By Rita Files
... Too often, veterans go without services they need simply because they are unaware of benefits they earned through their service.
Consider the Aid and Attendance benefit, which is meant to help aging veterans and their surviving spouses pay for care at home, in a nursing home, or in an assisted-living facility. Millions of veterans and their families are failing to take advantage of it.
According to a recent report, about 105,000 veterans were using the benefit last year. Yet the pool of potential recipients could be much bigger. There are 2.3 million World War II vets still living, along with 2.6 million Korean War vets and 7.7 million Vietnam vets.
The Aid and Attendance benefit is significant. It pays up to $1,949 per month to provide care for single or married veterans or their surviving spouses. Applicants must meet certain medical and financial thresholds, but eligibility does not depend on service-related injuries or even overseas service. Too many veterans and their families are simply unaware of this benefit or assume they are ineligible for it.
It doesn't have to be this way. By becoming informed citizens and neighbors, we can make sure elderly veterans are getting the care they deserve.
It doesn't take long. Start with a trusted and informative site such as the Department of Veterans Affairs' recently launched www.ebenefits.va.gov. Another website, www.veteransaid.org, offers independent, up-to-date information on veterans' benefits, as well as a news feed on veterans' issues.
There's another reason to be informed. Elderly vets often fall prey to "experts" offering free seminars on veterans' benefits. Such seminars frequently pitch financial products that do not take into account a veteran's overall financial situation or eligibility for assistance. Left to go it alone with such suspect guidance, veterans and their families can end up worse off.
Seeking expert advice can help veterans make the most of their benefits. But they should be sure the advice is from a professional - an attorney, claims agent, or veteran services representative - who has been accredited by Veterans Affairs.
A VA-accredited professional has passed department-administered exams and character checks to ensure veterans get qualified assistance in presenting their claims. And, by law, accredited professionals do not charge a fee for their claims services. To find an accredited professional or check accreditation, visit the Veterans Affairs website, www.va.gov.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched several initiatives to encourage veterans to take advantage of the services and benefits they earned. But it's up to all of us to be knowledgeable about veterans' benefits. Informed neighbor-to-neighbor outreach can help a struggling veteran and his or her family get the help they deserve.
Rita Files is an elder-care professional, an accredited VA claim agent, and the chief operating officer of Aging with Grace. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.