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New rules make it more difficult for veterans to qualify for long-term benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) put in place new rules that make it more difficult to qualify for long-term care benefits. The rules, similar to those already in force for Medicaid, establish an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for pension benefits that require a showing of financial need. 

The main VA benefit for those needing long-term care is Aid and Attendance, which offers monetary payment to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or need help at home with everyday tasks.

In the past, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance, a veteran (or surviving spouse) had to meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits were not specified, but $80,000 was the amount usually used. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, you previously could transfer any assets over the VA's limit before applying and the transfers would not affect eligibility.

Now, the new regulations, which took effect took effect October 18, 2018, set a net worth limit of $123,600, the current maximum amount of assets (in 2018) that a Medicaid applicant's spouse is allowed to retain. But for the VA, this number includes both the applicant's assets and income. It will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases.

An applicant's house (up to a two-acre lot) will not count as an asset even if the applicant is living in a nursing home. Applicants also will be able to deduct medical expenses - including payments to assisted living facilities - from their income.

The regulations establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants will have to disclose all financial transactions they were involved in for three years before the application. Applicants who transferred assets to put themselves below the limit within three years of applying may be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as five years, during which they're ineligible for VA benefits.

Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred that would have put the applicant over the net worth limit by the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for a veteran with one dependent in need of Aid and Attendance.

The VA will disregard transfers made prior to October 18, 2018.

Veterans or their spouses who may be affected by the new rules should contact an experienced attorney for assistance.

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