A Guide to Veterans’ Benefits
Reviewed by: Kristi Bickmann, Long-Term Care Insurance Licensed Specialist
Date Published: December 11, 2023
Veterans’ benefits honor the brave men and women who served our country by providing them with health care, housing, and financial support. If you’re a veteran, there are many resources available to you, including some specific to older adults and those in need of long-term care. But, navigating these benefits can be confusing.
We wrote the below article to help you make sure you’re getting the most out of your VA benefits. You’ll learn about the different types of benefits offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), eligibility requirements, how to apply for benefits, and how to use them to help pay for or access senior care. You’ll also find a directory of resources you can follow up with for more information or help with your benefits.
Types of VA Benefits
The VA provides comprehensive benefits to over 9 million veterans, including health care, financial aid, and transition assistance for adapting to civilian life. These programs offer essential support for housing, mental health, and counseling needs.
Aid & Attendance and Housebound Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs oversees two important programs that provide housing assistance to senior veterans: Aid and Attendance (A&A) and Housebound.
The A&A program supports senior veterans who require assistance with their daily tasks by offering an extra pension they can use towards their care, such as hiring a caregiver. This program is also available to veterans who are bedridden, have limited vision or reside in nursing homes.
The Housebound program is for veterans who are permanently disabled and unable to leave their homes, regardless of whether their disability is service-related. Like A&A, it provides an increased monthly pension that you can then use to pay for your needed care services.
VA Health Insurance
The VA Health Benefits include basic medical care, preventive and wellness services, immunizations, genetic disease counseling, and inpatient hospital services. Depending on the circumstances, dental and other specialized care options may also be covered.
The VA Health Care for Elderly Veterans program provides specialized care for veterans with complex long-term healthcare needs, including those who have chronic illnesses. A key component of this program is the Geriatrics and Extended Care program, which offers a variety of care services to meet the needs of older veterans, including home care services, residential care, mental health services and more.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
SGLIV/VGLI is a life insurance program designed for members of the U.S. military and veterans, providing group-term life insurance coverage of up to $500,000. Eligible servicemembers are automatically enrolled in SGLI, and veterans can enroll in VGLI for up to 1 year and 6 months following their discharge for the same amount of coverage they had under SGLI.
In addition to the benefits paid directly to a veteran, the VA offers the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) for spouses and qualifying children of some veterans with disabilities or who have passed away. CHAMPVA offers cost-sharing for some medical services and supplies, including prescription medications, skilled nursing care and mental health services.
Eligibility for VA Benefits
Each VA benefit program has its own eligibility requirements. Universally, however, if you were dishonorably discharged, you lose your right to claim veterans’ benefits.
Some veterans also must complete a minimum time in the service to qualify for health benefits.
- If you enlisted or served before September 7, 1980, there is no minimum duty requirement.
- If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, or entered active duty after October 16, 1981, you must have served 24 continuous months or your full active duty period to qualify.
- If you were discharged for a service-related disability or took an early out for a hardship, the minimum duty requirement does not apply.
These are the eligibility requirements for general VA health care. If you need help paying for long-term care or care in your home, you’ll face additional eligibility criteria to qualify for A&A or Housebound services.
A&A and Housebound Eligibility
For Housebound benefits, you must have a health need or permanent disability that requires you to spend most of your time at your residence (including your personal home, a nursing home, or an assisted living community).
To qualify for Aid & Attendance, you must meet one or more of the following conditions:
- Need help with the activities of daily living, like bathing or dressing, or
- Need to stay in bed for a large part of the day due to their illness, or
- Be a patient in a nursing home because of their physical or mental health need, or
- Have eyesight that is 5/200 or less in both eyes, even with corrective lenses
A&A and Housebound Wait Times
Both A&A and Housebound can have long wait times for approval. It’s vital that you apply as soon as you think you’re eligible based on medical need. However, the benefits are retroactive, which means you will get paid for the time you were waiting if you’re approved.
If you’re the surviving spouse or child of a veteran who has died or has disabilities, you may be eligible for CHAMPVA.
