Understanding essential items for Veterans – such as benefits – and how they affect decisions about joining a senior living community can be a challenge. 

Leslie Schaeffer explains five of most common and important benefits:

  • Disability Compensation
  • Veterans or Spousal Pension
  • Aid and Attendance
  • Veterans Administration (VA) Contract Facilities
  • VA Survivors Pension 

Leslie is Bethesda Hospice Care’s Bereavement and Veterans Coordinator and Manager of Support Services team. In her work, she has assisted many Veterans and their families in navigating the VA benefits system.

VA benefits do not directly pay for assisted living or skilled nursing services. The Veteran and his or her spouse can, depending upon eligibility, receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs related to the Veteran’s care and support in these facilities.  

Disability Compensation 

This is a monthly monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service, a part of the Service Connected Disability Compensation. The compensation rate varies with the degree of disability. It is not subject to federal or state income tax, and income is not taken into account to be eligible. 

Eligibility:

Military service

  • Active duty 90-day minimum
  • 1 day during wartime*
  • Honorably discharged

Medical

  • A chronic illness or condition attributed to service
  • Physician’s diagnosis and documentation 

Wartime Service Dates

  • WWII: December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946
  • Korea: June 27, 1950 to January 31, 1955
  • Vietnam: August 2, 1964 to May 7, 1975
  • Gulf War: August 2, 1990 (end date to be set by law)

The Service Connected Disability Compensation does not decrease Military Retirement Pay or take into account income. “This benefit also enables Veterans to sometimes qualify for many other benefits,” Leslie says. 

Veterans or Spousal Pension

VA pension benefits are paid to wartime Veterans who have limited or no income and who are age 65 older or – if under 65 – are permanently and totally disabled and meet the following criteria:

Honorably Discharged

Served at least 90 days of active military service, one day of which was during a war period. Note: after 9/7/1980, a Veteran must have served at least 24 months, or the full period for which they were ordered to active duty. (Service does not have to have occurred in a war zone). 

Countable family income must be below a yearly limit set by law. However, unreimbursed, out-of-pocket medical expenses may reduce countable income for VA purposes. Nursing home and assisted living costs are expenses that can be included.

Aid and Attendance 

Benefits are paid to a Veteran or spouse who requires the aid of another person to help them stay safe in their environment or is in need of a higher level of care, such as an assisted living or a skilled nursing facility. 

Veterans who need help with the activities of daily living (eating, bathing, dressing, etc.) may qualify for this benefit if they are already receiving Service Connected Disability Compensation or meet the criteria to apply. They may also qualify if their service-connected injuries have worsened to warrant the aid of another person, which is an additional monetary benefit to the Service Connected benefit.

Aid and Attendance provides for the Veteran who needs to pay for private duty services to help stay safe in the home. “This benefit is also paid to eligible Veterans or their spouses who require the aid of another person, or if they require a higher level of care like assisted living,” Leslie says. 

Also, if the Veteran experiences a non-service-connected decline in health and meets all pension requirements he or she may qualify. 

A surviving spouse of a Veteran living in a private assisted living facility may qualify for the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit, which provides reimbursement for services. 

Aid and Attendance is a tax-free lifetime benefit. 

VA Contract Facilities 

Veterans may be able to receive Community Nursing Home Care paid for through the VA if they meet eligibility criteria involving their service connected status, level of disability, and income. The Bethesda Dilworth community is one example of a community nursing home that has a current VA contract. 

VA Survivors Pension/Death Pension 

The VA Survivors Pension offers eligible dependents of deceased wartime veterans. Dependents can be an unmarried child or surviving spouse who has not re-married and have limited or no income. 

VA survivor benefits are tax exempt, and some compensation may be paid to a surviving spouse for costs associated with a disability or for help with activities of daily living.

Medical expenses can be added up and deducted from income to possibly qualify. 

Other Things to Consider

“I think the main point for older Veterans and their spouses and family members is to look for an organization that can help them identify which Veterans Administration (VA) benefits that are out there, which ones they may qualify for, and who can help them with the process of submitting claims,” Leslie says. 

‘We Honor Veterans’

One other consideration is the understanding and support Veterans and family members will receive at a senior living community. Organizations like Bethesda, who are part of the We Honor Veterans program, a national awareness campaign conducted by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, provide support for Veterans and understanding of the unique challenges they face as a result of their service. Monthly support groups meet with Veterans and their families, share stories, acknowledge the service of Veterans, and provide information on VA benefits. 

 

Visit Bethesda’s blog to find more resources for Veterans and their caregivers.