Are You Prepared For Incapacity?

Written by Evan Farr

What would happen if you were in an accident, or had a stroke, or for another reason you suddenly became incapacitated or comatose, and were unable to make decisions for yourself? It is difficult to think about, but if this happens, some people want to be kept alive at all costs; while others would prefer to end all measures for resuscitation. However, less than a third of the population has completed Incapacity Planning documents, so for nearly 70% of Americans, family members have to make this important decision on their behalf. This often leads to wishes not being met, and more stress and grief for loved ones.

Why don’t people plan for incapacity? Reasons often range from a natural tendency to procrastinate, the preconception that it is a costly and complex process; and sometimes even the superstitious feeling that if you don’t ask for it, it won’t occur. Another common belief is that if we become unable to make decisions for ourselves, our family will decide what is best for us. All of these reasons can lead to difficult and emotionally charged situations if you or a loved one becomes incapacitated, which could easily be avoided with proper Incapacity Planning.

To begin the Incapacity Planning process, seniors should sit down with their family members to openly discuss their needs and the roles of loved ones in assuring those needs are met. Important topics of discussion for families should include transitioning to long-term care, caregiver roles, financial considerations, and incapacity wishes. Because of the difficulty of such topics, many families don’t have the conversation until it is too late. For more details on how to broach this conversation with a loved one, please read our blog post on the topic.

Once this important conversation occurs, and important decisions are discussed, it is important to work with a qualified elder law attorney (preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney) to ensure that the Incapacity Planning documents listed below are in place. Doing so is the best way to ensure that your wishes are met should you become unable to make important decisions for yourself.

  • Advance Medical Directive. An Advance Medical Directive communicates your desires to your physicians and family members regarding all forms of medical treatment, and may be used to instruct your physician to withhold or implement specific life-prolonging procedures if at any time you are diagnosed as having a terminal condition and your physicians have concluded that there is no chance of recovery. Without this document, families could have serious disagreements, or someone who doesn’t share the individual’s values may be making the decisions.  Our firm includes within this document a proprietary Long-Term Care Directive, which discusses numerous issues with regard to long-term care should you ever find yourself in need of long-term care at home, or in assisted living, or in a nursing home.
  • Financial Power of Attorney. When you give someone Financial Power of Attorney, you are giving that person the right to access all or portions of your finances. The document typically goes into effect immediately after it is signed, but it intended to be used by your Agent only when needed. This person would also be in charge of your finances if you become incapacitated. Failing to procure this document can result in a costly legal battle for your family in which a court will select a guardian. In addition, having a Financial Power of Attorney avoids the “nightmare of living probate” — the time consuming, expensive, and publicly embarrassing process whereby someone has to go to court to have you declared mentally or physically incompetent and then one or more persons need to be appointed to serve as your legal guardian and/or conservator, which process is subject to ongoing court supervision.
  • Revocable Living Trust: A Revocable Living Trust (RLT) generally provides for the creator of the trust (and, if applicable, the creator’s spouse) to have full use of the trust income and principal for life. A major benefit of an RLT is avoiding the costly and public probate process. A RLT also offers protection from incapacity by providing uninterrupted management of your assets by your trustee and sparing you and your family the potential publicity and expense of a court-appointed guardianship.

To ensure your wishes are met, it is important to start your planning while your mind is still sharp and your judgment is sound, so you are prepared in advance if a crisis occurs. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for an introductory consultation.

Heartbleed Bug: How to Protect Yourself

Written by Evan Farr

Certain websites, including Yahoo, USMagazine.com, Pinterest, among others, were recently exposed to a major security bug called Heartbleed. The bug has the potential to expose private information to cybercriminals, including passwords and access to credit card information that users enter into websites, applications, email, and even instant messaging services.

Heartbleed could be one of the biggest security threats the Internet has ever seen. If you have logged into any of the affected sites over the past two years, your account information could be compromised. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself, such as:

  • Check whether the sites you use are affected. If you don’t want to read through the long list of websites with the security flaw, the password security firm LastPass has set up a Heartbleed Checker, which lets you enter the URL of any website to check its vulnerability to the bug and if the site has issued a patch. You can also access a quick list of popular websites and whether they were affected on Mashable.com.
  • Change your passwords for major accounts, including email, banking and social media logins, on sites that were affected by Heartbleed but patched the problem. However, if the site or service hasn’t patched the flaw yet, there’s no point to changing your password until they have done so, so be sure to wait for notice or check with the company.
  • When choosing a password, don’t choose one that is obviously associated with you, such as your pet’s name. Don’t use words that appear in a dictionary, because as incredible as it seems, hackers can calculate the encrypted forms of whole dictionaries and easily reverse engineer your password. It is best to choose different passwords for different sites that include a mixture of unusual characters or a phrase that you can easily remember, where you substitute numbers and characters for letters

For more details about Heartbleed, visit http://heartbleed.com/, the official page covering the bug.

