On this Memorial Day weekend, when our thoughts turn with hearts full of gratitude to those who have died on the fields of battle defending our freedoms, I take the opportunity to impart some information specifically for those who are caregivers for veterans. A word of caution: dealing with the Veterans Administration (VA), working through the rather confusing maze of paperwork, requirements, prerequisites and qualifications involved in securing benefits due a veteran can be a stressful and challenging undertaking, totally aside from your regular care duties. It is not for the faint of heart! I've been in your shoes, as the daughter of a WWII veteran, and I can tell you it is frustrating, time-consuming, and at times completely bewildering -- however, if you persevere and keep asking questions, you will eventually find it worth all the trials & tribulations of dealing with the bureaucracy. The hardest part is often getting reliable information as to what benefits the veteran is entitled to receive. There is a great deal of information on the VA website -(click here for the 2011 Benefits book) and it is available as a PDF file if you'd like to print it out. Have a ream of paper ready! It makes great reading for the insomniac.
Also online, you can begin the process by filling out the necessary application forms online, but I would strongly recommend finding a live human being in the system to help. They know how to navigate the obstacle course and they know VA-speak, which is a particular dialect of government legalese. There were two such individuals along our 17-year journey, who were extremely helpful -- one was in the office of Disabled American Veterans. He helped complete all the voluminous paperwork to achieve a veteran's Aid & Assistance pension. The other was in the local county government Veteran services office and they provide the following services:
(I am not sure every county has this type of liaison, but if you can find help at this level it will save you a great deal of time and frustration.)
Honoring Our Heroes: Veterans Benefits
Each year, on the last Monday in May, America sets aside a day to honor the servicemen and women who died serving our nation: Memorial Day. We owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to these men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and safety. But this debt of gratitude extends to all those who served our country. One of the most profound ways to memorialize those who fell serving our country is to honor their surviving comrades— our veterans.
Benefits for Veterans
Veterans, and their families, risked much and sacrificed much, and are entitled to special consideration as they age. There are benefit programs through the Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) that can help wartime veterans and their spouses pay for care, including assisted living, memory care and nursing homes.
Five Little Known Facts About Veteran’s Benefits:
1. The veteran does not need to have been involved in actual combat, only to have served during a period considered wartime. Wartime dates can be viewed here.
2. The approval process for VA benefits usually takes many months, but it pays retroactively. That means if an application takes eight months to be approved, the first award includes a lump-sum payment for the eight months that the application was pending.
3. Applicants 70 and over can request that the review process be expedited.
4. Those who intend to apply but don't have all necessary documents ready can submit a one-page form (VA Form 21-4138) to get the process started. Retroactive benefits will then be based on the date that this "intent to apply" form was received, rather than the date the final documents are submitted.
5. There are maximum allowable incomes for VA benefit applicants, but medical and personal care expenses can be deducted from applicants' overall income to calculate "countable income." Even applicants with above-average incomes may be eligible when medical and care expenses become high.
A Day for Remembering
On Memorial Day 2012—a leisure Monday that may be filled with barbeques, day-trips and auto-racing—let's take a moment to remember the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. Let's also remember to honor their surviving comrades-in-arms; our great veterans who are living memorials themselves.
Need Help Understanding VA Benefits? Ask an Expert
Our Veterans Expert, Debbie Burak, offers a wealth of information and insights about the process of filing for veteran benefits. Send us your questions and Debbie will answer top questions on our site. If you’re looking for immediate assistance, our Senior Living Advisors can answer basic questions about VA benefits over the phone, and can refer you to qualified, local VA experts for more in-depth information.
So, this Memorial Day weekend, do spend some time in feeling the patriotic stirring and give thanks for those who answered the call to action with their very lives. And if you are one who cares for a veteran, know that you have an honor and privilege in that care.
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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