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Veterans’ Benefits

Transcripts of video interviews with elder law attorney Marsha Goodman about eligibility and qualifying for VA benefits.

Related Articles:
Pension Benefits for Veterans and Their Surviving Spouses (including current rate information)
Veterans Benefits for Service-Connected Illness and Injury
Videos by Marsha Goodman on Other Elder Law and Life Care Planning Topics
Comparison of Eligibility and Benefits: VA Aid and Attendance vs. Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS)


Who Might Be Eligible for VA Benefits?

Anyone who has served in the military during wartime is eligible for a benefit called VA Pension with Aid and Attendance. This is available for veterans or their surviving spouses who served during a period of war, even if they did not leave the country or go to the country where the war took place, as long as that veteran's discharge from the military was other than dishonorable. So a general discharge or a medical discharge would be fine, just not a dishonorable discharge.

There is also the VA benefit for compensation for a service-connected injury or illness, and that is available to any veteran who received an illness or was injured during their military service, no matter where or when that was, so even if someone were injured in their training stateside and it was not during a period of war, there is additional compensation available for that veteran.

How Does a Veteran or Surviving Spouse Qualify for VA?

Generally I work with the veterans on the pension with the Aid and Attendance benefit because that is the benefit that is most frequently utilized by the elderly veterans, and there are three criteria that they need to look at. First, that veteran needs to have the other than dishonorable discharge, he or she needs to have served during the proper period of war - and those are published - and then that veteran needs to be receiving care to assist them with their activities of daily living, and their own doctor can certify that they require that care, and then there's also a way to document that they are receiving that care. A form would be completed by that care provider, who could even be a family member.

Once the veteran who meets the initial criteria needs the care and receiving care and paying money for that care, then they can attempt to meet the various financial criteria to show that, because of the cost of that care, they need some additional assistance.

VA or Medicaid: Which Benefit Is Right for Me?

One of the most important reasons for someone to consult an elder law attorney is to determine which benefit is the right one, because sometimes we find that the financial criteria for the VA benefits, for example, are opposite of what needs to be done to qualify for Medicaid. So some of the differences, for example, are the VA benefit is a cash benefit, so it can be very flexible and the person can choose their own caregiver, even a family caregiver, and use the VA benefit to pay for that.

On the other hand there is a maximum benefit amount, so if that veteran looks at their income plus the VA benefit, if that will not be enough to pay for the care that they need, then that veteran would want to look to Medicaid because that will cover the cost of care no matter how much it is.

Can Someone Qualify for Both VA and Medicaid?

Someone can qualify for both VA and Medicaid. In fact, if someone wants to apply for Medicaid, one of the first questions that the agency will ask is if that person is a veteran or their spouse was a veteran, because the Medicaid agency wants to be the payer of last resort.

The agency will require that person to apply for VA benefits anyway, and it can also often be helpful for someone to apply for VA benefits and get some of that cash benefit and then apply for Medicaid, which will cover more of the cost of their care. But if that person is also receiving VA benefits they'll be able to retain a little bit more of their monthly income to pay for little extras that someone might need.