Filing VA Pension Claims

If you’re caring for an older relative who happens to be a veteran, the VA offers several benefit programs that could help you pay for your loved one’s long-term care. How can you access these benefits? We posed this question to Steven Rubin, a Certified Elder Law Attorney and a VA accredited attorney at Drazen Rubin Law, LLC., a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Milford, Connecticut. Steven has been advising clients on VA-related issues for more than eight years.

If you’re just starting the process, Steven advises getting familiar with the types of benefits the VA pays. The VA’s website is a good place to start. Steven also recommends looking at the veteran’s service period to see what kinds of additional coverages might be available. “VA benefits are classified as service-connected and non-service-connected,” he explained. “Service connection is being expanded and most people don't even realize it. For example, we had a client with Parkinson's Disease who is now covered due to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.”

Linking a disability to a veteran’s military service can pay off in a big way. “There are fewer hurdles to clear than there are for people with a non-service-connected disability and the benefits are much greater,” Steven counseled. “The veteran will get a higher monthly payment and there’s no look-back period or asset test. Service-connected disabilities often result in higher levels of treatment at hospitals, accelerated treatment at VA facilities, and eligibility for long-term care at VA facilities. If the veteran ends up needing long-term care, admission to a VA facility could eliminate the need to apply for Medicaid to pay for long-term care and no out-of-pocket payment.”
Steven says that a surprising number of professionals who advise veterans on VA claims often fail to check for service connection. “One of our clients went to a Veterans Service Organization and was told he couldn't file for benefits for years,” Steven said. “No one bothered to look for any service connection. It may take a little more time and effort, but it makes a huge difference in what he's eligible for now.”

The next hurdle to clear involves money. A few years ago, the VA changed the rules governing asset transfers and net worth calculation, removing many of the loopholes that made VA benefits easier to qualify for than Medicaid benefits. “There's now a three-year look back period on asset transfers for non-service-connected disabilities.” Steven explained. “Because of the look back and the net worth calculation, we have to consider the person’s income, expenses, assets, and marital status.”

The analysis starts with a look at the veteran’s income minus allowable expense deductions, a detail often overlooked by those who counsel veterans on VA claims. For example, if the veteran’s income is $40,000 a year, but he has $40,000 in medical-related expenses, the net income is zero. Next comes a look at the veteran’s assets. “Assets like a person’s primary residence and the family car can be exempt in certain cases,” Steven said. “Annuities, once a common planning tool to help people qualify for VA benefits, are no longer considered to be exempt.”

Steven admits that the formula gets very difficult. “The rules were supposed to make it easier to qualify,” he added. “That hasn’t really been the case.”

Life Care Planning Law Firms are skilled at guiding families through the VA benefits qualification process. If you’re stuck, click here to find help.