November 6

New Rules Will Make It Harder to Qualify for Long-Term Care Help From the VA

The Veteran’s Administration (VA) offers a pension benefit to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or who need help at home with everyday tasks like dressing or bathing.  The pension, called Aid and Attendance, is currently underused, but impending regulations will soon make it available to even fewer veterans. The new regulations will for the first time specify asset limits for qualification and impose a look-back period and transfer penalties similar to Medicaid’s. The looming changes mean that those considering applying for Aid and Attendance should act quickly.

Currently, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance a veteran (or the veteran’s surviving spouse) must meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits aren’t specified, but $80,000 is the amount usually used. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, there are no penalties if an applicant divests him- or herself of assets before applying.

The proposed regulations will set an asset limit of $119,220, which is the current amount (in 2015 and 2016) that a Medicaid applicant’s spouse is allowed to retain. But in the case of the VA, this number will include both the applicant’s assets and income. It will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases. An applicant’s house will not count as an asset, but there is a two-acre limit on the lot size that can be excluded.

The regulations also establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants who transfer assets within three years of applying for benefits will be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as 10 years. To avoid the penalty, applicants will have to present clear and convincing evidence that the transfer was not made in order to qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits.

Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred by the applicable maximum annual pension rate (MAPR). The MAPR for surviving spouses is a little more than half the MAPR for veterans, which means the penalty period for a surviving spouse would be almost twice as long as a veteran’s penalty period would be for the same transferred asset.

It isn’t clear yet when the new regulations will take affect, but they could be in place as early as January 1, 2016, and some VA offices are reportedly already processing applications under the new rules. If you are considering applying for Aid and Attendance benefits, you should start the process immediately. 

To read the regulations, click here

May 18

VA Eliminates Net Worth Requirement for Health Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has updated the way it determines eligibility for VA health care benefits, making it easier for many veterans to get access to the benefits. The VA will no longer use the veteran’s net worth as a factor to determine eligibility and copayments.

Previously, veterans who did not fit into certain categories were required to provide their income and net worth before receiving benefits. Veterans whose combined income and net worth was above the limit would have to make copayments in order to receive health benefits. This meant that some low-income veterans with a high net worth were struggling to make copayments.

Under the new rule, implemented in March 2015, the VA will now only consider a veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year. While veterans whose income exceeds the income thresholds will still be required to pay a copay, the VA estimates that with the new rule 190,000 veterans will become eligible for reduced health care costs over a five-year period.

“Everything that we do and every decision we make has to be focused on the Veterans we serve,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald in a press release. “We are working every day to earn their trust. Changing the way we determine eligibility to make the process easier for Veterans is part of our promise to our Veterans.”

For more information about the changes, click here.  

For more information about veteran’s benefits, click here

April 1

NAELA Says the VA Could Be Sued If Proposed Transfer Regs Are Enacted

In its response to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposed regulations that would establish a look-back period and asset transfer penalties for pension claimants, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ (NAELA) raises the prospect that the VA could be sued if the rules take effect.  

Proposed § 3.276 would establish a 36-month look-back period and a penalty period of up to 10 years for those who dispose of assets to qualify for a VA pension. Currently, there is no prohibition on transferring assets prior to applying for needs-based benefits, such as Aid and Attendance. 

“[W]e express the serious concern that the proposed rule’s 3-year look-back period and transfer of assets penalty exceed statutory authority, opening up VA to future litigation and causing additional uncertainty for Veterans and their families,” write Bradley J. Frigon, NAELA’s president, and Victoria Collier, Chair of NAELA’s VA Task Force, in March 17, 2015, comments on the proposed rules.

Frigon and Collier argue that the proposed rules do not meet the standard of either an explicit or implicit delegation by congressional statute that the U.S. Supreme Court set forth Chevron USA, Inc. v. NRDC, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).  They point out that Congress had the opportunity from 2012 to 2014 to create Medicaid-like transfer rules but that each proposal died in session.

NAELA’s comments also maintain that the proposed transfer penalties exception is too narrow.  “Veterans and their surviving spouses will be unjustly penalized for prior transfers that had absolutely nothing to do with VA pension eligibility,” Frigon and Collier write. “Gifts to children at holidays and birthdays will be penalized. Donations to places of worship will be penalized. Contributions to charities will be penalized. All because there is a presumption that the transfer was made for the purpose of qualifying for VA pension. . . . The final rule should require that transfers only made for the sole purpose of qualifying for VA pension be penalized.”

The 27-page comments highlight a number of other flaws in the proposed regulation, including that it should allow for partial cures, that the time allowed to cure transfers should be expanded, that the rule disproportionately harms surviving spouses of veterans, and that the proposed net worth limits are harsher than Medicaid’s limits.

To read NAELA’s comments, click here.

For the VA’s proposed regulations, click here.  Comments must be received no later than Tuesday, March 24.

March 4

New Jersey Settles Federal Lawsuit Involving Veterans Benefits and Medicaid Eligibility

The state of New Jersey has settled a class action lawsuit and agreed not to count veterans pension benefits as income when determining Medicaid eligibility.  Plaintiffs’ counsel has been paid $100,000 in fees.

Alma Galletta filed a class action lawsuit against New Jersey, seeking to enjoin the state from treating Veterans Administration Improved Pension (VAIP) as income for Medicaid eligibility purposes. Ms. Galletta argued that the entire income she received from her VAIP benefit resulted from unusual medical expenses, so it should not count toward her income for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

After a U.S. district court enjoined the state from counting one of the class member’s VAIP as income, the state began settlement negotiations with Ms. Galletta. On February 6, 2015, the court approved a consent order between the parties, in which the state agreed that VAIP will not be included as countable income during the Medicaid eligibility process and a notice will be distributed to caseworkers explaining the ruling. Ms. Galletta also received Medicaid benefits retroactive to her application. In addition, the court approved $100,000 in fees and costs for the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

January 28

The Veterans Administration Proposes 3 Year Look Back On Gifts

“On Friday, January 23, 2015, the VA issued proposed new Veterans Administration regulations that would penalize wartime veterans up to ten years for making gifts of assets for less than fair market value. The VA is trying to stop what they perceive as lawyers and financial advisers “taking advantage of veterans” when helping them strategically plan to preserve assets and qualify for the Improved Pension benefit.”

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