Applying for Veterans Benefits: 5 Tips for Caregivers and Spouses

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Eligibility for VA benefits is usually the primary concern for veterans and their caregivers, but there are several other areas of confusion and sources of misinformation that can significantly impact the way families interact with the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.

Regardless of what point you’re at in dealing with the VA and whether you’re interested in securing benefits for yourself or on a U.S. veteran’s behalf, the following tips are crucial to successfully navigating the VA system.

  1. The VA doesn't recognize power of attorney (POA). This revelation often comes as a shock to caregivers who are used to hearing about the necessity of obtaining a POA document as part of planning ahead for a loved one’s care. If a veteran is incapable of managing their own financial affairs, whether they are just now applying for VA benefits or they have been receiving them for decades, a fiduciary must be appointed to oversee their benefit payments. Incompetence must be documented by a medical professional or determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.
    A family member or friend typically takes on this responsibility after passing a thorough vetting process conducted by the VA. This evaluation includes a criminal background check, credit report check, personal interview, and review of character references. In cases where a veteran does not have a trusted individual who can serve in this capacity, the VA will appoint a professional fiduciary.
  2. You can expedite a VA application. The VA has specific rules in place to expedite the applications and appeals of veterans age 90 and older. If your loved one is in this age group, make sure that the VA office handling their application or appeal is aware of this by filing a written request for expedited processing along with their other paperwork.
  3. You don't have to be ill to qualify for a pension. One little-known element of the VA program is that when a veteran turns 65, they are considered 100 percent disabled in the eyes of the VA. This means that a low-income vet or their surviving spouse could be eligible for a Pension, even if they have no major health conditions.
  4. Benefits end when a veteran dies. If a veteran dies before their spouse, any pension benefits being received by the couple will immediately stop. The surviving spouse must submit a completely new application to the VA in order to get these benefits reinstated.
    Along with a death certificate, the surviving spouse must supply any and all additional documentation required for the specific benefits they are looking to reinstate. Necessary paperwork might include the deceased veteran's discharge papers, their marriage certificate, information regarding income, assets and expenses, a physician's statement detailing the surviving spouse's medical diagnosis and ability to care for themselves, and a statement from their long-term care provider (assisted living community, home care agency, etc.) detailing their cost of care information.
    Even if these documents were already submitted to the VA, they must all be re-sent after a veteran dies. The average time to award a Survivors Pension is approximately 10-12 months after it has been submitted, so it's important to be prepared and start this process as soon as possible.
  5. Calling the VA's 1-800 number can be tricky. When calling the VA to ask questions or check on an application, make sure you're talking to the local VA office that services the area in which the veteran or surviving spouse lives. Be aware that the 1-800 number for the VA automatically routes callers to the local VA office that's nearest to them.
    For long-distance caregivers, this routing process is most likely not connecting to the same office that is in charge of a loved one's file. If you are directed to a different VA office, you won't be able to obtain any information. The individual offices are not allowed to pull files on beneficiaries or applicants who do not live in their jurisdiction.

For more information on benefits available to veterans, download AgingCare’s comprehensive guide below.

FREE Guide: The Caregiver’s Guide to Veterans Benefits

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60 Comments

Another important thing to know about Aid and Attendance is that it's not like Social Security. Unlike social security, you have to qualify financially. When I applied for my dad three years ago he had to have less than 40,000 in cash and could keep his home. His only income was social security. All his monthly expenses had to be documented in detail and ongoing. If the VA thinks that Dad's financial situation has changed, they will stop payment and ask for their money back. This has happened to my Dad twice now.
Another thing regarding becoming a fiduciary, Dad hasn't been able to sign his own papers for 3 years now. Yet the VA keeps asking him to sign. I was finally told last week that I need a note from his doctor that he is no longer able to take care of his own affairs. There needs to be a handbook for applicants. Taking care of dad was easy compared to dealing with the VA which was and continues to be a major, major headache.
I have a PS to what I wrote yesterday. We had another meeting with someone from the VA system, and I have now washed my hands of this whole mess. It's cost me, my family, and my mother two years and a few hundred dollars donation for the biggest run-around I've ever experienced. The "powers that be" do not want you to get this assistance. They give you requirements, you fulfill them, then they require something else. And then something else. They told us she had to be in AL for two years. So she was. Then she needed more services, because it wasn't costing enough. So she hired more services...she'd been struggling along, doing with out, making do, trying to keep costs down. Sure enough, that got her down to their maximum requirement in the bank, but NOPE, not good enough. But now because it's taken two years of messing around trying to fill all the new demands they kept throwing in our path, now SHE'S TOO OLD!!!! She's 91, and her ON PAPER life expectancy is 94 1/2. No matter that she's got three siblings older than she is and Mom has nothing potentially fatal going on. So now they want to SELL her an annuity, taking away half her money to dole back a little at a time...so she'll eventually qualify for Medicaid. And there'll be a gap then from when she runs out of money till when Medicaid kicks in...three months where someone will have to pay her AL costs. Maybe this is a good deal and I'm too stupid to see it, but I am finished with this Veteran's garbage. As far as I can see, it's a scam and just another way to get old people's money. And the govt is the biggest scammers of all because this veteran's fund has allegedly been around since the 1950's and not many people knew about it to apply for it...there ought to be enough money in that fund by now to easily pay for all veteran's needs to get the best help money can buy. I bet it sure made a lot of folks feel good to vote into place some taxes to help the old veterans out...never realizing they'd make it so impossibly to qualify, only a few actual veteran's would ever see it. I wonder who's skimming off the top to pay for their luxury lifestyles, though. Sorry, I'm just livid over the massive rip-off...our brave heroes sacrificed so much and get THIS.
One thing that expedited my 94 year old father's VA Aid and Attendance claim was a letter to his local Congressman. Dad was quickly running out of money for his care, while waiting several months for his Aid and Attendance benefit to arrive. I was using the services of Senior Veterans Council and they advised me to write to Dad's local Congressman to let him know about my Dad's financial hardship. His Congressman, who is very concerned about Veterans' care, contacted the VA about my Dad's claim and this expedited the processing considerably. Thankfully, my father had enough money, once the claim came through, to remain in his home till he died 6 months later.