BIG Change Coming to VA Benefits

benefits for wartime veterans

Welcoming John back to the show, this week Devin and John are talking about some changes to an important benefit offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Improved Pension with Aid and Attendance

First, John explains the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. If a veteran served at least 90 days of active duty, with one of those days being during a period of war, that person is a “wartime veteran.” If that wartime veteran needs help with their activities of daily living, and the costs associated with that care outweigh the veteran’s ability to pay for it, then the VA will potentially kick in some extra money.

Technically, this benefit is called the improved pension with aid and attendance, but most people just call it aid and attendance.

It’s not only available to the veteran, but it is also available to the surviving spouse of the veteran, if they were married at least one year, married to the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death, and not remarried.

This income can be a life-saver, especially if it makes it possible for the veteran or survivor to live in a facility that can care for their needs.

The Changes

A few of the rules about eligibility for the Aid and Attendance benefit have changed. This includes clarification of the assets test, and a look-back period for any transfer of assets.

Clearly Defined Assets Test

This is a need-based benefit. In the past, the assets test for this benefit was very vague. One of the new rules is that there is bright line rule for net worth.  There is now a clearly defined $123,600 limit on countable assets in order to qualify for this benefit.

John is concerned about how some of the changes are written. For example, a home is not a countable asset, but it is the home plus two acres. This means that folks who live on larger lots, or own extra land, will have a more complicated situation.

There is also a strange way that the VA is now calculating income as part of that net worth. In determining your assets, the VA will now look at something called your “income for VA purposes.” This takes your annual income, minus your unreimbursed medical expenses, and adds that to your net worth. This does not make any sense – there is no other context in which you included someone’s income in their net worth.

Adding A Look-back Period

The biggest change is that historically, the VA did not have a penalty for transferring assets. They now have a 3 year look-back period, similar to Medicaid. Any transferred that occurred in the 3 years prior to your application , any gift that happened during those 3 years, they can penalize you up to 60 months in the future.

The penalty period is calculated by taking the amount of the gift, and divide that by the maximum aid and attendance benefit for a single person with one dependent, which is about $2,170 per month. The VA won’t provide benefits for the number of months you’ve been penalized.

This only applies to gifts that are over the asset limit.
The maximum penalty can be no longer than five years.

This creates a tricky situation where you have to be sure that you wait at least the three years after transferring any assets or else you may find yourself penalized for longer than the look-back period.

What This Means For You

The big takeaway from these changes is that if you may be eligible for this benefit, you might need to do some advance planning. In the past, there was no reason to plan until you were going to apply for the benefit. Because of these changes, you might want to take some actions in advance to ensure you are eligibility for this benefit when the time comes.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode 31: What Veterans Need To Know About Their Benefits

The Big Picture Retirement Resources page at BigPictureRetirement.net/resources, including the organizer, the blueprint version of Devin’s book Social Security Basics, and John’s guide on what to do after you’ve had a death.

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