Veterans Day may honor those who served in our military, but many vets aren't getting the honor they deserve on a day-to-day basis. In fact, only one-third of elderly veterans are receiving the health care coverage promised by Uncle Sam, according to the government.
The paperwork can be daunting for perhaps the most overlooked program, the Department of Veterans Affairs' Aid and Attendance. It pays nearly $2,000 a month for a veteran or surviving spouse who requires assistance with normal activities such as bathing and dressing -- well worth the hunt for documentation.
The evidence you'll have to gather includes discharge/separation papers, a Social Security award letter, details of net worth (which is not supposed to exceed $80,000, excluding home and car), and proof of income. The supplement is not tied to service-related injuries. More eligibility standards are here.
World War II veteran Ed Leonard pursued Aid and Attendance when his assisted living complex, Sunrise Senior Living's Brighton Gardens in St. Charles, Ill., posted an announcement about the program. Sunrise, with about 5,000 veterans spread over its more than 300 communities, officially launched an awareness program this month. On November 11, it is hosting free seminars open to veterans and their families at its facilities nationwide, joining organizations from coast to coast this week in calling attention to the tax-free supplement.
"We do believe it is part of our mission that veterans understand what benefits are available to them," said Kelly Myers, the senior vice president of sales at Sunrise. "They served a great debt to get that benefit."
Leonard has heard horror stories about applicants waiting ages for approval, but his effort has a happy ending. He finished the process on April 1 of this year, and his first Aid and Attendance installment appeared in his account September 1.
"We filled out every line accurately and clearly," he said. "All the information needed we provided for them on the first application. Only two questions came back."
Leonard, an 89-year old widower who uses a walker and must take heart and diabetes medication, was burning through his savings to make $4,000-a-month in payments, he said. With only Social Security coming in, he had already begun to consider other living options. "I was right up against the wall," he said. Then the Aid and Attendance amount of $1,632 -- the maximum for a veteran -- began to kick in.
Lee Anne Galovic, a spokeswoman for Brighton Gardens, recommended that candidates work closely with a physician to ensure that the records detailing their level of disability are completed to the VA's satisfaction. Myers added that applicants should consult with their local VA office for help in filling out the forms. Oddly, veteranaid.org warns applicants that some VA employees might provide inaccurate information. Veterans and family members and friends will have to use their best judgment.
Leonard, who served as an Army Signal Corps technician in Europe near the end of World War II, said the main reason most of his peers have no idea about Aid and Attendance is that they simply haven't been informed.
To get started in the process, veterans can download this application. Surviving spouses should download this. The forms will most likely be submitted to the local VA branch.
Remember, Leonard said, to be patient and thorough. "The more you leave out of it, the more you have to wait."
That's an order.
Take the first steps to building your portfolio.View Course »