The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently released a series of reports regarding “pension poaching” and other malfeasance by certain individuals aiding veterans in qualifying for veteran pensions and VA Aid and Attendance. The report recounts stories of relatively financially secure veterans transferring assets in order to obtain benefits. However, as the New York Times correctly points out: transferring your assets in order to qualify for benefits is not illegal.
The key to securing VA benefits is proper planning for your life as you age. Veterans are entitled to certain types of assistance as a display of gratitude from our nation for their service. Programs like the VA Aid and Attendance Non Service Connected Disability benefit exist to help veterans who are seriously ill pay for the care they need in order to live a dignified life. Without this benefit, many veterans would see their life’s accumulation of savings evaporate in a matter of a few short years, not only leaving their loved ones without an inheritance, but also leaving nothing for their own last illness expenses and funerals. Implying that veterans should be required to lose everything before they can get anything is the real malfeasance.
That said, certain Congressmen are introducing and pushing for a “look-back” window for asset transfers before qualifying for VA Aid and Attendance benefits. Medi-Cal and similar programs already generally have a look-back window. The introduction of a look-back window would increase the need for properly planning ahead. But the fallacy of this whole Congressional push is that there are always ways to deal with the legal impediments. Competent Elder Law attorneys qualify their clients for Medi-Cal every day, even with a look back window. The same will occur with the VA program if Congress institutes a look-back window.
For years I have advocated planning in advance for Medi-Cal eligibility in order to beat the look-back window, along with other strategies. For veterans, it is often a smart strategy to plan in advance as well. However, based on the recent GAO report and proposed Congressional action, it may soon be a requirement.
Additionally, the GAO focused on businesses that have been targeting veterans and charging a “counseling fee” or other such charge in order to help the veteran obtain his benefits. Unlike asset transfers, this is questionable if not outright illegal. The GAO found that many of these businesses charge up to $10,000 for claiming benefits on a veteran’s behalf. Preparing, presenting, and prosecuting a claim for benefits is supposed to be a free service and charging for it is a violation of federal law. Beware of anyone offering simply to help you apply for benefits in exchange for being paid, especially in exchange for your first check or substantial sums of money.
This is where obtaining good legal advice comes in. You should seek the advice of an attorney who is accredited by the VA and who understands Medi-Cal so that he can help you plan for, and ultimately receive, the benefits that will work the best for you in your situation. Balancing the requirements and idiosyncrasies of these laws is one of the cornerstones of effective elder law practice. Finding counsel who understands this can help you formulate a plan with some built-in flexibility, such as a QVap or QMap trust instead of offering the one size fits all approaches of the practitioners targeted by the GAO’s investigation.
VA Aid & Attendance–How Can I Correctly Choose Help for my Application Process? FREE REPORT: This complimentary report focuses on the various kinds of people one can consult when applying for the Veterans Aid & Attendance benefit. Who one chooses can mean the difference between success and failure. Remember, if you are denied, you may not be able to reapply for up to a year or longer. Download our complimentary report for a behind the scenes look at the different types of people you can consult and the dirty underbelly of the veterans aid & attendance industry.
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