The VA has proposed sweeping changes to the VA Pension eligibility rules and time is running out to submit comments and have your voice heard. The deadline for all comments is March 24, 2015.
Who Should Comment?
Everyone who cares about issues affecting our wartime veterans and their families should submit a comment. It would be helpful for the VA to hear from Veterans and their families, as well as nonprofit organizations and other professionals, including VA Accredited attorneys, who assist Veterans.
What Should I Say?
This is your chance to voice either support or opposition to the proposed rules and reasons for your opinion. The VA must respond to comments made about the rules in the coming months.
Some of the changes that will impact wartime Veterans and their families include:
1. A penalty will be imposed for any transfer made 3 years prior to application, regardless of the reason for the transfer.
The proposed rules include a lookback period of 36 months and a penalty period imposed for any transfers made prior to applying for VA pension eligibility. (Neither of these rules exist currently.) This means that any transfers made by an applicant 3 years prior to applying will be penalized, including donations to charities, cash gifts made to family members for birthdays or holidays, or donations to places of worship. There are no exceptions for those types of transfers under the proposed rules.
2. The way the penalty is calculated results in disparate treatment for widowed and/or unmarried veterans and surviving spouses.
It’s easiest to illustrate this with an example:
Marjorie, a married WWII Veteran, in the past 3 years gave away $20,000 to various charities and as cash gifts to her children. Her health has failed and Marjorie is now applying for VA Pension benefits. As a married Veteran, the penalty Marjorie will have to serve is 14.24 months. ($20,000/$1404 – the maximum monthly benefit for VA Service pension for a married Veteran).
If Marjorie was not married, the penalty would be higher – 18.65 months. ($20,000/$1072 – the maximum monthly benefit for VA Service pension for an unmarried Veteran).
If Marjorie was the surviving spouse of a wartime veteran and was applying for VA Death Pension benefits, her penalty would be the highest – 27.18 months. ($20,000/$719 – the maximum monthly benefit for VA Death Pension).
3. There are stricter rules regarding the home and the land it sits on.
Currently, an applicant for VA pension benefits may have a home that sits on a “reasonable lot area” and have neither counted as an asset for VA pension purposes. The proposed rules seek to limit the lot area to 2 acres now, and any land over that limit will be counted against the applicant.
4. There will be a limit on the amount a VA Pension recipient could pay for home health care.
Under the proposed rules, there would be a cap on the hourly rate a Veteran or surviving spouse could pay for home health care, based on a national average. This cap would unfairly limit applicants who live in higher cost of living areas and could negatively impact the quality of care received.
5. There are stricter rules for counting room and board expenses in Independent Living Facilities (ILFs) and Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs).
Currently, a VA Pension applicant who lives in either an ILF or ALF can contract with a private care provider, as long as that care is prescribed by a medical professional, and the applicant can offset the room and board costs of the facility against the recipient’s countable income for VA Pension purposes. Under the proposed rules, the facility would have to provide custodial care itself in order for the room and board expenses to be deducted from an applicant’s income. Many ILFs and ALFs do not or cannot provide custodial care. As a result, a Veteran or surviving spouse would be forced into a more restrictive environment (i.e. a nursing home) or would have to stay at home with care – an option that may not be a safe one.
The above are a few of the effects of the proposed VA Pension eligibility rule changes. If you would like to learn more, ElderCounsel has several resources available to you:
1. Download our FREE white paper on the proposed changes here.
2. Order the recording of our prior webinar on the proposed changes here.
3. If you are an attorney who assists Veterans, plan to attend our VA Pension Immersion Camp. Register Now.
4. Join us in sunny San Diego for our 2015 Symposium where we will host a panel discussion on how to plan for Veterans and surviving spouses in these uncertain times, as well as sessions on how to balance VA and Medicaid when planning for Veterans and their families.