Veteran benefits going unclaimed

January 10, 2011 11:33:13 AM PST
Millions of dollars of veterans' benefits are going unclaimed because they don't know it exists. The Veterans' Aid and Attendance is a program some call the VA's best kept secret.

Archie and Doris Ichida fell in love when Archie was a World War II serviceman.

"On his leave he used to come over and we used to go out dancing. Those were the days," says Doris.

For 60 years they made their home in Hawaii, but as it does for all of us, old age caught up with them, and it became necessary to move to an assisted living facility near their children. It put a financial burden on them and their daughters.

But the burden was lifted when their daughter, by chance, spotted an article in the paper about Veterans' Aid and Attendance.

"A couple would be able to receive about $1,800 dollars a month, which is a big chunk of money to offset their costs at an assisted living facility," says daughter Debbie Uchida.

Aid and Attendance is a little known VA benefit that can pay for up to $1,800 dollars a month of assistance for veterans, and the spouses of deceased veterans, who are unable to take care of themselves. The money pays for in-home help, nursing care and can even help with the activities of daily life. It can provide up to $20,000 dollars toward the cost of assisted living facilities.

This government benefit can truly be a financial lifeline, but accessing it can be very challenging. Those who apply for Veterans' Aid and Attendance should expect to run the gauntlet of red tape and misinformation.

"If you're going to walk in the door to do it yourself, good luck, I'll see you in two years," says consultant Debbie Beckert.

Beckert says billions of dollars go unclaimed due to the difficulty of filling out the paperwork, tracking it through the bureaucracy of the VA, and lack of publicity.

"If you served in a time of war, [whether] you saw action or not, if you served during a time of war for 90 days and you have an honorable discharge, then you are eligible for this benefit and people don't know about this because the VA has never made it clear," says Beckert.

Low-income veterans and the spouses of deceased veterans are eligible. Unlike Medi-Cal, you don't have to go broke to qualify.

For the Uchida's, the $1,800 dollars a month they get from Veterans' Aid and Attendance has been an enormous relief, providing a financial cushion as they navigate the shoals of old age together.

"It was the perfect thing. It was exactly what they needed and we could definitely use the help financially to take care of them and make them comfortable for the rest of their lives," says daughter Debbie Uchida.