The Cost of Caring for Our Veterans
As veterans age, many require long-term care services and support. From assisted living facilities to in-home health aides, the costs can quickly add up. For many veterans and their families, paying for this level of care is simply unaffordable without financial assistance. Fortunately, there are programs available that can help cover these expenses for those who served our country. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the various options veterans have when it comes to funding long-term care.
Understanding Long-Term Care for Veterans
Before diving into payment options, it’s important to understand what long-term care encompasses. Long-term care refers to supportive services for those unable to perform basic activities of daily living – like dressing, bathing, and eating – due to illness, disability, or aging challenges. This type of supervised care can be provided in various settings depending on one’s needs and preferences. These include:
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Assisted living communities
- Adult day care programs
- In-home health aides
In addition to hands-on assistance, long-term care also includes medical monitoring and management. So whether specific medical oversight is needed or simply help with daily self-care, long-term care aims to provide supportive services to enhance one’s quality of life.
The Potential Costs
Unfortunately long-term care can come with quite a hefty price tag. The average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is over $7,000 per month. For private rooms, it jumps to nearly $8,000. Assisted living facilities average approximately $4,000 per month. And 10 hours per week of in-home health aiding can easily cost $480 or more.
It’s easy to see why so many veterans and their families worry about covering these astronomical costs. With around 9 million veterans over the age of 65 nationwide, this is an all-too-common concern. Planning ahead is crucial when it comes to being able to fund later-in-life care needs.
Key Options for Veterans
The good news is that veterans do have specialized options when it comes to funding long-term care. From VA benefits to state veterans homes to long-term care insurance, various programs exist to help make this level of care affordable for aging veterans.
VA Pension Benefit
Some wartime veterans or their surviving spouses qualify for the VA’s pension benefit, which provides tax-free monthly payments to help cover care costs. Eligibility requirements include:
- Served at least 90 days of active duty with at least one day during a wartime period
- Have limited or modest income
- Require assistance with activities of daily living
- Have not been dishonorably discharged
It’s important veterans understand all the ins and outs of securing this needs-based pension benefit for long-term care funding assistance. Consulting with an advisor can simplify the process.
VA Aid and Attendance
In addition to the basic VA pension, Aid and Attendance provides supplements for veterans and spouses who require additional assistance. Qualifiers must meet similar eligibility criteria as the basic pension. But Aid and Attendance can provide up to thousands more per month. This increased benefit aims to help offset long-term care costs.
State Veterans Homes
Nearly every state offers skilled nursing facilities specifically for aging veterans. State veterans homes focus on providing compassionate, veteran-centric care in a comfortable environment. And they’re often more affordable than private sector nursing homes. The VA subsidizes a portion of the cost to make these facilities accessible to eligible veterans.
Long-Term Care Insurance
Some veterans opt to purchase long-term care insurance policies in advance to fund later-in-life care needs. Ideally, veterans would secure this type of coverage while still relatively young and healthy. Locking in a policy early helps keep premium costs down. And it safeguards access to coverage despite future health changes. Not all insurers cover pre-existing conditions. So having coverage already in place is key.
Life Insurance Alternatives
Certain life insurance products also include opportunities to fund long-term care expenses. Some policies allow access to death benefit funds while living in order to pay for care costs. Veterans work with advisors to properly set up this type of policy well in advance of when coverage will be needed.
Home Equity Conversion
Converting home equity into cash is another route veterans can take to pay future care expenses. Options like reverse mortgages allow homeowners to access equity without needing to sell. Funds from these products can help cover in-home care costs as well as assisted living rent payments when needed.
Key Planning Tips
With all these options on the table, veterans still need to do their due diligence when mapping out a long-term care funding strategy. No two situations are alike. So it’s critical veterans understand their specific circumstances and priorities before deciding which direction to go.
Here are some key tips:
- Take advantage of free VA benefits counseling to understand what coverage you may qualify for
- Compare on-site care facilities in your local area in terms of pricing, veteran support services offered, ratings, and more
- Consult a financial advisor to weigh pros and cons of various insurance products and how they work
- Work with elder law attorneys to appropriately set up health care directives, power of attorneys, wills, trusts, and asset protection early on
The more veterans plan ahead, the greater ability they’ll have to secure affordable, quality care down the road after retirement.
Paying for Care: Breaking Down the Numbers
While originally government benefits covered the majority of long-term care costs for veterans, over time private pay responsibilities have increased. Here’s a snapshot of the breakdown based on MetLife Mature Market Institute research:
- Total long-term care spending in 2010 for veterans: $4.8 billion
- Government contribution: $2.7 billion or 57%
- Private pay (out-of-pocket): $2 billion or 43%
And MedPac projections show the private pay share increasing to 50% by 2022. So veterans need to carefully prepare for covering higher proportions of their care expenses.
Why Long-Term Care Matters To Veterans
Given the rising expenses, some may rightly wonder why long-term care even matters if the costs are so prohibitive. But the reality is that investing in these supportive services has profound positive impacts—for veterans as well as family members.
In terms of veterans specifically, long-term care helps:
- Maintain comfort, dignity, and quality of life
- Enable aging in place rather than only having nursing home options
- Provide specialized care for service-related disabilities (PTSD, dementia, etc.)
- Foster community rather than isolation
- Preserve a sense of purpose with engaging programming and activities
Then for family members and friends, long-term care supports help:
- Minimize stressful caregiving demands at home
- Allow loved ones to simply enjoy time together rather than constantly working
- Maintain family member health by preventing caregiver burnout
- Balance care needs with households’ other priorities like childrearing
Ultimately with the right funding strategies in place, veterans can access supportive services that make daily life enjoyable. Their loved ones can rest easy knowing all care needs are fully covered. And both groups can focus simply on appreciating time together regardless of physical or cognitive difficulties needing assistance.
Taking Action To Help Veterans
As America’s aging veterans population continues expanding, understanding long-term care funding options will remain critically important. Veterans owed it to themselves and their families to thoroughly research what benefits they qualify for. No veteran should have to go without proper care they’ve rightfully earned after serving our country. Whether it’s using VA benefits, insurance coverage, home equity, or other tools, veterans need to put plans in place well before care is necessary.
Working with financial advisors and elder law attorneys can help simplify this process so veterans don’t have to navigate it alone. Together veterans and their support teams can pinpoint optimal solutions based on each veteran’s unique circumstances. They say it takes a village – this is especially true when planning for long-term care later in retirement. With the right guidance and funding sources secured early on, veterans can access top-notch care with confidence.
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