Obscure benefit can help veterans

Here is some old but good news for veterans of modest means who were in service during wartime and need medical and nursing care.

On Dec. 19, 2006, then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson issued a press release "to inform wartime veterans and surviving spouses of deceased wartime veterans about an underused, special monthly pension benefit called 'Aid and Attendance.'"

The press release stated, "Although this is not a new program, not everyone is aware of his or her potential eligibility. The Aid and Attendance pension benefit may be available to wartime veterans and surviving spouses who have in-home care or who live in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities."

Eligible veterans need not have served overseas or in combat; they must have served during the period of a war: World War II, Dec. 7, 1941-Dec. 31, 1946; Korea, June 27, 1950-Jan. 31, 1955; Vietnam, Aug. 5, 1964-May 7, 1975; Persian Gulf War, Aug. 2, 1990 to a date not yet determined.

The press release got little notice, perhaps because Veterans Affairs wanted to save money. But it has surfaced among veterans and elder lawyers such as Frank L. Buquicchio of Islandia, who is accredited by the VA to give advice to and represent veterans.

The head of his law firm, Vincent Russo, said that, other than the press release, the VA had chosen not to publicize this benefit. But, he added, "It can be a lifesaver for veterans and their spouses because the additional monthly payment from the VA can make assisted living more affordable."

As word of the benefit got around, elder law firms throughout the country became active in pursuing the benefit for clients.

Buquicchio noted that, under federal law "no one, not even attorneys, can charge veterans for the pension application."

Aid and Attendance, he told me, is meant "for the veteran or surviving spouse who have unreimbursed medical expenses. (The cost of health insurance is considered a nonreimbursed medical expense.) It is most ideally suited for someone who needs assistance at home and is paying for an aide or is in assisted living. Assisted-living charges are considered by the VA as a medical expense." Assisted living is not supported by Medicaid.

You may learn more by calling Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000, or by visiting its Web site at Click on "What are Aid and Attendance and Homebound benefits? How do I apply." You also may get help from a veterans' service organization.