Saving Private Ryan’s VA Benefits

This article, written by Kelly M. Shovelin, appears in this month’s issue of Livin’ Out Loud Magazine, a monthly publication exclusively designed for Active Older Adults in Southeastern North Carolina:

Saving Private Ryan has been named one of the greatest movies of our time.  In the film, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is sent on a WWII rescue mission to find paratrooper Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) and bring him home after all of Ryan’s brothers have been killed in action. Although the 82nd Airborne paratroops are scattered far and wide, Miller and his platoon eventually locate Ryan, but at an unfathomable cost.  At the end of the movie (spoiler alert!), we see Private Ryan, aged to present day.  Which leads us to wonder: “Does the elderly Private Ryan know he is supposed to be searching for ‘hidden’ veterans benefits today?”

According to the Veterans Administration (“VA”), nearly 100,000 veterans (or their surviving spouses) are eligible to receive benefits they don’t even realize are available.  Too few are aware of the little-known and little-understood VA “Aid & Attendance” benefit which provides up to $1,949.00 in additional monthly income.  The VA designed this special benefit to provide supplemental income to wartime veterans (or surviving spouses) who lack sufficient monthly income to pay for their living expenses as well as their medical and long term care expenses.

Qualification differs greatly among applicants, but eligibility is generally based on four criteria:

1)      Service – The veteran must have served at least 90 days consecutive active duty service (one during wartime) and receive an other than dishonorable discharge;

2)      Medical – The veteran (or surviving spouse) must provide the requisite proof of medical need, which oftentimes requires additional supporting documentation not readily available in medical records alone;

3)      Income – The level of qualifying income varies greatly depending upon the veteran’s (or surviving spouse’s) personal situation;

4)      Assets – The allowable amount of assets and savings also varies greatly depending upon the veteran’s (or surviving spouse’s) personal situation.

If you meet the Service and Medical criteria, but don’t meet the second two because you have too much income and/or assets, you may still be eligible for this little-known and little-understood benefit—but only with proper planning.  With proper legal planning, it is possible to legally protect your income and any assets that may prevent qualification and still enable a veteran (or surviving spouse) to become eligible for this benefit.  Considering the application process takes six to nine months, without complications, it is best to consult with an experienced VA Accredited attorney prior to applying.  A thorough review of your personal situation may reveal other hidden benefits and avoid costly mistakes for you and your loved ones.

Once approved, a veteran may receive up to $1,949 in additional monthly income and a surviving spouse up to $1,192 to support their quality of life.  After all, in defending our freedom, our veterans and their surviving spouses have earned the right to live with dignity and respect.

Kelly M. Shovelin is a VA Accredited Elder Law Attorney and Founder of Four Pillars Law Firm, PLLC; she assists veterans and non-veterans alike in protecting assets while also enabling eligibility for much-needed government benefits that allow them to live as safely and independently as possible.

A digital copy of this issue of Livin’ Out Loud can be read here.

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