Comprehensive Planning. Lifelong Solutions.

Aid and Attendance benefit can help veterans who need long-term care

By Hook Law Center

Veterans who need long-term care services like in-home care or residence in a nursing home can receive financial assistance through the Veterans Administration (VA) pension benefit Aid and Attendance. This often-overlooked benefit provides money to veterans who need help with day-to-day tasks.

The pension is designed for veterans and surviving spouses who require help to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, eating, bathing or going to the bathroom. Individuals who are blind or live in a nursing home qualify for the pension.

Aid and Attendance is available to veterans who served for at least 90 days, with at least one of those days occurring during wartime, and to their surviving spouses. The disabilities do not need to be service-related.

To quality, the veteran or surviving spouse must own less than $80,000 in assets, with home and vehicle not included in this calculation. His or her income must also be lower than the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR), which is currently set at $21,107 for a single veteran. The income calculation does not include welfare benefits, unreimbursed medical expenses that have been paid or Supplemental Security Income.

Even veterans who have an income too high to qualify for a VA pension may qualify for the Aid and Attendance pension, so long as they have high medical costs that are not otherwise reimbursed.

The VA pays the difference between the veteran’s income and the MAPR, so the amount that a person receives from Aid and Attendance depends on his or her income.

Posted on Friday, November 28th, 2014. Filed under Senior Law News, Veterans' Benefits.

Bill would fund Hampton Roads veteran care center

By Hook Law Center

A bill has been introduced in the Virginia state legislature to provide state funding for a new health care center for veterans in Hampton Roads, The facility would supplement the care provided by the Hampton VA Medical Center.

The new center has been proposed before, but funding was stalled. Now, a dispute over a new legislative office building may end up benefiting veterans. After Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he would not move forward with plans for a $300 million Capitol Square building, a bill was introduced earmarking part of the funding for the veterans’ health care center.

The bill, HB 1275, would dedicate $28.5 million in state bonds for the center, and the funds would come out of money previously intended to replace the General Assembly Building. The center is intended to be funded jointly by the federal government and state government, but it remains unclear whether federal funding would be forthcoming.

Last month, Gov. McAuliffe ordered work on the new legislative building halted, saying that spending $300 million on a new building for legislators sent the wrong message at a time of fiscal constraint.

There are over 800,000 veterans in Virginia, but the state ranks 44th in the ratio of veterans to available health care centers.

Posted on Thursday, July 24th, 2014. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

In 12 Months, VA’s Disability Claims Backlog Falls 44 Percent

By Hook Law Center

In recent years, deserving U.S. veterans have had to endure lengthy waits for their disability benefits. Each case needs to be examined at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and a massive backlog of applications made the process tortuously slow. Some new applicants near major cities waited well over a year when the backlog was at its worst.

Thankfully, the VA has implemented several new policies to bring the system up to date, including mandated overtime for claims processors and a transition to computerized records. And the efforts appear to be paying off.

The VA recently announced that the backlog of pending claims, which peaked at about 611,000 in March 2013, has fallen by 44 percent. Now, 344,000 claims remain. The current average wait time is 119 days shorter than it was a year ago, the agency says, and the accuracy of decisions has risen as well.

The VA continues to prioritize “fully developed claims.” These are applications in which the veteran submits all relevant records at once and certifies that he or she has no other evidence to submit. Claims from homeless veterans, those facing extreme financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war and Medal of Honor recipients will also receive priority.

In 2010, the VA established a goal of processing all disability claims within 125 days.

As veterans’ attorneys, we have seen worthy disabled veterans wait far too long for their compensation, and we are pleased to see progress being made.

Posted on Friday, May 30th, 2014. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

VA Expands Disability Coverage to Illnesses Related to Brain Injury

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that some veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and certain related illnesses will be eligible for additional disability benefits.

The new regulation takes effect on January 15, 2014. It will affect some veterans with TBI who are also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, depression, certain diseases of the pituitary and hypothalamus glands, certain types of dementia or unprovoked seizures.