As you can see, changing your passwords is one way to protect your digital accounts while you are alive. However, what happens when your loved ones need access to your online services when you are deceased? One way to protect digital accounts would be specifying digital assets in your estate planning documents and specifically giving control over these digital assets to your executor or trustee, who could then take over upon your death.  An easier way is to store all of your digital user names and passwords in a secure password safe, such as keepass or lastpass and give your executor/trustee the password and location of the password safe or the means to locate your master password, such as by writing down your master password and putting it in an envelope in your safe deposit box. Read more about this on our blog post about digital assets.

If you don’t have Estate Planning, Incapacity Planning, or Long Term Care Planning in place, now is the time to get started.  Call us today in Fairfax at 703-691-1888 or in Fredericksburg at 540-479-1435 to set up an appointment for an introductory consultation.

 

Changes Make Reverse Mortgages Harder to Get

Written by Evan Farr

Last October, the President signed HR 2167 – “The Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013”. As a result, changes have been made to make it harder to qualify for a reverse mortgage.

To be eligible for a reverse mortgage you must be at least 62 years old, own your own home (or owe a relatively small balance) and currently be living there. You also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to make all the necessary tax and insurance payments over the projected life of the loan.  Below are some of the changes that have recently occurred:

  • Increased Lender Scrutiny: Now, lenders will look at your sources of income, assets, and credit history. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and still have enough cash left to live on, you will be denied.
  • Only HECM Reverse Mortgages Are Insured: Currently, the only reverse mortgage insured by the U.S. Federal Government is called a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or HECM, and is only available through an FHA approved lender.
  • Enhanced Qualification Criteria: The amount you can get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age, your home’s value, and the prevailing interest rates. Generally, the older you are, the more your house is worth, and the lower the interest rates are, the more you can borrow. To calculate how much you can borrow, visit reversemortgage.org.
  • Additional Fees: Reverse mortgages currently have a number of up-front fees including a 2% lender origination fee for the first $200,000 of the home’s value and 1% of the remaining value, with a cap of $6,000; a 0.5% initial mortgage insurance premium fee; along with an appraisal fee, closing costs and other miscellaneous expenses. In addition, you’ll also have to pay an annual mortgage insurance premium of 1.25% of the loan amount. Most fees can be deducted for the loan amount to reduce your out-of-pocket costs at closing.
  • More Ways to Receive Funds: You can receive the money in a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination. In most cases, however, you cannot withdraw more than 60% of the loan value during the first year. If you do, you’ll pay a 2.5% upfront insurance premium fee.
  • Counseling Requirement: All borrowers are required to get face-to-face or telephone counseling through a HUD approved independent counseling agency before taking out a reverse mortgage. For more details, visit hud.gov or call 800-569-4287.

For additional details on why new rules have gone into effect, please read our blog post on the subject. Keep in mind that keeping money in a reverse mortgage line of credit in Virginia, and in most other states, will not count as a resource for Medicaid eligibility purposes so long as the house itself is an exempt resource. (For Medicaid payment of long-term care, the applicant’s principal residence is excluded from countable resources for the six months of continuous institutionalization provided the applicant intends to return home and provided the equity in the home property does not exceed $536,000. Regardless of the amount of home equity, after six months of continuous institutionalization the nursing home resident’s home will become a countable resource, unless the home is occupied by a spouse, dependent child under age 21, or a blind or disabled child.)

However, transferring the money from the reverse mortgage line of credit to a bank account and leaving it there past the end of the month would convert the exempt home equity into a countable resource and therefore would affect Medicaid eligibility.  This important distinction between countable resources and exempt assets is not a simple black and white issue — if you or your loved one is facing the possible need for long-term care, you should get an opinion from a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as Evan H. Farr. To make an appointment for an introductory consultation, please call the Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.

A Successful Easter Dinner for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Written by Evan Farr

Q. This year, Grandma Pearl will be joining us for Easter dinner. She has Alzheimer’s and her caregiver will be joining us, as well. We are concerned that the dinner could present challenges for her, since she is on a regimented meal time schedule each day. Can you suggest any tips to make the meal a success?

