Make It Last – Ep 58 – The VA Benefit That Can Help Pay For Long-Term Care

There is a little-known VA benefit available to wartime vets, and their surviving spouses, that can help pay for long-term care. What is it, and how do you get it? Learn that, and more….

Make It Last with Victor Medina is hosted by Victor J. Medina, an estate planning and certified elder law attorney and Certified Financial Planner™. Through his law firm and independent registered investment advisory company, Victor provides 360º Wealth Protection Strategies for individuals in or nearing retirement.

For more information, visit Medina Law Group or Private Client Capital Group.

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Make It Last Ep 58 The VA Benefit That Can Help You Pay For Long Term Care

Victor Medina:  Everybody, welcome back to Make It Last. I’m your host Victor Medina. I’m so glad that you could join us here today. I’m happy to report that it’s actually my birthday today. Happy birthday to me, and as well to you if it’s your birthday. We celebrate a birthday. Welcome.

Anyway, I wanted to talk today a little bit about a little‑known veterans’ benefit that is available to help you pay for long‑term care. You have to meet certain qualifications for it, and I’m going to teach you what those are today.

Before I get into that, for those of you that are still tracking what’s going on in my personal life, I’ve got still that family member who is struggling with a health crisis. It had me thinking about a few different things.

The first was having to go on this journey them, I guess, is its own exercise because this family member is in retirement and is younger in retirement with a long way to go.

The news that we’re dealing with can be framed a couple of different ways. One of them can be looking at it from the perspective of “Why did this happen?” or using it as a feeling of really being depressed and down about it.

One of the things that I’ve been working on and is a direct result of meditation practice that I have been doing for the last couple of years is really focusing on staying present. Not leaving my mind to go in and engage in these discussions that really aren’t fruitful. Just stay where we are here, but also reframing things that are happening as gifts.

The reason why I’m thinking about this in the context of doing this show is because there’re so many people who as they get into retirement overlook some skills that are necessary for them just to have fun. To do the things that they need to do to enjoy what’s going on.

I know that there is a recent article in “Wall Street Journal” that addressed this. I think it’s an important topic because how we frame where we are in our lives and what’s happening to us has a direct result on our mental wellbeing, our health generally.

We can be looking at retirement and getting older or getting sick as these things that are happening to us rather than things that are happening for us, things that are being done for our benefit.

When you start to reframe it that way, you can get a lot more out of life. One of the things that came up in The Wall Street Journal article was there’s this new company called Age Wave that was a consulting company specializing in age‑related issues. It was searching out. They would have all things in ethics, social welfare, grief, and geriatric health, all that kind of stuff.

They were looking for somebody that might be an expert in fun. They couldn’t find any. They couldn’t find any. One of the reasons why it’s important of course is that in retirement your opportunity to have fun grows almost by double.

One of the research studies that happened in Merrill Lynch was that they looked at the amount of time that adults have for fun. When you are in the beginning of your working life, 35 to 44 years old, you only have about four hours for fun per day. In retirement, you have 7.5 hours of leisure.

People in retirement can be at a loss to figure out how to fill that time, which is why the other research that came out said that the average retiree watches about 48 hours of TV per week. It’s a lot of TV. I know that Netflix is coming out with a new episode maybe every week or new show every week, but that’s a lot of TV.

Why are we not filling it with more things? By the way, this is not that the older adults are not having fun. Research that came out from the Stanford Center on Longevity said that older adults are in fact happier than middle‑aged or younger adults because of course your stress reduces over time. Your worry decreases as you get into retirement and you know that you have enough to get there.

By the way, a good plug for working with a financial advisor that can help you know the answer about whether or not you should be comfortable in retirement, or should you not, right, so if you can get that stress off.

Adults have forgotten to have fun. They have spent the last 40 years working their butts off trying to get up every day, pay mortgages, get kids through school, take care of aging parents, everything. Having fun and being spontaneous about it gets lost.

It’s considered to be by people who are working a non‑productive activity. For that reason, even if you used your time for fun while you were working, you felt guilty about it. You felt guilty that you were using this time that could have been done for something else.

