A little-known veterans’ benefit for long-term care expenses is available to wartime veterans and their spouses. But the benefit is being overlooked by thousands of families, industry observers say. The Special Pension for Veterans’ Aid and Attendance pays up to $1,644 a month, $19,736 annually, toward assisted living, nursing homes or in-home care for veterans 65 and older who served at least 90 days and one day during wartime — stateside or overseas. Veterans and their spouses can receive up to $23,396 annually and spouses of deceased veterans, $12,681. Yet, an estimated $22 billion a year goes unclaimed, said Don Soard, a volunteer with Operation Veteran Aid in Oklahoma City. In 2007, only 134,000 seniors nationwide received the benefit, which was established in 1952. "Literally hundreds of thousands don’t even know about it,” Soard said. "Due to incomplete information, many disqualify themselves on income or assets or find the paperwork too burdensome.”
Streamlined processSoard helps families complete the necessary forms, so that approval comes in four to six months. The process is streamlined for vets who are blind or have memory issues and widows with medical needs, he said. Most applicants qualify and payments are retroactive, Soard said. The few who are denied on excessive liquid assets can seek financial advice to qualify, he said. Soard started his volunteer mission two years ago, following the deaths of two family members who served in WWII. "If they’d known about this benefit, they’d have a much better quality of life in later years,” he said. "Without it, many vets are forced to go on Medicaid.” Oklahoma is one of nine states where the welfare program doesn’t cover assisted living costs. Assisted living often can be an alternative to a nursing home when 24-hour skilled care is not an absolute need, said Willie Ferguson, executive director of Legend at Rivendell in Oklahoma City. "But if someone just has Social Security and a small pension, it’s not enough to live here,” Ferguson said. According to a 2008 MetLife survey, assisted living in Oklahoma averages $2,346 a month, while nursing homes cost $153 a day for a private room. Of 73 Legend residents, nine receive the veterans’ special pension, including Tom Bowen, 77, of Moore. "Until I toured this operation, I had no idea the benefit was available,” said Bowen, a retired engineer technician from the Federal Aviation Administration who served stateside during the Korean Conflict. Bowen recently moved into the Legend facility following several mini strokes and a diagnosis of short-term memory loss. "It’s been pretty hard trying to handle expenses on my own and being able to replace savings,” said Marie Bowen, his wife of 57 years. Finding a nearby facility and learning about the special veterans’ pension has been a godsend, she said.
OnlineHow to apply For more information see: →www.VeteranAid.org → www.va.gov →Operation Veteran Aid at 703-3849