A. Many of our favorite experiences and memories include preparing and sharing holiday dinners with family members. However, when a person has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, the ability to eat independently may diminish, and mealtimes can become challenging. Often, too, the person with dementia may be experiencing changes, such as decreased appetite, that are part of normal aging. To make your Easter dinner with grandma a success, familiar routines, rituals, and food choices may need to be adapted to meet her day-to-day needs and to address changes that occur as the disease progresses. Below are a few tips to help things go smoothly:

  • Reduce Noise: Lots of noise and activity at mealtimes can be very distracting, causing the person with memory loss to lose interest in eating their meal. Therefore, keep extraneous noise to a minimum. While it’s nice to play music in the background, be sure it is Grandma’s favorite music, not yours, and that it’s not too loud or too fast.  
  • One Person at a time: When assisting the person with memory loss during mealtime, only one person at a time should be talking to them. More than one voice can be distracting, and might even cause them to become more confused or agitated.
  • Place fewer items on the plate: Placing too much food on a plate can be overwhelming to some, which can cause them to either play with it or ignore it. If grandma becomes easily confused, place fewer items of food on her plate or simply serve one food item at a time.
  • Allow her as much independence as possible: If grandma can still manage their utensils, allow her to do so. If she can still cut their food, don’t cut it for her. You might be surprised to see that she will sometimes still take a few bites independently if she is just provided the opportunity! If you notice that grandma can no longer manage utensils, don’t immediately begin to feed her. First try some hand-over-hand assistance by gently placing your hand over their hand which guides them to complete the activity.
  • Provide verbal and visual encouragement: As you raise the fork to your mouth with a pleasant tone of voice you might say to grandma, “The ham is delicious, you should try some, too.” Your encouragement might prompt her to take a bite.
  • Allow her to walk and eat: If grandma no longer likes to sit during her meal, place finger foods in a bowl with non-spill edges or in a wide-mouthed cup, which will enable her to carry her food and eat as she walks. If she doesn’t have the urge to drink liquids, you’ll also want to be sure that you are providing her with adequate hydration by offering drinks, popsicles, or gelatin.

Despite ongoing challenges, a successful family meal is possible, and can be yet another opportunity for grandma, her caregiver, and her loved ones to bond and succeed together.

Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, or a family member who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

Tax Day: Seven Unusual Deductions

Written by Evan Farr

If you are one of those people who waited until the very last minute to complete and send in your taxes, you want to make sure you take all of the deductions you’re entitled to. Last month, I wrote a blog post with some often overlooked deductions. Today, I will share some of the wackiest deductions you can take this year:

  • Bingo: Bingo-playing taxpayers can deduct the amount lost in a given year, up to the amount that was won. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows taxpayers to deduct losses for other types of wagering, too. To do so, they must keep a detailed diary of the kind of wager, where they placed it, who they were with, and how much they won or lost.
  • Pet Moving: If you are moving and you’d prefer to hire a service to move your pet, rather than bring your pup along for the moving ride, you can deduct that expense from your taxes.
  • Clarinet Lessons: A clarinet and lessons can be considered tax deductible if a doctor has recommended playing the instrument as a method of correcting an overbite.
  • Uniforms: Work clothing must meet two conditions to qualify as deductible: It must be worn as a condition of employment, and it must not be a suitable substitute for everyday clothing. Examples cited by the IRS include the garb of delivery workers, firefighters, health care workers, police, transportation workers, letter carriers, and professional athletes.
  • Business gifts (under $25): You’re allowed to deduct up to $25 in costs spent on business gifts for any individual person. You can also widely distribute gifts under $4 that have your name on them. Examples can include pens, desk sets, and bags. In this case, the sum total can be deducted, even if it’s over the $25 limit.
  • Wigs: The IRS allows patients with hair loss traced to a disease to write off the cost of a wig, if a doctor recommends buying one. However, deductions for hair transplants are a lot harder to get. Regardless of the reason for the hair loss – age, illness. etc. – the IRS categorizes hair transplants as cosmetic surgery, which is usually nondeductible.
  • Weight Loss Programs: Some people who enrolled in weight-loss programs last year can deduct the money they paid in fees, according to the IRS. To be eligible, taxpayers must have enrolled to treat specific conditions diagnosed by doctors. Even when recommended by a health care professional, the cost of dance lessons, swim lessons, and health-club dues are not deductible.

