Long-term care can be incredibly inexpensive. Medicare doesn’t cover this sort of care for older adults. However, if you’re a veteran, you might be able to tap into VA benefits to help cover the cost of care in an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facility or even at home.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides long-term care services through the VA medical benefits package to veterans with service-related disabilities. What many veterans don’t realize, though, is that there are other VA benefits that will help cover the cost of long-term care even for those whose care need isn’t service-related. Plus, surviviing spouses of veterans can qualify for VA long-term care benefits.
Find out what types of VA benefits are available to help cover the cost of long-term care, who qualifies and how to apply.
VA benefits for long-term care
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers two benefits that can help pay for the cost of long-term care services.
The most commonly used is the Aid and Attendance benefit, says Mali Covington, director of Senior Living Partnerships at Patriot Angels, an agency that assists veterans and their spouses with the VA benefits application process. However, many veterans are unaware that this benefit exists even though “they earned this benefit through their service,” she says.
The other benefit is the Housebound allowance for disabled veterans who are confined to their homes. Veterans cannot receive both the Aid and Attendance benefit and the Housebound allowance at the same time.
To receive either of these benefits, you must first establish eligibility for Veterans Pension benefits.
Eligibility requirements for Veterans Pension benefits
To be eligible for Veterans Pension benefits, you must meet both service and financial requirements:
Service requirements: You must have served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day during wartime. Covington says that you can qualify if you didn’t see combat; your service could have been stateside during wartime. National Guard and Reserve service don’t qualify. And you must not have received a dishonorable discharge.
Financial requirements: The current net worth limit to be eligible for Veterans Pension benefits is $138,489, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Net worth includes a veteran’s and spouse’s assets and annual income. Assets include the fair market value of real and personal property, minus any mortgages. Real property means land and buildings you own. Personal property includes investments (stocks, bonds, etc.), furniture and boats. Your primary residence, your care and basic home items such as appliances are excluded from your net worth.
Although income is included in net worth, certain expenses—including long-term care expenses that are being paid by a veteran—are subtracted from income. So, if your long-term care expenses exceed your income, you don’t have to worry about your income factoring into net worth calculations, Covington says.
When you apply for Veterans Pension benefits, the VA will review your finances to see if you transferred assets in the past three years. If transferred assets that would have pushed your net worth above the eligibility limit, the VA won’t pay benefits for a penalty period of up to five years.
You also must meet one these three requirements to be eligible for Veterans Pension benefits:
- You must be at least 65 years old; or
- You have a permanent and total disability; or
- You are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.
If you meet the pension eligibility requirements, then you can apply for additional payments through Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits.
What is VA Aid and Attendance?
Aid and attendance is an increased monthly VA pension paid to veterans who are 65 or older and need help with activities of daily living. The surviving spouse of a veteran also can qualify as long as the couple were married for at least a year and the surviving spouse hasn’t remarried after the veteran’s death, Covington says.
The increased monthly Aid and Attendance pension can be used to pay for home care, an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facility. It can be used to pay a family member who is a caregiver, as long as that family member isn’t a spouse. It even can be used to help cover the cost of an independent living community if the community has 24-hour staff, which makes it a protective environment, Covington says.
Eligibility requirements for VA Aid and Attendance benefits
To be eligible for VA Aid and Attendance benefits, you must be receiving a VA pension and meet one of these requirements, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- You need someone to help you perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and eating; or
- You spend a large portion of your day in bed because of illness; or
- You’re in a nursing home due to loss of mental or physical abilities; or
- Your eyesight is limited even with glasses or contacts.
Covington adds that veterans must already be paying for care for a claim to receive Aid and Attendance benefits to be approved.
What is the VA Housebound allowance?
The Housebound allowance also is an increased monthly pension amount. It’s available for veterans and surviving spouses who have a disability and are confined to their homes. The additional pension amount can be used to pay for the care disabled veterans and surviving spouses need while confined at home.
Eligibility requirements for VA Housebound allowance
The eligibility requirements for the Housebound allowance are more stringent than for Aid and Attendance.
- You must have a single permanent disability evaluated as 100% disabling and be permanently confined to your immediate location.
- You have a single permanent disability evaluated as 100% disabling and another disability (or disabilities) evaluated as 60% or more disabling.
What amounts do VA benefits pay?
Maximum monthly Veterans Pension rates
- Veterans with no dependents: $1,229
- Veterans with a dependent spouse or child: $1,610
- Two veterans married to each other: $1,610
Maximum monthly Veterns Pension plus Aid and Attendance
- Veterans with no dependents: $2,050
- Veterans with a dependent spouse or child: $2,431
- Two veterans married to each other: $3,253
Maximum monthly Veterns Pension plus Housebound allowance
- Veterans with no dependents: $1,502
- Veterans with a dependent spouse or child: $1,883
- Two veterans married to each other: $2,155
Veterans Pension surviving spouse rates
- Widowed spouse with no dependents: $824
- Widowed spouse with one dependent: $1,079
Veterans Pension for surviving spouse plus Aid and Attendance
- Widowed spouse with no dependents: $1,318
- Widowed spouse with one dependent: $1,572
Veterans Pension for surviving spouse plus Housebound allowance
- Widowed spouse with no dependents: $1,007
- Widowed spouse with one dependent: $1,262
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
How to Apply for VA Aid and Attendance or Housebound
You must fill out Form 21-2680, physician exam form, and send it to your region’s pension management center. You also must submit evidence that you meet the eligibility requirements. And If you’re in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, you must submit a Request for Nursing Home Information in Connection with Claim for Aid and Attendance (VA Form 21-0779).
If you’re not currently receiving VA pension benefits, you must complete an application and include it with your Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits application. You can apply online for pension benefits or fill out VA Form 21P-527EZ.
The fastest way to get a benefits claim processed is to file what is called a “fully developed claim” that includes supporting documents such as income and net-worth statements, medical records and other proof of eligibility such as a need for assistance with activities of daily living. Learn more about the evidence needed to support a benefits claim.
It can take a while to gather all of the evidence you need and for your claim to be processed. So Covington says it’s a good idea to submit an Intent to File Claim form (VA 21-0966). This will lock in a start date for your benefits and allow you to receive payments retroactively.
How to get help applying for VA benefits
Determining what benefits you’re eligible for and gathering the necessary evidence can be difficult. Plus, it’s easy to make mistakes, and the VA can deny a claim if there are errors, Covington says. Often, families end up giving up during the application process, she says.
To get help filing a claim, the VA recommends working with an accredited representative of Veterans Service Officer. These people and organizations can’t charge a fee to file your application for benefits, but they can charge for assistance in determining what benefits you qualify for and gathering supporting documents. For example, Patriot Angels charges a $1,195 legal consultation fee, Covington says.
You can search the VA Office of the General Counsel’s list to find VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited individuals by name, city, state or zip code.