately, this process can take four to six months or longer. However, if the person applying for the benefits is 70 years or older, the application can be expedited, and should be; but be sure to request it. In the event the benefits are denied, there is an appeals process. Mistakes occasionally happen, so it is highly recommended that any decision denying benefits be appealed. It can’t hurt and you have nothing to lose. A pamphlet explaining the appeals process can be obtained at any VA Regional office or online at www.vba.gov. It is important to note that a Notice of Disagreement is the first step in an appeal and must be filed within one year of the date the local VA mails you the original decision denying your claim. Extra help may be needed during the appeals process, so please consider using an attorney or another skilled representative to assist you with your claim. You can also get assistance and advice at no cost from the Disabled American Veterans, who have representatives available at local veterans hospitals.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.