The impact of an injury or disability on a veteran’s life can be far-reaching and multifaceted. A veteran may find themselves having to depend on others to accomplish their basic activities of daily living (ADLs), and this reality that can be stressing to the family dynamic, not to mention the budget. However, there is a little-known benefit offered by the VA that can help veterans and their families offset the cost of additional daily help as part of an “improved pension” plan. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of eligible veterans are unaware of this benefit, although it has been an entitlement for more than 60 years.
What is the benefit?
The Aid and Attendance (A&A) veterans benefit from the VA provides additional funds for eligible veterans and surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person to assist in ADLs such as eating, bathing, dressing, and undressing, or taking care of the needs of nature. It also includes individuals who are blind or a patient in a nursing home because of mental or physical incapacity. These conditions do not have to be the result of a service-related injury, and care in-home, in an assisting living facility, private pay nursing home, or board and care setting also qualifies.
The A&A Pension can provide up to $1,788 per month to a veteran, $1,149 per month to a surviving spouse, or $2,120 per month to a couple. Additionally, a veteran who is still healthy and independent but has a spouse who is sick and needs daily assistance (and whose combined monthly income has been depleted) can also apply and may be eligible for up to $1,406 per month. Like Social Security, this pension is dependable and is paid directly to you by the Department of the Treasury.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible, a veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day beginning or ending during a period of war (as designated by VA). A surviving spouse whose marriage ended due to death of a Wartime Veteran may also apply. The individual applying must qualify both medically (his or her physician must verify the need for assistance with ADLs) and financially (this pension is designed specifically to help veterans in financial need). You can take a quick two-minute online survey to determine if your family has VA funds waiting for you to claim.
How do I apply?
To apply for this benefit, the veteran or his or her family should gather the necessary documents, fill out the correct application forms to submit to the VA with the necessary documents, and then mail all of the documents to the correct processing center. Veteranaid.org, a site whose primary purpose is to assist veterans in learning about and accessing the A&A benefit, offers links to all of these documents and a list or all processing centers on its How to Apply page. All of the services and assistance VeteranAid.org offers is completely free.
While you are gathering documents, you can submit a one-page VA Form 21-0966 (INTENT TO FILE A CLAIM FOR COMPENSATION AND/OR PENSION, OR SURVIVORS PENSION AND/OR DIC) which will get the claim into the system. Applications can take anywhere from 6 weeks to a year to approve, although 6-9 months seems to be the average approval time. If an applicant is older than 90 years, families should include a letter requesting that the application be expedited, as the VA is to give priority to applicants in this age group.
The good news is that once the benefit is approved, it is applied retroactively to the date of the application, meaning that you will get back pay. Many care facilities will actually work with a family when they know that the application is submitted and is likely to be approved.
Caring for a sick, injured, or aging family member is difficult enough without a financial burden pressing down. With the benefits included in the A&A pension, veterans and their families can get the help they need to make their lives as healthy and comfortable as possible. For more general information on the A&A benefit, to check your eligibility, or download application forms, visit www.veteranaid.org.
Written by Megan Hammons