Hidden Helpers: VA Aid & Attendance Benefits
The VA Pension with Aid & Attendance benefit has never been widely advertised. In fact, the majority of the more than three million U.S. veterans eligible for this benefit are unaware that it even exists. It has been one of the VA’s best-kept secrets—even though the current Pension program was implemented in 1979!
What is VA Aid & Attendance?
“Aid & Attendance” is a little-known veterans’ Pension income. The “Aid & Attendance” label suits its recipients well: it describes veterans or their surviving spouses that can become eligible if they have a regular need for the aid and attendance of another person or if they are confined to the home.
Why is it so hard to get this benefit?
Unnecessarily complex VA paperwork combined with uninformed staff presents challenges for the average person applying. Despite what anyone says, there is much more to the process than simply completing some forms. Most situations call for legal and financial planning. Submitting an application to the VA without an awareness of common pitfalls can be disastrous. The VA will rarely offer any information about the application process beyond the obligatory minimum. The government seems reluctant to disburse this benefit unless it must, even though the potential recipients fought for this country.
The culture pervading regional VA offices encourages quantitative production. Employees are rewarded proportional to the number of applications processed. “Eliminating the backlog” of pending claims has been the agency’s top public priority for some time. It follows logically, then, that the most effective method of reducing the numbers would be to process as many applications as possible as quickly as possible (or, as reports indicate, shred a few here and there). Nevertheless, merely processing a claim is not always the same as accurately processing a claim. Plus, it takes much less time to deny an applicant for benefits than it does to approve one. Which route do you think employees are more prone to choose?
Could the VA help you apply?
Of course. Just be aware that, more likely than not, you will get false, misleading, or incomplete information. VA employees are notorious for providing applicants with minimal direction and the minimum number of forms to complete. Even with the proper documents, we have seen too many unsuspecting applicants make a simple mistake on the application, only to have the entire application returned or the claim denied. At best, they’ve had to resubmit a corrected version. At worst, the result is unforeseen periods of total ineligibility. The application is designed in a way that invites applicants to unknowingly submit insufficient information. The result? “DELAY, DENY, I’LL WAIT ‘TILL I DIE!” It sounds callous, but it’s the most fitting phrase we’ve heard.
A few years ago, the VA conducted an internal survey by placing “mystery calls” to VA Regional Offices under the guise of relatives or friends of Veterans inquiring about this program. The study found that, out of 1,089 calls, only 35% of the answers were either completely or mostly correct. In other words, if you call the VA, you have a 65% chance of receiving a WRONG answer! Additionally, only 42% of VA employees actually passed the VA’s own proficiency test.
If the VA can’t help you to file a claim, who can?
With so many organizations and individuals offering to assist with VA benefits applications, how could anyone possibly know where to turn? Families typically end up seeking help from one of the following, often with mixed results.
Veterans’ Service Organizations (VSOs): These organizations (VFW, American Legion, AMVETS, etc.) typically have solid intentions to help. However, when it comes to the VA claim labyrinth, they are hardly more informed than the VA.
Financial Planners: Next, there are “financial planners,” posing as volunteers to assist Veterans for “free.” In actuality, they sell certain annuities to the elderly, which are, almost always, both inappropriate and ill-suited investments. Although these “pension poachers” invariably advise against using an attorney, they are under no legal obligation to tell you the truth. Thus, they aren’t deterred from stretching the truth or outright lying to induce potential business. Always ask these two questions of someone offering help: “How are you getting paid? And how much?” The answers should serve to weed out most of these swindlers.
Accredited Attorneys: Finally, there are accredited (with the VA) attorneys experienced in income tax law, estate planning, estate and gift tax law, trust administration, and VA and Medicaid planning. These are the only people who can competently handle such situations. Plus, attorneys are legally obligated to act in the best interest of their clients.
How long does it take to get benefits?
Much depends on the VA regional office to which your area is assigned. On average, the approval time is between 6 and 10 months. Some claims are approved in as little as six weeks, but these are the exceptions. Sometimes, people are still waiting for an approval twelve or more months from the date of filing. You must understand that the VA is the second largest federal agency in the U.S. So, VA employees rarely get much done quickly.
What is the most accurate answer to this question? Once the application is submitted, you have absolutely no control over the amount of time the VA takes to make a decision. Therefore, it is imperative that the application not contain a single error. If it does, the VA will stall the entire process, and it may take months before a request for more information is even sent back to the applicant.
If the benefit is approved, it is applied retroactively to the first of the month following the month in which the application was filed (i.e., if the application is filed on March 20, the effective date of benefit payment is April 1). Also, if the applicant is over 90 years old, one should request an expedited claim. The VA is supposed to give priority to any application for benefits by a veteran or surviving spouse 90 or older.
Kimbrough Law can make the process easier.
We have experience helping veterans and their families access these lifechanging benefits. In fact, we have helped more than 700 veterans and their spouses get the VA Aid & Attendance benefits they deserve. If you think you or a veteran you know might be eligible, we can help. Even if you’ve applied on your own in the past and have been denied, we may be able to help.
Just give us a call to discuss your situation. There’s no cost and no obligation. Meet with us from the comfort of your own home via Zoom or come to our Athens or Gainesville office. We would love to talk with you.