The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has finalized rules that were originally proposed in 2015 that will make it more difficult to qualify for VA pension benefits known as Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits. These new rules will change how much an applicant can own and how much an applicant can give away and qualify for benefits by establishing an asset limit, a look-back period, and asset transfer penalties for claimants applying for VA pension benefits that require a showing of financial need.
The VA offers Aid and Attendance as cash payments to low-income veterans (or their spouses) who are in nursing homes or who need help at home with everyday tasks like dressing or bathing.
Currently, to be eligible for Aid and Attendance, a veteran (or the veteran’s surviving spouse) must meet certain income and asset limits. The asset limits aren’t specified, but $80,000 is the amount an applicant is usually allowed to keep. However, unlike with the Medicaid program, there historically have been no penalties if an applicant gives away assets at any time before applying. That is, before now you could transfer assets over $80,000 before applying for benefits, and the transfers would not affect eligibility.
Not so anymore. The new regulations will resemble, to some extent, the existing Medicaid regulations in that the new VA rules set a net worth limit of $123,600, and applicants will be penalized for giving away property within three years of application. This net worth limit of $123,600 will include both the applicant’s countable (non-excluded) assets and his or her income, and net worth will be indexed to inflation in the same way that Social Security increases.
The net worth limit is calculated after first deducting property that will be excluded. Excluded property includes an applicant’s house (up to a two-acre lot and additional acreage if it is not marketable), and it will not count as an asset even if the applicant is currently living in a nursing home. Other exclusions from net worth include payment for medical care from their income, including the payments to assisted living facilities.
The regulations also establish a three-year look-back provision. Applicants will have to disclose all financial transactions they were involved in for three years before the application (similar to the Medicaid five year look-back). Applicants who transferred assets to put themselves below the net worth limit within three years of applying for benefits will be subject to a penalty period that can last as long as five years. This penalty is a period of time during which the person who transferred assets will not be eligible for VA benefits. There are exceptions to the penalty period for fraudulent transfers and for transfers to a trust for a child who is unable to provide “self-support.”
Under the new rules, the VA will determine a penalty period in months by dividing the amount transferred that would have put the applicant over the net worth limit by the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) for a veteran with one dependent in need of aid and attendance. In 2018 that amount is $2169.67.
For example, assume the net worth limit is $123,600 and an applicant has a net worth of $115,000. The applicant transferred $30,000 to a friend during the look-back period. If the applicant had not transferred the $30,000, his net worth would have been $145,000, which exceeds the net worth limit by $21,400. The penalty period will be calculated based on $21,400, the amount the applicant transferred that put his assets over the net worth limit (145,000-123,600). The transfer subject to penalty would be divided by the 2018 MAPR of $2169.67, resulting in a 9.86 month penalty ($21,400 divided by $2169.67 = 9.86). The penalty begins to run on the first day of the month following the month of transfer.
The new rules go into effect on October 18, 2018. The VA will disregard asset transfers made before that date.
The new regulations may be read at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/09/18/2018-19895/net-worth-asset-transfers-and-income-exclusions-for-needs-based-benefits