VA BENEFITS PLANNING
North Georgia’s Premier VA Benefits Resource
“Thanks to Kim, the VA benefits have changed my life, doubled my income and removed my concerns about money for the rest of my life.” — Virginia R., Athens, GA
Veterans deserve what they were promised, but the bureaucracy and irresponsibility within the VA make it incredibly difficult without help.
How much are the current benefits?
VA Pension, with an Aid & Attendance allowance, can be as much as:
$2,295 per month for a Veteran with one dependent (i.e., spouse);
$1,936 per month for a single Veteran;
$1,244 per month for a surviving spouse;
$1,520 per month for a Veteran with an ill spouse.
These cash benefits are TAX-FREE.
What are the qualifications?
The Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, only one day of which must have been during a recognized wartime – World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf. Note: There is no requirement that the Veteran actually fought in a war, served within a battle theater, or even left the United States. Active duty service can be entirely “stateside.”
The Veteran must have received a military discharge other than dishonorable.
The Veteran must either be at least 65 years of age (there is no age requirement for a surviving spouse) OR 100% disabled.
The Veteran or surviving spouse must satisfy the financial requirements regarding net worth and gross income.
The original intent of the VA Improved Pension program was to provide financial support to low-income Veterans and their surviving spouses, a measure that kept them from being forced to exhaust all of their resources in later life. Unfortunately, the amount of false, misleading, or downright incorrect information about these benefits has perpetuated a lack of qualified individuals from receiving the pension payments for which they are eligible.
Some people, particularly Veterans, cling to the notion that these benefits are a “handout.” In truth, this program is neither welfare nor for the destitute only. It’s a service pension, earned by the Veteran; and significant income and/or assets does not necessarily preclude eligibility. Because of steadily increasing health care and long-term care costs, even those with enough assets deemed “sufficient” by the VA can spend every penny in a shockingly short period of time.
Can’t I just get the VA to help?
Of course. Just be aware that, more likely than not, you will get false and/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. 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.
Given the frequent reports of gross mismanagement within the VA, it’s unlikely we’ll see any improvement in these areas any time soon.
How can I apply?
Unnecessarily complex VA paperwork combined with uninformed staff presents challenges for a layperson; and, despite what anyone says, there is much more to the process than simply completing some forms. Most situations call for certain 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 does not want to disburse any of this money 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 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?
Obviously, calling the VA is not the answer. But, with numerous organizations and individuals offering to assist with VA benefits, 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.
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.
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, only attorneys are legally obligated to act in the best interest of their clients.
“The VA told me that my mom was not eligible; but with thoughtful and careful planning, Kim was able to get the VA pension for her.” — Anne C., Athens, GA
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