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Caring for our veterans and their spouses

Q. My elderly parent is a veteran or was married to a veteran, and I am looking for financial assistance for caring for him or her.  What assistance does the Department of Veterans Affairs offer?

Matthew Wages Johnson

A. The Department of Veterans Affairs is a massive and confusing bureaucracy, so finding information and getting good help can be challenging, especially when looking after an aging parent.  Most Americans are unaware that the VA offers pensions that provide financial assistance for many older veterans and their surviving spouses, and qualifying does not depend on service-related injuries, so non-injured veterans and their spouses can apply.  These pensions help give peace of mind to the families of the people who have served our country, and they let veterans and surviving spouses have their health care expenses partially covered, allowing them to stay in quality assisted living facilities, for example.  The VA itself has called these pensions “an under-used benefit,” so educating the children of veterans and their surviving spouses about these pensions is important, especially as baby boomers age and require greater health care. 

The basic criteria for qualifying for a VA pension are simple.  The veteran must have served for at least 90 days on active duty and one day during a qualified war period, must not have received a dishonorable discharge, must be at least 65 years old or permanently and totally disabled, and must need assistance with daily living requirements.  The spouse of a qualifying veteran is eligible for a pension, even if the veteran is deceased, as long as the surviving spouse has not remarried.  There are income and asset requirements that prevent many veterans and surviving spouses from initially qualifying, but a VA pension planning attorney can do the legal work that allows them to qualify, so the number of potential recipients of VA pensions is fairly large.

Your decisions regarding financial planning can determine the quality of care that your parent receives, as well as the financial health of your family.  An advisor should know how to protect a client’s wealth, meet the needs of the family, protect Medicaid eligibility, and qualify for a VA pension, if possible.  A VA pension planning attorney manages qualifying for a VA pension while protecting the client and the client’s family from both financial and personal hardships.  A VA pension planning attorney has a legal obligation to act in the best interests of the client, understands how to qualify for benefits as quickly as possible, knows current IRS rules and regulations and how IRAs can be problem assets, knows trust law and when and how to transfer assets, and knows the tax implications of transferring assets.  He also can draft the appropriate trust(s) and prepare real estate documents to allow the client to comply with a VA pension’s asset limit, and he can prepare a caregiver agreement that complies with Medicaid and allows the client to comply with a VA pension’s income limit.

For more information on how your veteran or surviving spouse can qualify for a pension, contact the Law Office of Matthew Johnson LLC at 770-910-9920 or  Matthew Wages Johnson is a seventh-generation Gwinnett County native, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and a graduate of the University of Georgia, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees.  He practices probate law and VA law and is a VA-accredited attorney who is passionate about taking care of veterans.