If you or your spouse served in the U.S. military, you're probably already aware of the array of benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as thanks for those who have served their country.
But you may not realize those benefits extend to help older veterans and their spouses, widows or widowers make the transition into senior housing or to adapt their living situation at home.
Whether you plan to age in place and need assistance or want to move into one of several types of senior housing facilities, contact your state Veterans Affairs office or the Senior Veterans Service Alliance website to help you find out what benefits you can receive.
An important benefit for older veterans is the Aid & Attendance and Housebound pension program, which can help you pay for assistance in your home or for the expenses of a nursing home or assisted living facility. Veterans 65 or older with a limited income who are already receiving a veterans' pension are eligible for this program.
To qualify as a veteran, you must have served for at least 90 consecutive days of active duty--including at least one day during wartime--and cannot have been dishonorably discharged. Spouses and widows or widowers (provided they have not remarried) may be eligible for these benefits, too, as well as disabled veterans younger than 65.
In order to qualify for the Aid & Attendance and Housebound program, you will have to provide extensive details about your condition and why you or your spouse can no longer take care of you without assistance. Typically, this means explaining how you need help with daily tasks or are a danger to yourself or someone else in your household because of a physical or mental disability.
You may also need to prove that you live alone or that your spouse or others in the household cannot manage your care alone.
The income requirement for this program limits couples to about $25,000 per year, but there are exceptions made in some cases when the veteran is spending most of their income paying high costs for long-term care.
The additional pension of approximately $2,000 per month for a couple or $1,800 for an individual veteran may not pay for all the expenses associated with in-home care, a nursing home or assisted living, but it is possible to combine the VA benefit with Medicaid to cover the costs.
The pension money can be used to pay a family member or friend to help in the household, so it's not limited to professional care or to a move into senior housing.
A majority of U.S. veterans, whose median age is 64, are homeowners and probably have taken advantage of the VA Home Loans program that helps veterans finance a home purchase.
However, if you haven't--or if you plan to sell your home and downsize into another home, perhaps one in an age-restricted community--you should check your eligibility for a VA loan.
VA loans do not require a down payment, which means seniors can keep more of their cash for expenses in retirement. Note that an eligible person can hold only one VA loan at once, so you'll have to pay off your existing VA home loan in order to purchase another one--or find a qualified vet to purchase your home and assume the loan.
If you have been permanently disabled because of your military service and wish to build or adapt a home to make it easier to function independently, you may be eligible for funds up to $67,555 through the Special Adapted Housing Grant program.
Depending on your specific disabilities, you could be eligible instead for a smaller grant to make some improvements to your home.