If you served your country in the military, you may be one of many senior veterans eligible to get help with paying for a nursing home, assisted living, or in-home care.
The Aid & Attendance and Housebound improved pension is a little-known benefit offered to all military veterans, their widows or widowers (assuming they haven't remarried). And you don't have to have a disability to take advantage of the program. The system isn't simple to navigate, but it could mean thousands of dollars toward care for senior veterans and their spouses.
All veterans with a government pension for their service, who are age 65 and older, and have limited income are eligible. By veterans, the government means anyone who served 90 consecutive days on active duty and at least one day during wartime (those dates are clearly defined in the regulations) and was not dishonorably discharged. Spouses and widows might be eligible, too, as well as disabled veterans younger than age 65.
Couples can't make more than about $25,000 a year, less for single veterans (Congress sets the income limits, which can change). The cap is high enough that pensions and returns on basic retirement investments probably would not violate the cap for many people.
Veterans have to prove that they need help--that they can no longer take care of themselves, or that their spouse cannot provide the level of care they need. One nonprofit organization that works with senior veterans offers the example of a man who suffers a bad broken bone, and his petite wife cannot physically handle moving him and giving him the range of care he requires.
The Aid & Attendance benefit likely will not cover all the care needed--it provides about $2,000 a month, while a nursing home might cost up to $7,000 a month. But a veteran could possibly take advantage of Medicaid as well to cover the costs, which could prove to be a lifesaver for families seeking to care for their beloved veteran's end of life.
For veterans who suffered injuries during their service, the government offers even more assistance for a range of needs. Full-time care, drop-in centers, partial in-home care ... the possibilities vary almost as much as the patients do. The Senior Veterans Service Alliance website has an exhaustive list of what's available.
If you have questions about your eligibility or the eligibility of a loved one, call your state Veterans Affairs office.