Applying for Veterans Benefits: 5 Tips for Caregivers and Spouses
By Anne-Marie Botek
| Last Updated 6.12.2017
Eligibility for VA benefits is usually the primary concern for veterans and their caregivers, but there are several other areas of confusion and sources of misinformation that can significantly impact the way families interact with the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.
Regardless of what point you’re at in dealing with the VA and whether you’re interested in securing benefits for yourself or on a U.S. veteran’s behalf, the following tips are crucial to successfully navigating the VA system.
The VA doesn't recognize power of attorney (POA). This revelation often comes as a shock to caregivers who are used to hearing about the necessity of obtaining a POA document as part of planning ahead for a loved one’s care. If a veteran is incapable of managing their own financial affairs, whether they are just now applying for VA benefits or they have been receiving them for decades, a fiduciary must be appointed to oversee their benefit payments. Incompetence must be documented by a medical professional or determined by a court of competent jurisdiction. A family member or friend typically takes on this responsibility after passing a thorough vetting process conducted by the VA. This evaluation includes a criminal background check, credit report check, personal interview, and review of character references. In cases where a veteran does not have a trusted individual who can serve in this capacity, the VA will appoint a professional fiduciary.
You can expedite a VA application. The VA has specific rules in place to expedite the applications and appeals of veterans age 90 and older. If your loved one is in this age group, make sure that the VA office handling their application or appeal is aware of this by filing a written request for expedited processing along with their other paperwork.
You don't have to be ill to qualify for a pension. One little-known element of the VA program is that when a veteran turns 65, they are considered 100 percent disabled in the eyes of the VA. This means that a low-income vet or their surviving spouse could be eligible for a Pension, even if they have no major health conditions.
Benefits end when a veteran dies. If a veteran dies before their spouse, any pension benefits being received by the couple will immediately stop. The surviving spouse must submit a completely new application to the VA in order to get these benefits reinstated. Along with a death certificate, the surviving spouse must supply any and all additional documentation required for the specific benefits they are looking to reinstate. Necessary paperwork might include the deceased veteran's discharge papers, their marriage certificate, information regarding income, assets and expenses, a physician's statement detailing the surviving spouse's medical diagnosis and ability to care for themselves, and a statement from their long-term care provider (assisted living community, home care agency, etc.) detailing their cost of care information. Even if these documents were already submitted to the VA, they must all be re-sent after a veteran dies. The average time to award a Survivors Pension is approximately 10-12 months after it has been submitted, so it's important to be prepared and start this process as soon as possible.
Calling the VA's 1-800 number can be tricky. When calling the VA to ask questions or check on an application, make sure you're talking to the local VA office that services the area in which the veteran or surviving spouse lives. Be aware that the 1-800 number for the VA automatically routes callers to the local VA office that's nearest to them. For long-distance caregivers, this routing process is most likely not connecting to the same office that is in charge of a loved one's file. If you are directed to a different VA office, you won't be able to obtain any information. The individual offices are not allowed to pull files on beneficiaries or applicants who do not live in their jurisdiction.
For more information on benefits available to veterans, download AgingCare’s comprehensive guide below.