How to Pay for Senior Living Care with Veteran Benefits
Long-term care for all older adults can be expensive, whether that care is provided in a senior’s home or in a senior living community. And when it comes to retired military veterans, the need for care can be higher than that of nonveterans.
A study by the Rand Corporationn found older veteran patients have a higher prevalence of expensive chronic physical conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease than their nonveteran counterparts, partly as a result of their older age and deployment experience.
The good news is, if you or your spouse served in the U.S. military, some costs for care may be partially or fully paid for by the federal government through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as part of their veterans’ retirement benefits. Even better, these veterans’ retirement benefits may cover in-home care, as well as assisted living and long-term care at a senior living community.
Understanding VA benefits
According to the 2015-2019 American Community Survey, there were more than 18.2 million American veterans 65 or older living in the U.S. These men and women served in conflicts around the world including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. As these vetera
ns age, the VA provides benefits and services that address a variety of issues related to aging.
Honorably discharged veterans who served in the active military, air service or Navy for two continuous years may qualify for general VA benefits, which help cover many healthcare services, such as rehabilitation services. Veterans must receive care at a preferred VA facility to be eligible for coverage.
If you or someone you love is an aging veteran, you must be receiving a pension from the VA to qualify for VA benefits for long-term care. You can apply for VA pension benefits at the same time you apply for long-term care benefits.
Two VA benefits programs in particular, the Aid and Attendance benefit and Housebound allowance, provide certain older veterans with an additional monetary amount if you are eligible for, or already receiving, a VA pension benefit. We’ll cover these programs in more detail later in this article.
Determining eligibility for VA benefits
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, you or your loved one must meet at least one of these service requirements to qualify for VA benefits:
- Started on active duty before Sept. 8, 1980, and served at least 90 days on active duty with at least one day during wartime, or
- Started on active duty as an enlisted person after Sept. 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months or the full period for which the veteran was called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions) with at least one day during wartime (the veteran is not required to have seen actual combat), or
- Was an officer and started on active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, and hadn’t previously served on active duty for at least 24 months
The veteran must have received an honorable or general discharge to qualify for benefits.
VA benefits to help pay for long-term care
Medicare only pays for short-term care at nursing home facilities for seniors who need rehabilitation or nursing care after an illness or injury that requires hospitalization. It doesn’t cover the cost of home care or expenses related to care at senior living facilities.
2. Aid & Attendance benefits
Neither Medicaid nor Medicare pays for assisted living — so if you’re an aging veteran who’s eligible, these benefits may be a significant financial help. Up to 25% of American veterans are eligible for both these veteran benefits for assisted living and nursing home care. Surviving spouses of veterans may also be entitled to these funds as well.
This tax-free VA benefit provides monthly payments added to the amount of your monthly VA pension. The money from this benefit can be used to pay for aging veterans’ in-home care, an assisted living community or a private-pay nursing home. You may qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit if you’re a veteran over 65 who receives a VA pension and meets at least one of these requirements:
- You need another person’s help to perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating or grooming
- You must stay in bed or spend most of your day in bed because of an illness
- You live in a nursing home setting because of the loss of mental or physical abilities related to a disability
- Your eyesight is significantly limited, even with glasses or contact lenses
3. Housebound allowance
You may be eligible for Housebound Allowance benefits if you receive a VA pension and spend most of your time in your home because of a permanent disability. However, you can’t receive both Aid and Attendance and Housebound Allowance benefits at the same time.
4. Long-term Care Benefits
The VA also provides both short- and long-term care in nursing homes to veterans who are too disabled or elderly to care for themselves. A veteran meets the criteria for care if they:
- Need nursing home care due to a service-connected disability
- Has a combined disability rating of 70% or more, or
- Has a disability rating of at least 60% and is either deemed unemployable or has been rated permanently and totally disabled
Choosing a long-term care setting
The VA offers a variety of long-term care services to its sick or disabled veterans, including:
- 24/7 nursing and medical care
- Physical therapy
- Help with daily tasks (like bathing, dressing, making meals and taking medicine)
- Comfort care and help with managing pain
- Support for caregivers who may need skilled help or a break so they can work, travel or run errands
Veterans and their spouses can get this care in many different settings; some are run by the VA and others run by state or community organizations that are inspected and approved by the VA.
Care settings may include:
- Nursing homes
- Assisted-living centers
- Private homes where a caregiver supports a small group of individuals
- Adult day health centers
- Veterans’ own homes
Find a senior living community that fits veterans’ needs
If you’re an aging veteran who has served our country, we can help you find the right senior living community that fits you. We would be honored to help you choose a community that’s right for you.
Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.