Other research that has recently come out articles is that Americans are the people that take the least amount of vacation.

Part of that is because there’s this drive to achieve, achieve, achieve, achieve, and so anything that’s taken away from that is seen as lazy or unproductive or not worth actually engaging in.

We need to set that aside, right? We need to understand that we should be enjoying ourselves. In retirement we now have all of the excuses are gone. All of the excuses are gone. We don’t have to be focusing on work.

We don’t have to be focusing on the things that are productive. We’ve been productive. We’re now in retirement. Let’s go have fun.

There’s good reason to do that because as you get older, things that are associated with fun, laughing and enjoyment and diversion and levity and exploration, these are antidotes to stress and depression and anxiety. Coming full circle, I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

Because in working with this family member and in our personal relationship, I’ve got to figure out how to help them get an antidote to the stress and depression that might otherwise be plaguing them. Having more fun is one of those ways.

Finding opportunities to play and get enjoyment and to laugh are antidotes to this, in funs different for every person. We don’t have one template but what’s important is that it’s not usually being kept busy by someone else, right?

Fun has to involve others. It’s hard to have fun without someone there. We’ve got to find those opportunities. Some people find travel funds, some people don’t. Too much preparation, packing, logistics, that doesn’t dovetail into your idea of fun. You shouldn’t be doing it. We need to find something that can get us this enjoyment.

Older adults can go outside become physically active, because that releases endorphins and triggers positive feelings. Being active is really super important. In fact, back to my own life with this family member, getting them back up and active and capable of being active is a big part of what we think would be an antidote to the stress and depression that’s going on or at least help stem some of that stuff off.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about. This is my message for you. You should go out and have more fun. If you’re an older adult and you’re in retirement, you should find opportunities to have more fun, get around the people, figure out for yourself what more fun looks like and then go and do it because you’ve saved your entire life to be able to do that.

Victor:  You should be doing it. Listen, when we come back, I’m going to be talking about the veterans’ benefits that’s available to help you pay for long‑term care. It’s a little known benefit. I’m going to tell you what it takes to qualify, what can help you pay for, and then that way you can go explore it on your own if you need to, or at least put it in your ear for some time in the future.

If you don’t need it right now, remember that you might qualify for. What is it? I’ll tell you when we come back on Make It Last. Stick with us.

Victor:  Welcome back to Make It Last. I’m talking today about veterans’ benefits. When I go and do these talks, I probably talk ‑‑ I don’t know ‑‑ four to six times a month. When I’m out there, a senior center or at a library or a group caregivers group, something like that, I’m talking about a veteran’s benefits in every time that I do that, it’s almost like it’s brand new to that audience.

I’ve been doing this talk or sharing these benefits for years now. I’ve been practicing 10 years or more, especially in elder law and every time I do, it’s brand new, every time it’s like eye‑opening to these people. They don’t know that it’s there. I can’t figure out why we can’t spread that we’re out greater.

In fact, if you are somebody that runs a group and would like to hear about this, I urge you to contact my office and invite me to come and speak. First of all, I’ll come and I will bring free copies of the book that I’ve written. That’s benefits to your members. Also we can educate them about this new, whether it’s existing benefit, but it’s going to be new for them to hear about it.

Let’s go through that. As I said, it’s a benefit that has been around for a long time. Even though people are sharing the information wider and wider, not a lot of people know about it. It’s important to make sure that we tell them about this benefit because it is so powerful, much more powerful than Medicaid in terms of your eligibility and how you get to it.

Let’s go through that and figure it out. That way we can go from there. What is it? The VA has a ton of different benefits for eligible veterans. It has benefits that are related to your service. If you had gotten injured. If for some reason, someone in your family lost their life compensation, disability. What this is is an actual pension.

This has nothing to do, by the way, with hearing aids or burial benefits or anything like that. This is a special pension. It is an amount that you get from them like it’s income to you, money that you get. There are certain qualification standards for it. I’m going to go through them. There are four eligibility standards for this program.

