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A Guide to VA Long-Term Care Benefits

Great article from A Place for Mom.

Senior care can be costly, but for U.S. military veterans and their surviving spouses, certain veterans benefits may be available to help offset long-term care costs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, offers benefits for those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits, which provide financial assistance for long-term care.

Yet, when it’s time for senior care, many families aren’t aware veterans and surviving spouses of veterans may be eligible for financial assistance, or they may not know how to apply for benefits that can help pay for senior care. This complete guide to VA benefits for long-term care covers who qualifies for benefits, the types of benefits available to help pay for long-term care, and how to apply for veterans benefits.

Veterans and family members looking to qualify for veterans benefits for senior care must meet different requirements depending on the type of benefit they’re seeking.

Service requirements

All VA benefits for long-term care have a service requirement. Veterans benefits for senior care are available for qualifying veterans and their surviving spouses, as long as the veteran served at least 90 days of active duty, including at least one day during wartime period. This doesn’t mean the veteran had to see actual combat. Veterans who had a desk job during qualifying periods may also be eligible for benefits.

More specifically, to qualify for VA benefits, your loved one must meet at least one of these service requirements:

  • Started on active duty before September 8, 1980, and served at least 90 days on active duty with at least 1 day during wartime, or

  • Started on active duty as an enlisted person after September 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months or the full period for which the veteran was called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions) with at least 1 day during wartime, or

  • Was an officer and started on active duty after October 16, 1981, and hadn’t previously served on active duty for at least 24 months

The veteran must have received an honorable or general discharge to qualify for benefits. A dishonorable discharge disqualifies veterans and family members for veterans benefits.

VA’s dates for wartime

The VA considers the following wartime periods:

PeriodsDatesMexican Border periodMay 9, 1916 – April 5, 1917World War IApril 6, 1917 – Nov. 11, 1918World War IIDec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946Korean conflictJune 27, 1950 – Jan. 31, 1955Vietnam War Era (for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam)Nov. 1, 1955 – May 7, 1975Vietnam War Era (for veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam)Aug. 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975Gulf WarAug. 2, 1990 – future date to be determined by law or a presidential order

Financial requirements

If your loved one is a veteran or the surviving spouse of a veteran, they must meet financial eligibility requirements to qualify for VA benefits. This means your relative’s net worth must fall below $138,489, which is the limit set by Congress until November 30, 2022. This amount may change annually.

Your loved one’s net worth includes their household income and assets:

  • Annual income includes salary or hourly pay, bonuses, commissions, tips, Social Security benefits, any retirement payments, and any income your loved one’s spouse and dependents may receive.

  • Assets include personal property, such as land, investments, and home furnishing. However, assets don’t include your loved one’s primary place of residence, their car, and basic home items like appliances they wouldn’t take with them if they moved to a new house.

For example, if the veteran’s annual household income is $19,000 and their assets add up to $121,000, their total net worth is $140,000. This means they don’t meet financial qualifications for VA benefits.

However, it’s important to know that certain expenses may be deducted from their annual income and assets when calculating their net worth. Qualifying expenses may include cost of senior care, medical expenses that are not reimbursed, Medicare premiums or Medicare supplemental premiums, products or services prescribed by your doctor, and education expenses.

For example, if the veteran’s monthly income is $5,000, but they pay $4,500 for assisted living each month, the cost of senior care is a deductible expense when determining eligibility for VA benefits. When senior care expenses ($4,500) are subtracted from your family member’s monthly income ($5,000), their countable income is $500.

What’s the three-year look-back period?

Veterans who transfer assets to someone else, such as a friend or family member, for less than the market value in the three years before applying for VA benefits may suffer a penalty. This may occur if the transferred assets would have financially disqualified the veteran for VA benefits otherwise. Veterans who suffer a three-year look-back penalty may not be eligible for benefits for up to five years.

For example, suppose your loved one’s total net worth is $115,900 at the time they submit their VA benefits application. The year before your family member applied for VA benefits, they gifted $30,000 to a close friend. If your loved one hadn’t gifted this amount, their total net worth would have been $145,900, which would have financially disqualified them for VA benefits. This means your family member may not be eligible for VA benefits during a penalty period of up to five years.

Clinical requirements

VA long-term care benefits are typically for eligible veterans 65 years of age or older, but those under the age of 65 who have a total and permanent disability may also qualify. Different benefits have specific clinical requirements. However, the highest amounts are awarded to those who need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing or dressing.


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