Recent Changes to the Veterans Pension Benefit
Millaine Wells: Welcome back. If you're a veteran or know someone who may need long-term care soon, there are some changes you need to know about.
Lisa Malak: Here with the details, attorneys Sarah Kons and Peter Harbach from Hooper Law Office. Good morning, guys.
Sarah Kons: Good morning.
Peter Harbach: Good morning.
Lisa Malak: All right. Sarah, tell us a little bit about the program - the actual long-term-care program for veterans.
Sarah Kons: It is the improved-pension program, and it's really access to a pension benefit that can help offset ongoing, recurring medical expenses, especially if they exceed the income of the individual. This is available for veterans that served during wartime periods and spouses of wartime veterans as well.
For anything prior to 1980, it requires about a 90-day deployment with one day of active-duty service within that 90 days that fell during a wartime period.
Lisa Malak: Well let's take a look at those wartime periods just so that we're clear about that. I don't expect you to remember all the dates. This is not a history quiz here, but it covers a wide span.
Sarah Kons: It really does. What you read in a history book versus what they actually recognize as wartime periods are a couple of different things. So anything that really falls prior to 1980, there's a few defined periods that if at least one day falls within that and it's a 90-day deployment for purposes other than training. You do not need to have combat service and it does not have to be a combat-connected disability. It's just having had active-duty service during those time periods.
Lisa Malak: Okay.
Millaine Wells: We mentioned there's some changes. So what are they?
Peter Harbach: The two big changes are they've now implemented what is often referred to as a look back period, which is on the application, they essentially ask have you done anything to get yourself financially qualified for our program in the last three years? They didn't used to have that question on the application.
Also now, they have a set amount that veterans can have when they apply. It used to be that we had to sort of guess based on life expectancy and age of somebody and how much their medical expenses were, how much they might be able to keep and get the pension. But now they have a defined asset amount, which is right around $127,000. They can also have a house with a couple of acres, but any acreage beyond that would be accountable asset towards that $127,000 mark.
Lisa Malak: Okay. So what does this mean for veterans who may be eligible for the program?
Sarah Kons: Well one of the big changes was how the VA considers annuities. And there are a fair amount of veterans out there that have used annuities for a variety of different reasons - investing, they may have been recommended based on what their current needs were. And at this point, the way that annuities are looked at is not going to be helpful to the veteran gaining access to this benefit. So it's extremely important that people that may need this, the benefit is specifically to help them pay for long-term care or pay for things that they need in order to continue to live a normal lifestyle. And so making sure that what they're doing is looked at, at least three years prior to them really needing access to this program is probably the key to all of this. If you need to make any changes, it has to be at least three years before.
Lisa Malak: Okay.
Millaine Wells: Peter, we love Hooper's accessibility with the complimentary seminars for the community. We always promote them, but walk us through what happens at one of them if someone attends.
Peter Harbach: Sure. We go through all the different stages of life, from right when somebody turns 18, you're going to need to do some basic disability planning so that you're not in a courtroom if you become disabled. We talk about how wills work, how trusts work. And a very common concern of people who are attending those seminars is, "Well, how are we going to afford long-term care?"
So we walk through various programs and how they function, because there's just so much misinformation and everybody kind of thinks they're an expert, so you don't know who to listen to. So we walk through the basics of how those programs work and what planning looks like for those.
Lisa Malak: And just to be clear, while we are concentrating on veterans and long-term care today, the seminars will cover many, many topics and not just that.
Peter Harbach: Yeah, absolutely. Certainly, people might need nursing care who were never a veteran. So we try and give information that's going to be useful for all.