If you meet them, then I’m going to tell you what it pays for. Stick with me on this. You might want to get a pad and pencil so that you can take these down as I’m sharing them with you. There are four eligibility standards.

The four of them, and we’ll go into detail, are your military eligibility, medical eligibility, income test and an asset test. I’ll do that one more time ‑‑ medical, military, income, assets. I mixed up the first two if you’re writing them down. Those are the four ‑‑ medical, military, income, and assets. Let’s deal with military first because it is the easiest one to figure out.

There are dates of service for which you must have served a day of active duty in order to be eligible for this benefit. Right now, we are seeing fewer and fewer people who have any relation to World War II. It goes from World War II, the Korean Conflict, which is actually between June 27th of 1950 and January 31st of 1955.

I was looking at the wrong number there. ’50 to ’55, and that’s the Korean Conflict. There is the Vietnam Era. If you served an active duty between 1964 and 1975, or if you have boots on the ground in Vietnam, you had actually had been stationed in Vietnam from ’61 to ’75, you’re covered on that.

Of course, the Persian Gulf War, and that is from 1990, the ending gate is actually still not determined. What we need here in order for you to make your military eligibility is you need to have been serving in active duty during one day in that period, and then 90 days consecutively. Here we go.

If you entered active duty service on January 31st of 1955, and then served for at least three more months, you meet the time of service eligibility. That’s one day in active duty and then 90 days of consecutive active duty. One day of active duty in a period of conflict, excuse me, and then 90 days of consecutive active duty. You need to have a discharge of other than dishonorable.

Most people get an honorable discharge, but there are an undesirable discharge for Vietnam Era. Those people still are eligible, even though for many other programs, they’re not eligible. That’s helpful for them. An honorable discharge, and if you had that, that’s it. You don’t have to actually be stationed on the forefront of the war theater. You don’t have to be in combat.

You don’t have to have been injured in combat. You just need a DD 214 that gives us one day in that period, and 90 days of consecutive and a discharge of other than dishonorable and bam, we got our military eligibility. Here’s what’s important about this benefit. This benefit is not only available to veterans who served here, but also their surviving spouses.

Let’s be clear about that. You can’t have been divorced from an eligible veteran. If you divorce them, you’re not eligible for this benefit, excuse me, and if you remarried afterwards to somebody that is not eligible or didn’t serve, then you lost the eligibility.

I’ve often joked that if this whole elder law business and financial services goes belly up, I’m going to start a dating service to match up eligible veterans with women or spouses so that they can go ahead and get this benefit. Not every veteran is male. In any event, I think I could broker some pretty good relationships just to get these benefits.

Eligible veteran or the surviving spouse of an eligible veteran. That’s the military test.

After that, there’s a medical test. This is important. I said to you that this is not a benefit, that’s just a pension, just go get money. You actually have to demonstrate a need. One of the areas of the need is that you have to require assistance with long‑term care related issues, your activities of daily living.

If you’re in an assisted living, if you’re getting home healthcare, if you’re in a skilled‑nursing facility or a nursing home, you’re going to meet this test. If you’re just at home, you’re getting by, and you don’t need help, you’re not going to meet this test. This is really for people who are needing long‑term care, and they’re paying for it.

They’re out there and they’re actually getting the long‑term care. If you meet those two standards, then you can work with an elder law attorney to meet the other two. I can’t change anything about your military service record. I can’t change anything about whether or not you’re sick.

As much as I might be brokering a dating service, I’m not going to make you sick in order to become eligible for these benefits. We need those two, military and medical. That’s the two Ms. When we’re done with that, we’ve got an income and an asset test. Here’s the way that those work really and quick shorthand.

We’re coming up on a break. You need to essentially have more money going out of the door for this long‑term care expense, than what you get in. That’s the income test. I’m not cutting in your housing expenses. What it cost for groceries? That’s not the test.

The test is if you pay more in long‑term care expense than what your declared fixed income is, social security pension, so on and so forth, then you meet the income test. You need to be upside down. You get the full benefit in that scenario. The asset test is really an insolvency test.