For certain veterans with service-related TBI who also suffer from one of the named illnesses, the second illness will also be considered as service-related for purposes of disability compensation.

The rule change was prompted by a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences linking moderate to severe TBI with the listed ailments.

Eligibility for additional compensation will depend on the severity of the brain injury and the length of time between the injury and the onset of the second illness. Veterans who do not meet eligibility requirements may still file a claim to establish the ailment as service-related.

“We decide veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available,” Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said in the announcement. “As scientific knowledge advances, VA will expand its programs to ensure veterans receive the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

Current treatment for TBI is usually limited to mitigating the damage it causes in the short term following the injury. Extensive further study is needed to better understand TBI and its connection with various neurological disorders. In the meantime, the VA is helping many deserving veterans by compensating for TBI-related illnesses.

Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

VA Reports Big Reductions in Backlog of Benefits Claims

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently made significant progress in reducing its huge backlog of claims for disability compensation.

Since it peaked in March 2013, the backlog has been reduced from 611,000 to just under 401,000 — a 34 percent decrease. The agency also reported that it has concurrently increased its decision accuracy. The three-month average accuracy rate for complete claim files stands at 90 percent, an improvement of five percentage points and seven percentage points over the accuracy rates for 2011 and 2010, respectively.

In April 2013, the VA announced an initiative to expedite decisions on claims that had been pending for more than one year. The following month, the agency mandated 20 hours of overtime per month for all claims processors through the end of 2013. If funding permits, the VA anticipates a continuation of the mandatory overtime policy into 2014.

Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, reiterated the agency’s goal of eliminating its claims backlog by the end of 2015 and praised VA employees for their hard work.

The VA said that as it works to reduce its backlog, it will continue to focus on those veterans whose claims have been pending longest, who are homeless or terminally ill, who are former POWs, who are Medal of Honor recipients and on those who file fully-developed claims.

It is encouraging to see a coordinated effort to get benefits to our deserving veterans in a timely manner.

Posted on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

VA Announces Retroactive Disability Benefits for Some Claimants

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced the availability of retroactive disability benefits for certain claimants.

One year of retroactive benefits is available to veterans who file a Fully-Developed Claim for service-connected disability. The policy is in effect from August 6, 2013, to August 5, 2015.

Through various policies, the VA is strongly encouraging veterans to file fully-developed claims. When filing FDCs, veterans must provide all supporting evidence in their possession at the time of submission. This may include information the veteran already has, but which the VA is otherwise obligated to track down, and evidence easily obtained by the veteran, such as private medical records.

A traditional claim gives the veteran time to gather evidence while the VA begins to process the claim. An FDC allows the VA to decide the claim more quickly than a traditional claim while still tracking down needed federal records on behalf of the veteran. The VA says it processes FDCs in half the time required for a traditional claim.

After having unconscionable backlogs and waiting times for disability claims for years, the VA appears to be getting its act together. It is switching from paper to computerized records and has implemented an online portal, eBenefits, to allow electronic submission of initial claims, creating an all-electronic process for a portion of cases. And as part of its effort to eliminate its claims backlog in 2015, the VA announced mandatory overtime for all claims processors through the end of the fiscal year.

Posted on Friday, September 27th, 2013. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

VA Initiative Promotes the Use of Fully Developed Claims

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs has partnered with two private veterans service organizations to promote the use of fully-developed claims by new benefits applicants.

A fully-developed claim is an application for benefits in which all available medical records and other evidence to support the claim is submitted at the time of the initial filing. The veteran certifies upon filing that he or she has no additional evidence to submit. The VA says that it is able to process a fully- developed claim in half the time required for a traditionally-filed claim.

Because private veterans service organizations assist many veterans with their claims, the VA is partnering with two of them – the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans – to steer applicants toward this more efficient process.

The initiative is part of the VA’s plan to eliminate the current massive backlog of claims in 2015 and, thereafter, process new claims within 125 days. The wait for new applicants in major urban areas averages more than 18 months in some cases.

