NY Times Article on VA Aid and Attendance – Just a Little Misleading

Two weeks ago there was a front page New York Times article titled, “Winning Veterans’ Trust and Profiting From It”.  The article profiled a World War II veteran, Henry Schaffer, who was told by a VA accredited attorney that he could qualify for a VA pension that would help him pay the cost of his senior living complex.

He paid the attorney a few thousand dollars only to find out after he moved in that he did not qualify for the benefit and now is worried that he will be evicted because he can’t afford the cost of the facility without the VA benefit.  The article goes on to describe what is commonly known as the VA Aid and Attendance benefit, which can provide more than $20,000 a year to wartime veterans.

But, the writer states that it is only available to veterans who have an annual income less than $12,465.  (That number was increased on Dec 1, 2013 and is now $12,652).  Mr. Schaffer’s Social Security income exceeds that amount so he can’t qualify.  The article goes on to state that more money is available to veterans who can’t “cook or bathe on their own” but Schaffer doesn’t qualify for that benefit either.

The balance of the article describes the “cottage industry [that] has sprung up around [this] pension program”, that there are many attorneys, financial advisors and insurance brokers who have “formed a lucrative alliance with retirement communities and assisted living facilities to extract many billions of taxpayer dollars from the VA”.   The remainder of the article focuses on the VA’s accreditation program and how lax it is.  Anyone filing an application for VA benefits on behalf of a client must be VA accredited.

No doubt there are abuses that exist.  We have received calls from people who have asked us for help after having been steered down the road  to benefits only to find out that they can’t qualify.  The VA Aid and Attendance program is complicated and confusing.  But, It has to be examined in the context of what is really the bigger issue, how to pay for long term care.  This benefit plays a small, but important part.

The article, however, contains many inaccuracies, or at least some misleading statements.  The author leaves you with the impression that Mr. Schaffer was completely misled, all for the profit of his advisor who billed him thousands.  But is it really true that he can’t qualify?  Maybe not right now, but does that mean he can’t ever qualify?   Without knowing more about Mr. Schaffer than what was written about him in the article, I can tell you that he very well can qualify, if not now, then in 6 months or a year or 2.

I’ll tell you why I can make that bold statement next week.  Oh, and if you want to check out the article I am referring to go to http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/business/winning-veterans-trust-and-profiting-from-it.html?_r=0.

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