Essentially, what happens is that VA takes a look and says, “If you have more money than you will need during your lifetime, even though you’re paying more out than what you’re bringing in, if you will not die broke based on this, then you’re not eligible for this benefit.

“If it looks like you were going to run out of money before you die paying for this long‑term care, we will step in and we will help you with this pension.”

Now, you might stop here and your listening of this show and say, “Geez, that’s not me, I am not going to be one of those people. This benefit is not for me.”

I told you that incompetent elder law attorney will, in fact, be able to make you eligible with their planning so that you can go and get these benefits that you have earned by virtue of your service. I’m going to tell you how we do that when we come back from the next break because it’s important.

Victor:  Look, if you are an eligible veteran, if you were married to an eligible veteran, and you’re not sick right now, you want to keep listening because this is a benefit that can help you pay for a long‑term care if it happens in the future. In fact, meeting with and doing planning with a competent elder law attorney will help you become eligible for this benefit when you need it.

I’m going to tell you how we do that and what it covers when we come back from the break. This is Make It Last. Stick with us, we’ll be right back.

Victor:  Welcome back to Make It Last. We’ve been talking about great VA benefit, veterans’ benefit available to help you pay for long‑term care. I told you in the last segment, how you become eligible for it. Either way, one of the major steps you can do is go talk to an elder law attorney. They’ll tell you whether or not you’re going to be eligible for it with or without their planning.

Now, let’s tell you how you become eligible if you have too much in assets and what it covers. Now, the way that you can become eligible if you have too much money is that the VA takes a look at a snapshot of your assets when you apply, but they don’t look backwards to any other planning that you’ve done.

If you have rearranged your assets, it’s part of an elder law asset protection plan to help you look eligible when you apply. In the next month, you can be eligible for benefits just that quickly. That’s why even if you think you have too much now, you should go visit with an elder law attorney.

A competent elder law attorney will tell you how you can become eligible with planning that they can assist you with good legal planning that will help you. Not legal, it sounds like it’s illegal but like good…that’s not financial planning. We’re not talking about investments. We’re talking about using legal documents and legal strategies that will help you become eligible.

The reason why we talk about his benefit is because it helps you pay for care at any level. You don’t have to go to a VA provider, you don’t have to go to a VA hospital. You don’t have to have somebody eligible under the VA program. You could have a family member providing care for you. In that circumstance, you essentially could help them get paid for it.

This family member probably would never take money from you. Not your own money but if you got a pension from the VA, and that was what they gave him, that’s almost free or found money. That’s money that we can use to help you pay for your own care.

Those are one of those things that’s just like, “I wouldn’t take money from my mother or from my father but if they’re getting a pension from the VA, this can help me pay for the gas it takes to run around or anything else that’s impacting my life, helping care for somebody.” That’s just a family member.

You could do it at a home health care agency, an assisted living facility, skilled nursing. You can get this benefit to pay for any level of care as long as it’s providing for you this long‑term care that you need that you’re looking for. How much you get is really dependent on your life circumstance when you come in.

The highest amount that is available is if you have married veterans that both serve and they both need care. In that rare circumstance, it’s very rare that I see two eligible veterans married together, they’re both sick at the same time. In that circumstance, you can get north of $2,600 per month.

It starts to ratchet down if you are a married veteran, and you are the one that is sick, and you need care. At that status, you get $2,000 per month. Just about $2,000. If you are a single veteran, you get about $1,700 per month. If you’re a married veteran and your spouse is the one that is sick, about $1,300.

If you are the surviving spouse, you get about $1,100 or so. You can see basically it ratchets down and the least beneficial one is, of course, if you’re just a surviving spouse, that’s the least amount of money. Here’s the great thing about this program. Not only is it a very low test for the care that you’re providing, doesn’t have to go to a VA provider or anything like that.

Not only can we get it at just about any care provider that is available, but this benefit is unlimited. It’s uncapped. You could get this every month as long as you have this need for the rest of your life and you never have to bow out of it. It doesn’t earn, you never take too much. This is a lifetime benefit.

