VA Benefits and Assisted Living: How It Works

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Assisted living facilities can be great residences for older adults who need help with activities of daily living, in addition to the other benefits that assisted living has to offer. However, assisted living can be expensive, and those costs add up as a resident requires more care as time goes on. Paying for an assisted living requires some finesse, creative thinking, and investigation into programs and sources of payment that might help.

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According to Genworth, the median cost of care in the United States is about $4562 a month. Some families don’t understand that costs can soar depending on how much care is needed. In fact, the base rate for assisted living is only a base for a reason.

Depending on how long someone lives, the overall cost of care over a lifetime can be astronomical. As a result, other adults consider some senior housing options that could be more affordable. 

If you or your loved one is a veteran, there are programs to offset assisted living costs. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not pay an assisted living community directly, but there are a few VA programs that can go a long way toward offsetting the cost.

Does the VA Pay for Assisted Living?

The VA does not pay, nor do they operate assisted living communities. With that said, it is important to distinguish between assisted living, nursing homes, and VA foster homes when considering the best setting for your loved one. 

VA nursing homes are owned and operated by the state where they are located. In most cases, these VA nursing homes receive payments from the VA to reduce the cost of care for qualified veterans. The nursing home level of care is different from assisted living in that it provides round-the-clock complex nursing care.

VA medical foster homes are residential homes where veterans who meet a nursing home level of care can live and receive a high level of skilled care from providers who come to them. Supervision is available 24 hours a day. There are typically three to four rooms for veterans in contracted VA homes.

If you or your loved one would prefer assisted living, these are the programs and benefits to consider. If you are the surviving spouse of a veteran, you may also qualify for one or all of these programs. The monthly amount you receive can be used towards your assisted living bill.

Basic VA pension

The first step in qualifying for benefits is to apply for and receive a basic VA pension. The VA pension program provides monthly payments to wartime veterans who meet specific criteria. Surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children of wartime veterans who meet income and net worth criteria may also receive the basic VA pension.

The VA Aid and Attendance or Household Benefits Program

If you qualify, the VA Aid and Attendance program provides an additional monthly amount added to the basic pension. If you or your loved one qualifies for both the VA pension and the VA Aid and Attendance programs, the monthly payments can significantly offset the cost of assisted living. The VA calculates how much you receive using a complicated method of determining your assets, income, and marital status.

The Veteran-Directed Care Program

The Veteran-Directed Care Program allows veterans to receive personal care services that they can direct. If a veteran needs assistance with bathing, dressing, or cooking, they are provided a budget for these services that is directed and managed by the veteran.

The benefit of this program for someone who lives in assisted living is that it can help defray some add-on costs of care. For example, suppose someone pays $4000 a month for assisted living but requires care that would ordinarily cost an additional $500 a month. In that case, a veteran can hire their own caregivers to assume that responsibility.

How Much Will the VA Pay for Assisted Living?

How much a veteran can get monthly depends entirely on what they qualify for based on eligibility criteria, monthly income, and assets. Other factors include whether the veteran is married, whether both qualify for the household benefits or just one, and the same for Aid and Attendance benefits. Let’s look at the VA maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for specific circumstances.

 Veterans with no Dependents                         Your MAPR Amount

You don’t qualify for Household or

Aid and Attendance benefits

$14,753

You are eligible for Household benefits

$18,029

You qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits

$24,610

(Taken from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

With One Dependent                                          Your MAPR Amount

You don’t qualify for Household or Aid and Attendance benefits

$19,320

You qualify for Household benefits

$22,596

You qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits

$29,175

(Taken from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Two Veterans Married to Each Other                       Your MAPR Amount

Neither of you qualifies for Household Aid and Attendance benefits

$19,320

One of you qualifies for Household benefits

$22,596

Both of you qualifies for Household benefits

$29,175

One of you qualifies for Aid and Attendance benefits

$29,175

Both of you qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits

$39,036

(Taken from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

As you can see by this summary of possible benefits, the potential yearly amount to receive is significant. If assisted living costs for a veteran are $5000 a month, it is possible to receive $60,000 a year. Even the benefit amount of $24,610 for a veteran with no dependents who qualify for Aid and Attendance is a helpful amount. 

