Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefits Can Help, But Process Difficult

When I first started investigating the Veterans Administration’s Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits program for my Dad, a decorated WWII Veteran who earned the Bronze Star while serving in Italy with the 10th Mountain Division, I was excited to learn that he might qualify for some financial assistance to help with the cost of his care. Aid and Attendance is an enhanced or special monthly pension program for certain veterans who require care. Dad has developed Alzheimer’s disease and is legally blind, and my parents’ expenses exceed their income now. But I was warned by many that the process was incredibly arduous and lengthy. One friend told me she applied for her Dad, also a WWII veteran, who finally received notification he was approved for benefits … a month after he died. The process took over a year and a half.

Other family caregivers have similar stories about the lengthy process and series of hoops they have had to go through, and now I understand why. Working with our elder care attorney, I finally gathered all the documentation required – over 25 pages, including:

  • Original DD214 form – proof of military service in wartime (they did return the original eventually)
  • Income verification – checking and savings account statements and any other income producing savings or investment accounts (we had just cashed out the last of these to pay for caregiving expenses)
  • Verification of living and caregiving expenses (which had to be completed and signed by the agencies)
  • Insurance policy values
  • Marriage certificate (I had to write to the state of Indiana to send a copy)
  • List of all his doctors
  • Medical examination form signed by his doctor
  • Title to vehicles
  • Income tax return
  • Multiple forms to be completed and signed by my Dad

Arduous and lengthy? That’s an understatement. It was incredibly time-consuming and required appointments with doctors and caregiving agencies, finding documents (I still haven’t found the key to their safety deposit box so I had to hunt down key documents) and a lot of time on the computer and phone.

We submitted Dad’s application in June. In August the Veterans Administration sent us a letter asking for additional documentation.  We sent in the required documents and then got another letter saying the claim had been denied. I contacted our elder care attorney who then contacted the VA and found that, while it had technically been denied, the case was open for a year pending receipt of the required documentation. But we had already sent the information they requested! More calls, more letters …. now we are told the case is “pending authorization.”

So on this Veterans Day, as I think about the valiant service my Dad voluntarily gave for his country, first in WWII and then during the Korean conflict, I have two thoughts:

  1. It’s wonderful that this program exists to help our older and disabled veterans who need care, and I’m happy that if and when benefits are approved, they payment will be retroactive to the date of application. But at the same time …
  2. Why is this process so difficult and prolonged when our veterans so desperately need the assistance now? People don’t apply until they need the care – waiting a year or more to receive assistance may be too late. It doesn’t seem fair.

My Dad has me to coordinate this process and do all the legwork, and I knew enough to get assistance from our elder care attorney. I also supplement their income to cover costs and am rapidly going into debt and not saving for my retirement. There are other organizations who help veterans apply (beware: many take a cut of monthly benefits when they are awarded). But many older veterans do not have this kind of support and probably never even know about Aid and Attendance benefits. Haven’t they earned the support and care they so deserve in their twilight years?

More information on Veterans Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits is available on the Veterans Administration’s pension benefit page.

Photo Credit: Amy Goyer

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