In April 2013, the VA announced that it would expedite decisions on claims that are more than one year old. That plan involves issuing provisional decisions, which are eligible to be revised following the submission of additional evidence or appealed for a period of one year.

And on May 15, 2013, the VA announced that claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices were required to work overtime for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.

These recent efforts, combined with the VA’s transition to computerized claims processing, should bring some much-needed relief to veterans awaiting the benefits they deserve.

Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2013. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

VA’s Computer Processing Speeds Assistance to Post-9/11 GI Bill Beneficiaries

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has dramatically decreased the processing time for applicants to the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, the agency said in a recent press release.

The VA is currently engaged in a program to move from paper-based processing to electronic processing of benefit claims dubbed, the “Long Term Solution.” As a result, currently-enrolled students applying for education assistance under the GI Bill program now wait an average of 6 days for their claims to be processed versus the previous 9 days – a decrease of more than 50 percent.

The news is a bright spot in contrast to recent reports that wait times for veterans applying for other benefits have skyrocketed in recent years to as long as 18 months. New students, however, can expect to see no change in wait time. New students establishing their eligibility for the program for the first time can still expect an average wait time of 24 days.

According to the release, the VA is currently processing 46 percent of new claims for enrolled students electronically. Hope remains high that the computerization of claims processed throughout the VA will dramatically decrease wait times and backlogs of all applications.

The VA has reported providing $27 billion in benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to veterans, their families, and educational institutions over the past three and a half years.

Posted on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

Benefit for Veterans With No Service Connected Disability

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers the Improved Pension Benefit with Aid and Attendance, commonly referred to as Aid and Attendance which can provide a Veteran (or their surviving spouse) with additional income monthly, up to $23,388 per year. Veterans and their spouses must demonstrate that they have a regular need for the aid and attendance of another individual. The purpose of this non-service-connected benefit is to provide supplemental income to disabled or older veterans or surviving spouses who have low income and/or high unreimbursed medical expenses. Examples of those needing Aid & Attendance are those Veterans or their spouse who have:

  • Professional home care providers or family members to provide care in the home,
  • Assisted living or adult day care services, or
  • Nursing home long-term care services.

The veteran must have served ninety consecutive days on active duty, with one day during a wartime period, and have a discharge other than dishonorable. This Aid & Attendance benefit is not well known or understood and often people are told they do not qualify due to misinformation. Veterans or surviving spouses can qualify for the benefit even if they have relatively large incomes or substantial assets. In order to learn more about Aid & Attendance and other benefits as well as protecting assets from the high cost of long term care, it is important to enlist the assistance of an elder law attorney to properly plan.

Posted on Sunday, January 27th, 2013. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.

Benefit for Veterans With No Service Connected Disability

By Hook Law Center

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers the Improved Pension Benefit with Aid and Attendance, commonly referred to as Aid and Attendance which can provide a Veteran (or their surviving spouse) with additional income monthly, up to $23,388 per year. Veterans and their spouses must demonstrate that they have a regular need for the aid and attendance of another individual. The purpose of this non-service-connected benefit is to provide supplemental income to disabled or older veterans or surviving spouses who have low income and/or high unreimbursed medical expenses. Examples of those needing Aid & Attendance are those Veterans or their spouse who have:

  • Professional home care providers or family members to provide care in the home,
  • Assisted living or adult day care services, or
  • Nursing home long-term care services.

The veteran must have served ninety consecutive days on active duty, with one day during a wartime period, and have a discharge other than dishonorable. This Aid & Attendance benefit is not well known or understood and often people are told they do not qualify due to misinformation. Veterans or surviving spouses can qualify for the benefit even if they have relatively large incomes or substantial assets. In order to learn more about Aid & Attendance and other benefits as well as protecting assets from the high cost of long term care, it is important to enlist the assistance of an elder law attorney to properly plan.

Posted on Saturday, April 2nd, 2011. Filed under Veterans' Benefits.