To qualify for CHAMPVA, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- Be the spouse or child of a veteran who has a permanent, total disability resulting from a service-related issue
- Be the spouse or child of a veteran who has died due to a service-related disability
- Be the child or spouse of a veteran who was permanently and totally disabled at the time of their death
- Be the child or spouse of a soldier who died in the line of duty, provided you do not qualify for TRICARE
This program is not offered to those who qualify for TRICARE.
Priority Groups for Eligibility
The VA health care program assigns priority groups to ensure that those who need care the most urgently can get it quickly. This is often due to low income or a serious disability level.
The VA currently has eight priority groups. Some factors that can impact your priority group assignment as a veteran include:
- Honors received for your service: Those with Purple Heart medals or Medal of Honor recipients are placed higher than those without.
- Disabilities connected to service: Service-related disabilities increase the priority level for a veteran, and disabilities that led to discharge also impact eligibility.
- Disability and Housebound status: Veterans who are unable to leave the house to receive priority over those that can.
- Medicaid and VA pension benefits status: If you qualify for Medicaid or VA pension benefits, it will impact your priority group.
Once you receive your priority group, it will determine how quickly you get health care benefits. It will also impact how much you pay towards your health care (if you’re required to pay anything at all).
The lower your priority group number, the less you will pay for medical care once your health care benefits get approval.
- Priority groups 1 through 5 pay nothing for their first three urgent care visits a year, then a $30 copay for each visit afterward.
- Groups 6 through 8, the cost for all visits is $30.
Applying for Veterans’ Benefits
If you believe that you qualify for veterans’ benefits for health care and long-term care needs, you need to gather some documents to start the application process. The VA recommends gathering:
- Social Security numbers for anyone who will be covered, including the veteran and dependents
- Military discharge papers
- Insurance information for any coverage you have
- Gross household income from your previous year’s tax return
- Deductible expenses for the previous year’s tax return
There are several different ways you can apply, described below:
- Apply Over the Phone: Call (877) 222-8387 on a weekday between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm Eastern time to do so.
- Apply Via Mail: Use VA Form 10-10EZ. Fill out the form and sign it appropriately, then mail it to Health Eligibility Center, 2957 Clairmont Road, Suite 200, Atlanta, GA 30329.
- Apply In Person: To apply in person, simply fill out the same form and drop it off at a VA medical center or clinic.
- Get Professional Help to Apply: Find an accredited representative through the eBenefits website. Search by your ZIP code or locate a VA-recognized organization in your area. These professionals offer free assistance to veterans and their families.
Using VA Benefits for Senior Care
VA benefits certainly have their limitations when it comes to senior care. Basic VA health care does not cover the cost of assisted living or in-home care, but other VA programs can help you pay for these services. Specifically, the Homebound and Aid and Attendance programs offer financial assistance that can make long-term care more affordable for veterans and their families.
How to Use Aid & Attendance and Housebound Benefits to Pay for Long-Term Care
A&A and Housebound benefits are an additional pension amount paid to veterans who have long-term care needs due to disability or age, or who are confined to their homes due to a disability.
Eligible individuals receive an additional monthly pension that they can use to pay for long-term expenses, but A&A and Housebound don’t directly pay for assisted living or in-home care.
Where Senior Veterans Can Get Help Using Their Benefits
You can get more advice and personalized assistance accessing long-term care by calling one of our skilled Advisors at (800) 973-1540. They will assist you in finding a suitable senior living community and guide you in understanding and effectively using your benefits to cover care costs, all at no cost to you.
Additionally, the below resources are available to help you navigate VA benefits.
How It Helps
The VA has a special department for elderly veterans. It helps them find the benefits that are the most valuable to them. Veterans can access these through the VA website or their local VA office or clinic.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has Accredited Representatives who help veterans understand their benefit options. These trained individuals can also help with benefit claims or applications for benefits.
This website helps seniors who need long-term care support find resources to help pay for them, especially through Medicare. Veterans can learn more about care options and non-VA payment options through this resource.
Many veterans are not utilizing all of the benefits available to them, both through the VA and through other resources. The Benefits CheckUp helps them find and maximize those benefits, so they are getting all they can possibly receive to help pay for long-term care and other medical needs.
Military OneSource provides caregivers of elderly veterans access to eldercare resources. Caregivers can call an elder care consultant or browse benefit options online to learn more about resources available to their elderly loved ones.