Local attorney speaks to Ingham Bar Association about available veteran's benefits

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

There are "tons and tons of Veterans' Benefits," said Amy Tripp, speaker on the subject at a recent ICBA Probate Section meeting.

Although veterans benefits for the service person and their families include health, dental and pharmacy care, cash, life insurance and burial benefits, Tripp focused on the cash benefit for discussion.

A veteran is a person who served in the active military, naval or air service and was released with an honorable discharge.

Tripp noted that "some benefits require active duty and service during a period of conflict and some do not require that. And there are the reservists who may not be entitled to certain benefits unless they were called up into active duty during different periods of conflict."

Tripp recommends that even where the clients don't need a service of the VA Health Care System that "they sign up. It locks them in to the benefits available when they register.

There are two Michigan Veteran's Facilities--the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and the DJ Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.

Both sites provide residential and later health care programs for veterans who can't care for themselves.

Eligibility requirements for the homes are:

* Served in armed forces at least 90 days during wartime

* Spouses and parents of veterans also may be admitted.

"The cash benefit is contingent upon active duty in times of conflict," Tripp said. Cash benefits are of two types. The first is compensation for service-related disability. "The veteran can be 10 percent to 100 percent disabled. When they reach 70% long term care is paid for," Tripp said. "If I have a client who hasn't been reviewed in a number of years or whose disability has increased, it is probably time for a reevaluation."

"A Pension benefit such is Aid and Attendance are for non-service related disability--in other words, the veteran was not hurt or injured while in service. This is a means or asset tested category."

Aid and Attendance is a pension that any veteran with a low income who has served 90 consecutive days of active duty with at least 1 day during a period of conflict can claim. In situations where they have more medical needs, those costs can be deducted from their income and they then meet the low-income test.

The benefit is available to the veteran and their spouse--"there are times when the claimant, the veteran, is the healthy one. The person must need the assistance of another person to perform activities of daily living."

"The VA does not have hard numbers for eligibility," she said. "The VA evaluates whether or not the claimant has enough financial resources to sufficiently meet the claimant's needs without the assistance from the VA. The basic formula includes 1) Total countable assets 2) monthly income less medical expenses and 3) life expectancy. Eligibility is different in every situation."

Tripp noted that the home and a reasonable amount of the land it sits on, vehicles and personal property are excluded. "Jointly owned assets are included only to the extent of the claimant's interest. If a child is added to the asset, the value of the asset is reduced."

"Medical expenses need to be paid by the claimant to be included," she cautioned. This means, "if the children are paying for the caregiver, they should stop and pay for the utilities and take the cost of the caregiver out of the claimants income. There are many nuances to the process and often it is how it is reported that matters."

In order to help a veteran with the preparation, presentation or prosecution of a claim or pension, that individual must be accredited.

"If you help without being accredited, you could lose your license. The Institute of Continuing Legal Education provides a three-hour training course. Lawyers don't have to take the accreditation test, while others do," she said.

"A person cannot charge a fee to help a veteran apply for veteran's benefits," she said. "Our office takes the opinion that we don't work in a box. We explain that our lawyers meet with the clients to discuss long term care over-all, which includes document review, estate planning, Powers of Attorney, Medicaid and veteran's benefits. If I am assisting with the actual application I don't charge for that."

"I send our clients to the VA office to process the application," she concluded.

Amy Tripp, with Chalgian and Tripp, is an Elder Law expert, and is now devoted to planning for persons with special needs, including the drafting and administration of trusts.

She is frequently invited to speak to other professionals and community groups about special needs planning and elder law.

September 20th is the next scheduled meeting of the ICBA Probate Section. Please forward ideas for speakers to the co-chairs, Ryan Wilson (RWils@ fraserlawfirm.com) and Micki Pasteur (mpasteur@borpc.com).

Periods of Conflict:

WWII: December 7, 1941--July 25, 1947

Korean War: June 27, 1950--January 31, 1955

Vietnam: August 5, 1964--May7, 1975

Published: Mon, May 30, 2011