Helping aging veterans and their surviving spouses apply for VA benefits can be more complicated than many realize. Below are some tips to help you successfully navigate the rules and regulations of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to ensure that you get the benefits to which you are entitled.
First, you may be able to expedite your application in certain circumstances. If the veteran is terminally ill, of an advanced age or experiencing a serious financial hardship such as homelessness or bankruptcy, he or she may be able to expedite the application via written request.
You do not need to be disabled or seriously ill to qualify for the VA Pension program. You simply must reach the age of 65 and be a qualified veteran. Increased pension amounts are available through additional programs within the VA known as Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits for veterans and surviving spouses who require higher levels of care.
Once a veteran passes away, his or her VA benefits terminate immediately. For any survivors or dependents to claim VA benefits they must submit a new application along with the death certificate. The application may also include additional information regarding income, assets and expenses. This can often be a timely application process so it is important to start the paperwork as soon as possible after the veteran dies.
Another important item to keep in mind is that the VA does not recognize agent authority conveyed via a power of attorney document. The VA sets its own rules regarding making healthcare and financial decisions on behalf of veterans. If a veteran is incapable of managing his or her own financial affairs, a durable power of attorney for finances is not recognized by the Office of Veteran Affairs. There is a form that a veteran can complete to appoint a representative such as a family member or trusted friend to handle the claim for benefits. A VA fiduciary must be appointed to receive and manage the benefit payments. Any family member or friend designated to serve as a veteran’s fiduciary will be subject to a thorough vetting process. This will include a criminal background check, credit report check, personal interview and solid references.
When reaching out to the VA office for more information, the main phone number will route you to the local VA office. Since VA offices are only allowed to provide information on a local basis you will not be able to get information from any other office other than the one in your jurisdiction. If you are tech-savvy, you can file claims, check the status of claims and manage health care benefits online at va.gov.
Thank you for serving our country and we wish you a Happy Veterans Day!
For more information on Elder Law issues specifically for veterans, contact the attorneys at Stouffer Legal in the Greater Baltimore area.