That’s fantastic because when we use this in the context of overall planning, and we have this arrow in our quiver that we can use this bullet in our gun that helps us pay for care. Getting this VA benefit is often a way of taking our foot off the accelerator of how much money that we’re paying per month. So much of the services are cash flow services.

This is not a one‑time event, long‑term care is not like buying a hot water heater, or putting a roof on your house. This is a monthly set of activities. We pay every month. If we get money in every month, then it helps us pay for this care. It is extremely powerful. Extremely powerful, because it allows us to reduce the amount of our own money that we’re spending.

If we’re engaging in a Medicaid asset protection plan, one of those plans that takes five years to mature, it really reduces the total amount of money that we’re spending, and at caring more and increases how much we can protect and we can save. It’s a great benefit. It is a great benefit.

I want to give you a couple of tips about this going forward. First of all, I’ve kept referencing today this idea that you should go visit with an elder law attorney. Specifically, one that is a certified elder law attorney. If you can find them. New Jersey has got the greatest number of them. Our office, I’m a certified elder law attorney.

If you want to visit with some of these people, because they are often people that are in this planning world and have a special expertise about it. I want you to visit with an elder law attorney and not with your local Veteran Service Organization because if you walk into their, they will tell you about the benefit.

They will make a quick assessment about whether or not you’re eligible, but they’ll look at it as a snapshot for today. They will not have the thinking brain on or their planning brain on. Most of these folks who are super helpful, they don’t actually go in and deal with what planning is necessary in order for you to become eligible.

They just don’t know about it. That’s why we want to go with an elder law attorney, because an elder law attorney is somebody that will know about that. There’s an additional step. This elder law attorney needs to be accredited with the Veterans Administration, and that’s a really simple test for you.

You can go to the Veterans Administration page and go look for accredited attorneys, you can put in a person’s name, you can put in your location, and whichever one you’re doing, you’ll figure out whether or not the person that you’re meeting with is accredited by the VA.

Now to become accredited, you have to be approved by them, you have to keep up continuing education, they need to be somebody that is, of course, in good standing ethically above board. It’s a good test to make sure that someone can you help me with these veterans issues. By the way, this is not just a good test for veterans’ issues.

This is a good test for any elder law. It’s quick like ninja move. If somebody is accredited by the VA, that means that they are somebody that is in this planning all the time, all the time, all the time. It’s super important to make sure that you have somebody that is at a high level of expertise on this, but elder law attorney, and then VA.

Make sure that they’re accredited by the VA. After that, you’ll know that you’re working with somebody that can help you figure out when you become eligible, or if there are any planning tools to do that. Our tools get more sophisticated, of course, the more complex your life is.

You’ve got multiple assets of IRAs, and you’ve got properties, things like that, we can still find a solution. It’s going to get a little bit more complicated and if somebody just got some money in a checking account and they’re trying to figure out if they’re going to be eligible. It’s worth a visit.

It’s worth figuring this out because many times you don’t even worry about getting eligible today. You just want to take the steps that make you eligible in the future because this idea that you can do planning and become eligible the next month, that’s the rules for today. They might change the rules in the future.

You want to take advantage of the rules of they are today. That’s what smart people do. They go seek the advice of professionals that help them optimize their options as they list today. That’s the veterans’ benefit. I know that you know somebody that might be eligible for this. I guarantee it.

If you aren’t a veteran, or if you don’t know somebody is a veteran, I guarantee that you know the surviving spouse of a veteran because most of the time, they’re women and they’ve outlived the men that they were married to, and they’re around there. You’ve got to let them know about this benefit and you’ve got to let them know that they need to visit with an elder law attorney about it.

I hope this is good information for you. I hope you take it and you use it in your life as you think about long‑term care planning. As I said in the very first segment, I hope you have fun too. Go figure out how to have fun.

This has been Victor Medina with Make It Last, we help you keep your legal docs in a row and your financial nest egg secure.

Victor:  We’ll catch you next week. If today’s your birthday, happy birthday to you, too. We’ll see you later. Bye‑bye.