Wreaths Across America Looking to Honor More Veterans

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Hundreds of volunteers gathered at Arlington to place more than five thousand donated Christmas wreaths on headstones in the cemetery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year, Wreaths Across America (WAA) places a wreath on the grave of veterans throughout all fifty states. The organization, based in Maine, spends the whole year raising funds and rallying volunteers, culminating in a weeklong commemoration each December.

The effort first began 22 years ago, originally focused solely within Arlington National Cemetery. Now it stretches nationwide. But this year, the folks at WAA are hoping to do what they’ve never done before: place a wreath on every single veteran gravestone in Arlington.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. According to The Washington Times, the whole project would add up to nearly a quarter-million wreaths, coinciding with the 150th Anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery.

Unfortunately, their chances of success are uncertain. Currently, according to the Times, they’re projecting to fall just short of their goal unless last-minute donations spike.

Efforts are underway all around the country to push WAA over their finish lines, both in Arlington and at memorial sites around the nation, including right here in Massachusetts.

Whether the group ultimately covers every grave or even just manages to get close, the sincerity and gratitude in their efforts is incredibly touching.

It’s wonderful to see veterans honored during a time of year when their families may be hurting the most — and when many of these veterans made enormous sacrifices in spending time away from their families during the holidays.

Those interested in supporting Wreaths Across America this year can learn more or make a donation at //www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Veterans Affairs Looking for Many Thousands of New Hires

The past year has been a tough one for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as for the people it serves. The organization was rocked by scandal after the revelation that many veterans languished in poor health on incredibly lengthy waiting lists.

Now, the V.A. is responding.

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The New York Times reports that new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald wants to hire “tens of thousands of new doctors, new nurses, [and] new clinicians.” Many have blamed the waitlist scandal on the agency’s short-staffed employment numbers.

But is McDonald’s proposal practical? He himself admitted that he’s concerned about whether the V.A. can actually recruit and hire that many talented people.

Of course, a larger employee roster will not by itself solve all of the Department’s problems. Accordingly, as the Times reports, McDonald also proposed the following:

  • Flattening the V.A.’s hierarchical structure
  • Eliminating potential incentives for misrepresenting wait-time data
  • Fostering a new departmental culture in order to encourage constructive criticism and dissent
  • Taking additional steps to make it easier for veterans to access care (the details for which are reportedly forthcoming)

It is encouraging to see Veterans Affairs acting aggressively to address some very concerning problems. But as is often the case with the government, what is proposed may not translate to what is achieved. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, however, the Department’s existing policies and procedures are having a very real impact on real people — right now, today. They need our help.

If you or a loved one is concerned about veterans benefits or other V.A.-related legal issues, please feel free to contact my office today.

New Hope for Veterans Discharged Because of PTSD

Previous generations didn’t understand post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as we do today. Unfortunately, that led to many Vietnam-era veterans receiving an other-than-honorable discharge. And for decades, thousands of those people have been denied essential veterans benefits.

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That’s all changing now, though, thanks to new guidelines handed down by the U.S. Department of Defense last month. As The New York Times reports, the new rules mark the first time that military review boards are being instructed to consider the role PTSD may have played in the initial discharge.

Advocates for veterans benefits point out that PTSD has a profound influence on behavior and may have been responsible for instances of misconduct that led to the less-than-honorable discharges.

The Defense Department’s new ruling comes on the heels of a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The suit — which will go forward despite the new guidelines — argues that military boards routinely denied benefits to veterans who suffered from PTSD. VVA estimates that 250,000 Vietnam vets were discharged other than honorably, and as many as 80,000 of those had PTSD.

If you were discharged less than honorably from the military and are suffering from a denial of benefits because of it, a Massachusetts veterans benefits attorney can help you understand these latest developments in the law.

What Is “Aid and Attendance” and How To Qualify

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“Aid and Attendance” is a special pension benefit available to Veterans and their spouses to help pay for the cost of medical care. If the Veteran qualifies, they are entitled to receive a monthly check from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The VA itself has said that the Aid and Attendance Pension is an underutilized benefit, and that less than 10% of eligible veterans are currently taking advantage of the funds available to them.

Maximum Aid and Attendance Benefit for 2017:

Applicant Status/Maximum Benefit (2017)
Married: $2,127.00
Single: $1,794.00
Widow: $1,153.00

Qualifying for Aid and Attendance

There are several areas in which the Veteran must be found qualified.

1. War Time Service:

  • 90 consecutive days on active duty military service;
  • Better than a Dishonorable Discharge
  • Served at least one day of active duty during a war period. There is no requirement that this was in a combat zone.

2. Medically Qualified:

  • The Claimant must be certified by a doctor as needing assistance with activities of daily living (e.g. bathing, dressing, cooking, walking).

3. Financially Qualified:

  • Net Worth: There is no exact amount of assets that will automatically qualify or disqualify a Veteran. It used to be that if a married Veteran had less than $80,000.00 of Allowed Countable Assets, the VA would generally award Aid and Attendance. The amount now appears to be much lower, and is subject to the discretion of the VA. The VA itself defines what is countable for calculating net worth as: “such assets as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and any property other than the veteran’s residence and a reasonable lot area.”
  • Income: The Adjusted Household Income must be less than the Aid and Attendance Benefit. Adjusted Household Income is determined by subtracting unreimbursed medical expenses (UMEs) from gross income.

A very simple example of how medical expenses can reduce household income: John, a Korean War veteran, and his wife Mary have total gross monthly income (social security, pension) of $4,051.00, and they have less than $40,000.00 of assets. Because of John’s health, they want to move to an Assisted Living Facility. The facility costs $6,000.00 per month.

Gross Income: $4,051.00
UMEs -$6,000.00 (other UMEs may also be added)
($1,949.00) Monthly shortfall
Since John and Mary’s UMEs are greater than their income, it is likely that they will qualify for A&A.

VA Aid and Attendance vs. Medicaid

Aid and Attendance is a special pension offered by the VA that helps Veterans pay for the cost of their medical care. A&A is intended to preserve and extend a Veteran’s assets by reducing their amount of out-of-pocket payments. Medicaid, on the other hand, pays for the entire cost of nursing home care after the applicant’s income has been given to the nursing home.

Currently, the VA does not have any look-back rules that restrict gifting of assets to reduce net worth, however, in 2016 the VA proposed enforcing a look-back period. The VA has not yet released the final rules on this proposal. Medicaid imposes a penalty for any assets that were given away within 60 months of applying for benefits. [WARNING: even though the VA currently allows gifting, there may be other consequences to gifting assets. Please do not transfer any asset until you consult with your attorney or tax advisor.]

Aid and Attendance is a pension benefit, and when the claimant dies, the benefit simply stops – there is no estate recovery or payback required. Medicaid, by law, must attempt to recover any amount paid on behalf of the applicant from their estate. On a practical note, since the applicant may have only $2,000.00 in order to qualify for Medicaid in the first place, there is generally nothing remaining that will ever need to be paid to Medicaid.

If a person receiving A&A moves to a nursing home, and is approved for Medicaid, the monthly benefit is reduced to $90.00 a month. Medicaid, however, does not consider this “income” to the applicant, so the $90.00 does not have to be paid to the nursing home.

A&A is a benefit that is often overlooked, and in many cases allows a Veteran and/or their spouse to remain living in an Assisted Living Facility when their assets would otherwise be depleted.

More information on Aid and Attendance:Veterans Pension Program

Eligible War Time Periods