These aren’t the only strange medical write-offs; others include support stockings and many more, according to IRS publication 502.
Don’t forget that if you met with an estate planning attorney within the past year, some of your legal fees may be tax deductible. We suggest that 20% of the total fees that you paid to our firm can appropriately be considered deductible tax advice.  Please read Part 4 of our Tax Time Series for more details.
Please note that getting a tax refund might affect your Medicaid or Social Security benefits. However, since everyone’s situation is different, it is wise to contact a Certified Elder Law Attorney such as myself to walk you through this process and ensure that you are not doing anything to affect Medicaid eligibility. Call us today at the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

Are IRAs Considered Countable Assets for Medicaid?

Written by Evan Farr

Q. My next door neighbor is a retired financial planner. We walk every morning to stay in shape and maintain good health. This morning, I brought up the topic of whether my father’s IRA would be countable if he applies for Medicaid. Due to the complexity of Medicaid, she suggested that I ask an experienced Elder Law attorney, so I thought my best first course of action should be to send this question to you. If my father has assets in an IRA, will they be taken into consideration when it comes to Medicaid Planning? If so, how can they be protected?

A.  With the possible exception of a primary residence, IRA’s and other retirement assets such as 401(k)’s are often the single largest asset for many seniors. To be eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, applicants can have only a small amount of assets ($2,000 in most states). If your father does not plan properly, his IRAs will count as available assets under the Medicaid rules of most states and will therefore affect his Medicaid eligibility.

If your father is age 70 ½ or older, he must take a required minimum distribution each year. If he is taking at least the required distribution out of his plan on a monthly basis, this is referred to in some states as his IRA being in “payout status.” If the account is in this so-called “payout status”, in a few states (but NOT in Virginia or Maryland) the retirement assets would not be counted by Medicaid, but the monthly payments that he receives would be counted as income.  In DC, all money in retirement accounts are exempt from being counted for Medicaid.  

In most states, including Virginia and Maryland, IRAs and all other retirement accounts with cash value are countable assets, which means the total amount in the account will be counted as an asset affecting Medicaid eligibility. In order to protect retirement accounts in connection with Medicaid, one option is to cash out the retirement account and pay the income tax on it, and then transfer the proceeds to a Living Trust Plus™ Asset Protection Trust. After 5 years the funds would not be counted as a resource that he will have to “spend down” under Medicaid eligibility rules. Instead, his money will be protected and can be used for his benefit during his lifetime, and whatever is left can be passed on to his beneficiaries through the trust.

The rules regarding IRAs and Medicaid are complicated and vary from state to state.  As you can see, finding the best solution for retirement assets demands careful analysis from an experienced Elder Law attorney, preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney.  If your father is nearing the need for nursing home care, or may need nursing home care in the next 5 to ten years, the time for him to plan is now.  Call Virginia Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. today at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

Nursing Home Costs Rising Drastically

Written by Evan Farr

At least 70% of people over 65 will need long term care services and support at some point in their lifetime. To help families evaluate long-term care options and costs, the insurance company Genworth recently released the 2014 Cost of Care Survey.

For the past 11 years, Genworth has surveyed long term care costs across the country.  This year, 14,800 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers in 440 regions nationwide were surveyed, providing a comprehensive report. These are some of the findings for the Northern Virginia area and the Fredericksburg/Richmond area:

  • The median cost of a private nursing home room in the Northern Virginia area has increased 8% to $112,968 a year ($120,709 a year in a recent NY Life Study). In the Fredericksburg/Richmond area, the cost increased 3% to $91,250.
  • The median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home in the Northern Virginia area has increased 7% to $107,128 a year.  In the Fredericksburg/Richmond area, the cost increased 3% to $79,388.
  • For assisted living facilities, the median rate increase was 5% to $48,930 a year in the Northern Virginia area. In the Fredericksburg/Richmond area, the cost increased 5% to $48,030.
  • The median salary for the services of a home health aide was $45,760 a year in the Northern Virginia area. In the Fredericksburg/Richmond area, the median salary increased 1% to $41,184.
  • The cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, increased 6% to $24,960 a year in Northern Virginia. In the Fredericksburg/Richmond area, the cost decreased 1% to $41,184.

As you can tell from the survey data, long term care can have a major financial impact.  It is definitely prudent to plan ahead in the event that assisted living or nursing home care is needed in the future.  Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Learn more at The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website. Call 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

Visit Your Parents Often . . . or Else

Written by Evan Farr

Lola Wang is a 28-year-old marketing officer in China, who works long hours and rarely takes time off. With her demanding schedule, she can only make two six-hour trips each year to visit her elderly parents. By visiting them so infrequently, she could be breaking the law.

