Veteran’s Aid & Attendance Benefit: An Interview with Expert Rita Files

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 06 May 2011

Did you know there is a benefit for low/no-income veterans and their surviving spouses that can help supplement costly non-reimbursed monthly medical expenses?

Rita Files knows the Veteran’s Aid & Attendance benefit (officially titled “The Non-Service Connected Disability Pension Benefit”) inside and out, and she is passionate about helping eligible seniors take advantage of it.

Since 2000, Rita has worked with hundreds of families to secure this benefit. She’s one of only 122 accredited claims agents in the country. In addition, Files is a nurse with a background in eldercare. These qualities have certainly contributed to her success.

“Anyone can provide general information about the Aid & Attendance benefit,” she says, “but a person must be accredited to take things further.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, accredits attorneys and claims agents to help eligible service members and their spouses access the benefit. According to Files, the officials at the VA, buried by backlogs in other programs, are not well-versed in the nuts and bolts of the Aid & Attendance Benefit, which is why many turn to claims agents for assistance – that is, if they even find out that the benefit exists.

Says Files, “The benefit is little-known and underutilized.”

Part of the problem lies within the VA itself. Having never received consistent answers or information from VA employees is one of the reasons Files was motivated to secure accreditation. In addition to dealing with backlogs, she says that VA employees typically do not have the proper skills or approach for communicating with elders. Consequently, many claims are never fully or correctly processed.

“The key to the success of our program at Aging with Grace has been clear communication between the veteran, service provider (i.e. home care agency, long-term care facility, etc.), physician, and VA for a successful outcome on a claim,” Files says.

With many veterans presently at the age of eligibility, there are more people than ever who are trying to access the benefit. Unfortunately, the VA has not done much to educate people on it, and much of the information about it is buried on their site. “Some people have told me they’ve searched for hours looking for the right information on the VA’s site,” says Files.

There are some individuals and companies (unscrupulous financial planners, for example) who have taken advantage of the lack of education surrounding the benefit, fraudulently targeting senior living providers to get to veterans’ assets. Many senior living providers have fallen prey, unaware of the fact that, if a lawsuit should be filed, individuals will go after the provider rather than the financial planner.

“Providers need to know who is accredited,” advises Files. “They should not let those who are not accredited into the building to do presentations or consult with veterans. It makes them (the provider) guilty by association. Unaccredited individuals can tell veterans if they are eligible, but they cannot tell them if they qualify, or help them do the paperwork and follow-through that is required to receive the benefit.”

Ultimately, Files believes that seniors who are eligible for the Aid & Attendance Benefit would be better served by elder care professionals who have a more proficient understanding of elder care services and programs. “We need to get the word out on the availability of this benefit and the reality of the process (i.e. income and asset-testing, extensive paperwork, etc.). Eligible seniors should not be led to believe it’s an entitlement benefit because it’s not. “They must provide proof of eligibility each year to continue to receive the benefit,” she explains.

A Breakdown of the Aid & Attendance Benefit

Among the out-of-pocket expenses the Aid & Attendance benefit may cover: Adult day services, home care, assisted living/nursing home services, in-home safety equipment, medical co-pays, Medicare premiums, and payment of family caregivers

Eligibility guidelines:

  • Veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty with one day during a period of war.
  • There must be an honorable discharge.
  • Single surviving spouses of such veterans are also eligible.
  • In addition to service criteria, the veteran or surviving spouse must also meet medical and financial requirements.

(Source: http://www.agingwithgrace.net/pages/vaconsulting)

Interested in finding out more about the benefit? Consider these links:

Download an eBook from Aging with Grace ($29.50) – This workbook is an extensive collection of information that has been gathered over the years on the benefit. Via the link, you can automatically download 18 pages about the Aid & Attendance Benefit, including the issue of utmost importance: how to get it done. And, if you have additional questions after reviewing the book and filing your paperwork, Files can do a final review before you mail it to the VA for processing.

Read more about the consulting services offered at Aging with Grace.

Read more about Rita Files.

Talk back: Have you heard of the Aid & Attendance Benefit? Do you know anyone who has accessed it?

-Michelle Seitzer


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