Many veterans aren’t aware that they may qualify for a little-known benefit, Aid and Assistance, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is a need-based, tax-free pension supporting military veterans unable to pay for non-service related medical needs.

Because of a great deal of misinformation or lack of knowledge on the part of well-meaning volunteers, this pension information has not been disseminated to veterans or their widows/widowers. Under Title 38 of the U.S. Code, the VA Aid and Attendance Pension is designed to provide qualified veterans and their spouses with financial benefits outside of the traditional VA residential system. This pension provides a direct, monthly, tax-free pension to help defray costs associated with whatever form of long-term care they need.

According to AmeriVets, an organization that aids veterans in receiving long-term care, there is a myriad of myths and misconceptions about who qualifies and who doesn’t, and that many veterans give up after the laborious and confusing application process, misunderstood even by the individuals instrumental in reviewing these applications.

James Moore of T.T.M. Productions (Things That Matter), a Marina del Rey-based Division 2 Insurance and Financial Services company, told The Argonaut that he and his partners, retired Lt. Commander Ernest Cowell and Patricia Cowell, assist veterans with their financial and other needs, and are advocates for AmeriVets.

Moore and his partners offer a free, half-hour consultation for veterans, spouses, or their widows/widowers. TTM provides them information about qualifying for this pension, completing paperwork and discussing financial assets. There is a cost of care and income test of which veterans’ TTM advocate will advise them, and Moore said they will do everything possible, within the law, to ensure that they receive the benefits of this pension.

Moore said there are two classes of benefits for veterans and their survivors: compensation for service-related disability or death, and a pension for non-service related disability or death.

The service-connected disability program is for veterans who suffered injury or death as a direct result of their active duty military service. The compensation amount depends upon the percent of total disability that is determined by the Veterans Administration.

The non-service connected pension disability program provides a pension, rather than direct compensation, that is based on retirement or inability to work. These non-service connected disabilities are injuries that have no relation to active duty military service. This benefit is currently funded at over $4 billion annually, said Moore.

“It’s really unfortunate that so many veterans or their widows/widowers could be helped by this pension, and they are completely unaware because it is not receiving enough publicity, leaving them unable to gain the assistance they so badly need,” said Moore.

A component of this non-service connected disability pension is termed “Aid and Attendance.” Regular Aid and Attendance provides reimbursement for certain qualified, otherwise unreimbursed, medical expenses, usually involving long-term care in assisted living communities and in some cases, home care and independent care.

In 2009, said Moore, the maximum Aid and Attendance benefit amounts were: two veteran spouses (only if both require benefits) $2,440 per month; a married veteran, $1,949 per month; single veteran, $1,644 per month; and a surviving spouse, $1,056 per month.

These amounts were the maximum awards, and although the majority of the company’s clients receive the maximum benefits, eligibility depends upon financial qualification.

Any type of current disability benefits being paid from the VA (including death indemnity compensation for surviving spouses) are not added to these amounts, noted Moore.

There are four criteria for qualifying for Aid and Attendance pension benefits: qualifying military service, medical necessity, care cost compared to monthly income, and liquid assets.

To receive benefits, one must be age 65 or older and unemployable; have a minimum of 90 days of active military service with at least one day of service during a period of national conflict (they do not have to have seen combat); with honorable discharge, or be a surviving spouse; a medical diagnosis that requires daily assistance with at least one activity of daily living; insufficient monthly income to purchase required care; and limited liquid assets, according to AmeriVets. The organization works with all senior living communities and families who are committed to advocating for veterans.

According to AmeriVets, beneficiaries must have a medical condition indicating that they are in need of assistance from others in order to live a quality life including, but not limited to, the following: walking, bathing, dressing, meal preparation, getting out of bed, laundry/housekeeping, shopping, transportation, making telephone calls, obtaining appointments, or protection from the hazards of daily life.

The benefit is only available to veterans or their surviving spouses who meet the following criteria: an honorable discharge from a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Coast Guard, at least 90 days of active duty military service; at least one day of the 90 days must have been during one of the following periods – World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam (all other), Vietnam (in country), Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Persian Gulf.

Service in the Merchant Marine during WW II counts the same as naval service, providing there were 90 days served at sea. Women in WW II military, including nurses, qualify as veterans. Reserves and National Guard members are not qualified unless they served 90 days active federal duty with one day during a period of conflict.

Training does not count as active duty, according to AmeriVets documentation. The 90-day rule is accepted for those who served less than 90 days but were awarded the Purple Heart medal, suffered a service-related disability, or were killed in the line of duty.

Marina del Rey resident Terry Conner is one of many veterans who have been assisted by T.T.M.

In a letter to T.T.M. Conner said, “When Patricia and Jim first told me about the veterans ‘Aid and Attendance’ pension, I was very skeptical that such a thing existed, or, if it did, that I would qualify. Of course, I have been in touch with many of my fellow vets since Vietnam, and none of them ever mentioned such a program, nor did the VA.”

Conner said that once Moore and Cowell started helping him fill out the initial forms, he could see how difficult it might be for an individual to navigate all the necessary paperwork, but that they were persistent and “never let go, phoning weekly to the powers-that-be, to keep things moving along.

“I know you could not promise how quickly this might come through, but when the first payment showed up in under three months, I was thrilled and astonished. You folks are miracle workers, and I’ve never seen any arm of the federal government move so fast.

“Believe me, just knowing that this money will be there each month, for the rest of my life, makes a huge difference in my outlook for the future. I can’t thank you enough,” Conner wrote.

Moore and Cowell can be reached at T.T.M. Productions, 4519 Admiralty Way, Ste. 203, Marina del Rey. Information, (310) 821-8121, or www.TTM.US.com.

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