According to a CNN article, Wang’s dilemma is faced by many young people in China, especially since a new national law called the “Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged” was enacted last year. The law requires the offspring of parents older than 60 to visit their parents “frequently” and make sure their financial and spiritual needs are met. If adult children refuse to do so, they must pay their parents a monthly allowance. The law also stipulates that children cannot give up their inheritance rights in attempt to evade their duty to take care of their parents.

The Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged was passed by China’s legislature after a spate of reports about elderly parents neglected by their children. Although respect for the elderly is still deeply engrained in Chinese culture, traditional values have been weakened by the country’s modernization.

One of the drafters of the law, Xiao Jinming, a law professor at Shandong University, said the new law was primarily aimed at raising awareness. “It is mainly to stress the right of elderly people to ask for emotional support. We want to emphasize there is such a need,” he said.

The legislation also allows for the elderly to sue their children but does not specify the process or what penalties they might face if they are found guilty. The first of such lawsuits involved a 77-year-old woman who sued her daughter for neglecting her. The local court ruled that her daughter must visit her at least twice a month and provide financial support.

There is probably little risk that any similar law would be enacted in the U.S.  However, thirty states, including Virginia and Maryland, have filial responsibility laws on the books making children financially responsible for the care of their indigent parents.  According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, 21 states allow a civil court action to obtain financial support or cost recovery, 12 states impose criminal penalties on children who do not support their parents, and three states allow both civil and criminal actions.

Filial responsibility laws in the United States obligate adult children to pay for their indigent parents’ food, clothing, shelter, and medical needs – including nursing home care. When the children fail to do so, nursing homes and government agencies can bring legal action to recover the cost of caring for the parents. Not only can they sue you for the money, but in some states, as mentioned above, adult children can go to jail if they fail to provide filial support.

It used to be that many states rarely enforced their filial support laws, except in the most gruesome cases of neglect. Recently, more and more cases are hitting the courts. Examples include a case in North Dakota, where Elden Linderkamp had to pay Four Seasons Healthcare $104,276.62 for his parent’s care and a case in Pennsylvania, where John Pittas received the nursing-home bill of $93,000 for his mother, and was held liable. Please read our blog post “More Filial Responsibility Cases are Ending Up in Court,” for more details.

The only way you can make sure you do not fall victim to a filial support action is by planning ahead. Children need to be proactive regarding how their parents are financing their long-term care. Some families of modest means may assume Medicaid will cover a parent’s care once the parent has depleted savings and other resources. But it’s a huge mistake to assume that Medicaid will be easy to obtain.

Medicaid laws are the most complex laws in existence, with 8 separate bodies of law (4 at the Federal level and 4 at the state level) dealing with Medicaid and Medicaid eligibility.  To do proper Medicaid asset protection planning, families need the help of an experienced elder law attorney, preferably a Certified Elder Law Attorney, and the best time to do Medicaid Asset Protection planning is now.  Whether your parents are years away from needing nursing home care, are already in a nursing facility, or somewhere in between, the time to plan is now, not when your parents are about to run out of money.  Call Virginia Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. today at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

Do You Get “High-Quality” Sleep?

Written by Evan Farr

A new study involving 2,822 senior men, averaging 76 years old, confirms the link between sleep quality and the development of future cognitive decline.

The study, published in the April 1 issue of the journal Sleep, was conducted by collecting sleep data from the participants through a wrist device for an average of five nights, and then administering tests that measure executive function, including planning, making decisions, correcting errors, troubleshooting, and abstract thinking. Results showed that “poor quality” sleep was associated with a 40% to 50% increase in the odds of clinically significant decline in executive function, which was similar to the effect of a five-year increase in age. In contrast, sleep duration was not related to subsequent cognitive decline.

“It was the quality of sleep that predicted future cognitive decline in this study, not the quantity,” said lead author Terri Blackwell, MA, senior statistician at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco. Poor quality sleep was determined by reduced sleep efficiency, greater nighttime wakefulness, greater number of long wake episodes, and poor self-reported sleep quality.

“With the rate of cognitive impairment increasing and the high prevalence of sleep problems in the elderly, it is important to determine prospective associations with sleep and cognitive decline.” Further research is needed to determine if this association remains after a longer follow-up period, the study authors said.

As you can see, and as you probably know from life experience, getting a good night’s sleep makes a huge difference. Besides a good night’s sleep, another important thing to do is to keep up with your planning while your mind is still sharp. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for an introductory consultation.