How Do You Qualify for the VA to Pay for Assisted Living?

Qualifying for any of the programs we have mentioned is complicated. There are qualifications for the Veterans Pension and the Aid and Attendance program separately. First, let’s start with the VA requirements to begin eligibility.

Eligibility for the VA pension program

Eligibility for the VA pension program is the first step in applying for other benefits. If you qualify for the VA pension and don’t meet the Aid and Attendance program requirements, the monthly amount can still make a difference towards paying for assisted living. There are two primary requirement areas to become eligible for a VA pension. One is military service, and the other is income and assets.

Some of the following military requirements are the following:

  • An honorable discharge
  • Your active duty was before September 8, 1980. You served at least 90 days, were an enlisted person on active duty after September 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months, or were an officer and started active duty after October 16, 1981. You hadn’t previously served on active duty for at least 24 months.
  • You are at least 65 years old or
  • You have a permanent disability and total disability or
  • You are in a nursing home or in long-term care or
  • You are on social security disability or supplemental security income.

For income and assets, the net worth limit to meet eligibility requirements for the Veterans Pension program is $138,489. Net worth includes assets and income. 

Assets include stocks and bonds and the market value of the property such as furniture and boats. Excluded from assets are a Veteran’s primary residence, car, and appliances that you couldn’t take with you if you moved to another house. Annual income includes salary or hourly pay and bonuses, tips, and commissions.

The VA does subtract some expenses from income when determining net worth. Deductible expenses include education and unreimbursed medical expenses.

Eligibility for Aid and Attendance Program

Once you have confirmation of your VA Pension eligibility, you can apply for the Aid and Attendance program if you meet specific criteria. To qualify for the Aid and Attendance program, there must be demonstrated need in at least one of these areas:

  • You have a need for assistance with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, toileting, and feeding.
  • You are bed-bound or spend much of your time in bed due to an illness.
  • You are in a nursing home due to a disability or mental condition.
  • You have significant vision problems.

How to Apply for Veterans Benefits for Assisted Living

The steps necessary for applying for the Veterans benefits to help you pay for assisted living can be done online, over the phone, by mail, or in person. If you need assistance, call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000 or if you have a hearing impairment, call TTY: 711.

Apply for the VA pension

To apply for the VA pension, you will need to meet the military and income asset criteria outlined previously. Once you are confident you have fulfilled those requirements, you may want to start gathering the following information for your application:

  • Your Social Security number or VA file number
  • All of your financial information and that of your dependents if you have any
  • Military history
  • Work history
  • Medical information
  • Honorable discharge

Your income will include Social Security benefits, retirement, investment income, work income, and any dependent income. The VA will calculate your maximum annual pension rate based on your financial situation. 

Apply for the Aid and Attendance or Household Benefits Program

You can’t qualify for both the Aid and Attendance and Household Benefits programs at the same time. The VA will determine your eligibility for household benefits or Aid and Attendance. Once you receive confirmation that your VA pension is approved, you can apply for the Aid and Attendance or Household Benefits program. Your doctor will need to fill out and verify the examination/medical portion.

The application form and examination for Aid and Attendance ask for detailed information about:

  • The nature of your disabilities
  • Whether you can make your own meals and feed yourself
  • If you need help with bathing, dressing, or other hygiene tasks
  • If you are legally blind
  • Do you need help managing medications
  • Do you require a nursing home level of care
  • Mental capacity issues
  • Detailed physical and medical information related to your ability to care for yourself
  • Homebound status
  • The use of walking or mobility devices such as a walker, cane, or wheelchair

Applying for VA Benefits and Assisted Living

As a veteran who served our country, you have a right to benefits when you need care. Qualifying for those benefits to help you pay for assisted living may take some effort and time but they can help offset some crucial costs in your long-term care plan. 

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