For decades the Veterans Administration has had a pension program called Aid and Attendance that was designed to help some veterans and their spouses who need assistance in their daily lives.
Veterans who were receiving in-home assistance or living in assisted-living centers could receive sometimes generous monthly pensions to help cover those expenses.
The catch was that to be eligible, veterans had to have limited assets and limited income.
The VA didnt try to keep the benefit a secret, said George Jarboe, Allen Countys veterans service officer, but it didnt promote it heavily, either.
It was designed to help people who have no money survive, Jarboe said.
For years, most veterans knew little of the program, but about five years ago word got out and spread rapidly. Depending on their age, most wartime veterans or their widows can have $80,000 in assets, including their home, and depending on how much they spent on aid or assistance, they could get a pension.
Since the program has become popular, financial advisers have been taking full advantage of it. They have been counseling veterans and their spouses or widows that they could get the benefit, even if they had far too much in assets to qualify. All they had to do was eliminate their assets and they could start getting monthly checks.
To a lot of people, thats an appealing concept.
Kraig Bradtmiller and his 90-year-old mother are among those who bought into the plan. Someone came to the assisted-living center where his mother lived and made the pitch. For $4,000, Bradtmiller had an irrevocable trust established in his and a siblings name and most of his mothers assets were placed in that.
Instantly, a big chunk of his mothers assets disappeared, making his mother potentially eligible for the VAs Aid and Assistance pension.
Then Bradtmiller called to have the people he had been working with fill out his mothers application for the pension. He said he was told it would cost more than $900 for a consultation fee to have that done. Bradtmiller refused to pay.
Thats about the time Bradtmiller approached Jarboe about the issue.
He didnt have to pay anyone to complete his mothers application, Jarboe told him. Thats what Jarboe does as the veterans service officer, and he does it for free.
In fact, he said, according to the deputy assistant adjutant general for the Department of Veterans Affairs, only accredited individuals can help someone fill out these applications for assistance, and theyre not allowed to charge for preparing the applications.
Most of Bradtmillers mothers assets are now locked up in an irrevocable trust, but there still is a possibility that, because of her advanced age, she could be denied the VA benefits. They wont know for several months.
In Bradtmillers case, it could be a wash. If his mother were to go into a nursing home for a lengthy period, Bradtmiller could dip into the trust to pay her expenses, and once the money was exhausted, his mother could go on Medicaid.
What irks Bradtmiller is that he paid $4,000 to establish a trust he now feels wasnt necessary.
The organizations that are offering the pension advice have nothing to do with the VA, and they have proliferated since the pension program became well known.
Theyre like weeds, Jarboe said. Theyre everywhere.
They promote their programs at nursing homes and assisted-living centers, but theyre not looking for destitute veterans, the kind of people the program was designed to help, Jarboe said.
They look for people with money, so they can make money setting up trusts or annuities, using the possibility of the pension as the lure.
Jarboe stresses that charging someone to complete an application for benefits is illegal. Generally, though, what these organizations are doing – charging people to set up trusts or annuities – is not illegal.
It has the potential to cause headaches down the line, though, particularly if veterans put their money in a blind trust and then end up in a nursing home and need Medicaid to pay the bills. Medicaid could declare them ineligible if they had distributed their assets to other people in the past five years.