 

New Support for Caregivers of Veterans

Written by Evan Farr

Q. My sister, Peggy, recently became a full-time caregiver for our 72-year old father, Joe. Since he served during the Vietnam War, he has had flashbacks that still affect him and keep him up at night. He suffered at least one stroke in the last 5 years, has trouble walking, seeing, and hearing. My sister is having a hard time shouldering the responsibility, and needs any assistance that she can get because I think it is affecting her health.  I would love to help her, but my job keeps my family from moving, so I do my best to visit often and contribute as much as I can financially. Are there any support programs for caregivers of veterans that my sister can turn to? Thanks for your help!

A. Taking care of a veteran, or any loved one in need, requires real strength, endurance, commitment, and patience. Without assistance in managing the responsibilities of being a caregiver for your father, your sister may experience stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, financial challenges, or effects on her personal health (as you mentioned).  She is not alone, and luckily there are resources to help.

On May 5, 2010, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 was signed into law. Title I of the Act allows the VA to provide benefits to eligible caregivers (a parent, spouse, child, step-family member, extended family member, or an individual who lives with the veteran, but is not a family member). As a result of the Act, the following services are now available to help qualifying caregivers of veterans:

  • National Caregiver Support Line: The VA established a National Caregiver Support Line to answer questions and provide resources. Talking to someone who understands what life is like as a caregiver can provide your sister with the emotional support to stay strong and attend to her own daily needs. The support line is open during the week (8am- 11 pm) and on Saturdays (10:30am- 6pm) and can be reached at 1-855-260-3274. All calls are answered by VA employees who are also licensed clinical social workers and health technicians.
  • Caregiver Coordinators: Callers to the National Caregiver Support Line often receive referrals to a caregiver support coordinator in their community. These coordinators can provide information on new benefits available to veterans and caregivers. Caregiver Support Coordinators are also available at every VA Medical Center, and you can also find their contact information online using your zip code.
  • Caregiver Website: The VA caregiver support website offers valuable information on services for caregivers, as well as advice on resilience and support to deal with caregiver responsibilities.
  • Easter Seals Caregiver Training: Easter Seals and the VA provide caregiver training via face-to-face classes throughout the country, a workbook/DVD approach, and on-demand web access. Eligible caregivers are certified by their local VA Caregiver Support Coordinators to receive this training. Those certified and completing the training become eligible for Veteran Caregiver benefits.
  • Caregiver Workshop: The VA offers a six-week online workshop at no-cost, called Building Better Caregivers™, for family caregivers of veterans. This comprehensive online workshop is highly-interactive and typically involves 20-25 family caregivers completing the online workshop together. Interested caregivers should contact a local Caregiver Support Coordinator, who can provide additional information and referral to the program.
  •  Monthly stipend (for the caregiver only) based on the personal care needs of the veteran: A monthly stipend  amount, based on what a commercial home health care provider would pay for equivalent services, may be available. You can access an online compensation calculator or find out more at www.caregiver.va.gov. Caregivers can receive an average $1,600 in monthly stipend payments.
  • Respite Care is designed to relieve the family caregiver from the constant burden of caring for a chronically ill or disabled veteran at home. Services can include in-home care, a short stay in an institutional setting, or adult day health care.
  • Other Benefits: VA provides durable medical equipment and prosthetic and sensory aides to improve function, financial assistance with home modification to improve access and mobility, and transportation assistance for some veterans to and from medical appointments.

We hope that your sister will take advantage of the caregiver resources available to her, and various benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) It is also important to ensure that she is taking care of herself, by maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits, avoiding isolation, and sharing her experience with others, while working hard to care for your father.

I am an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs who understands the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit (for qualifying veterans or their single surviving spouse), and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both benefit programs (please note that I do not work with clients seeking service-connected compensation).  I work with clients to obtain the financial assistance to which they are entitled and enable veterans and their families to afford the type of long-term care that they need, whether home care, adult day care, assisted living care, or nursing home care.

If your father has served 90 days active duty, and at least one day during a period of wartime, and you need physical assistance with your activities of daily living, be sure to make an appointment ASAP for an introductory consultation at the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.  We can work with your family to evaluate if he qualifies for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit and/or Medicaid (or if we can get him qualified) and we will handle the filing of all the tedious and technical paperwork. Call us at our Fairfax Virginia Elder Law office at 703-691-1888 or at our Fredericksburg Virginia Elder Law office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment today.