Did you know that research continues to tell us that over fifty percent of all seniors over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care in the future? Whether this is care inside the home or outside of it, long-term care can be costly for the Florida senior and his or her family. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are not prepared for the high, monthly costs of the care they need.

Right now, Medicare and most health insurance plans are not designed to cover the cost of long-term care. This type of care is described in most settings as “custodial” care. The current healthcare system is not designed to address “acute” issues or those that have a specific term of treatment and will not be ongoing, or to address “long-term” needs. Many Florida seniors and their loved ones are not aware that their existing health care coverage will not be able to pay for the majority of care they may need in a crisis that involves long-term care.

As a result, many Florida seniors and their loved ones will need to pay for care out of pocket. This results in a depletion of both income and savings. It also has the potential to leave a healthy spouse impoverished or unable to cover the monthly household expenses. While there are long-term care insurance programs in place, we often find that many of them only pay for care in specific situations.

In these instances, many of the families that come to us need to be able to create a plan that will allow them to access public benefits programs to help afford care. For example, through the Florida Medicaid program, when a Florida senior becomes eligible to receive care in a skilled nursing facility much of it will be covered by this program.

For wartime veterans, there is an additional program available to both the veteran and his or her dependents, such as a surviving spouse. This is the VA Pension program. As opposed to the service-connected disability program, it is in no way tied to an injury. Instead, it is tethered to the veteran’s active service record.

To be eligible, the veteran must show that he or she served for a period of no less than 90 days of active military service. At least one of these days must be during a period of war. You can learn more about the qualifying periods of war from the VA by clicking this link. Further, the veteran must be discharged from the service under conditions that were other than dishonorable. With this military service record established, not only the veteran but his or her surviving spouse may also be eligible to receive this benefit.

Receipt of this benefit is not automatic. The veteran or surviving spouse must also meet an eligibility threshold for health, income, and assets, similar to the qualifications for the Florida Medicaid program. In fact, the VA Pension rules were changed on October 18, 2018, to make it operate in a much more similar manner to Medicaid.

One of the most significant changes is that now, similar to the Medicaid program, there is a “look back” period. This is a period of time during which the veteran’s assets may be looked at by the department to determine if any money was given away for less than fair market value. If it is determined this occurred, the veteran may face a disqualification period.

Further, these rules also established an asset limit. For 2019, under the new rules, the veteran may only have $126,240 in countable assets, less excluded assets. This figure is expected to change each year with a cost of living adjustment similar to the Social Security program.

One of the keys to successfully navigating the long-term care maze in Florida is to find a way to pay for the care you or your loved ones need. The VA Pension program provides monthly, tax-free income to veterans with a qualifying service record.  It is one of the ways that Florida seniors can find ways to pay for long-term care. Bear in mind, that you will want to work with an accredited VA attorney who will be able to represent you before the Department of Veterans Affairs. Before you begin to work with an attorney, take the time you need to determine if he or she is a VA accredited attorney.