New burial payment procedure for veterans’ families
By Debbie J. Papay, Attorney- If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that my law partner, Chris Steiner, and I are elder law attorneys accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans or their surviving spouses with claims for VA benefits. Since that is a very broad field, we choose to concentrate only in one specific benefit, that of the VA monetary reimbursement to veterans or their widows/widowers for their expenses paid for nursing home or in-home care, or residing in an assisted living facility.
To qualify, the veteran must have served at least one day during a time of war (not necessarily a place of war), among other requirements. The important point for purposes of the news we share below is that these families receive the benefit for “non-service connected” reasons. This means someone needs care giving not because they were injured in service; rather, they served during the time of World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War; they came home uninjured; years passed; and now they are over 65 and in need of help with the activities of daily living because of “mere aging” or accident or illness. Their need for care is not related to military service. In “VA speak,” they have a “non-service connected disability.” That distinction is important to note in understanding the following news.
Effective July 7, 2014, new burial regulations permit the VA to automatically pay the maximum burial allowance to a surviving spouse of a veteran, without the need for a time consuming and “not simple” application. For deaths related to military service, the maximum burial allowance is $2,000. For “non-service connected deaths,” the allowance is $300 (unless the veteran was hospitalized by the VA at death, then it is $700).
Prior to this new procedure, upon the death of a veteran, the surviving spouse or other qualified person would have to file an application for reimbursement of out of pocket expenses and provide receipts. This will no longer be necessary. The VA will use information already in the veteran’s file.
Wait a minute! If you didn’t die related to your military service, why would the VA have a file on you complete enough to pay a benefit? Because you are already receiving the monetary reimbursement I described above. Is a $300-$700 award earth-shattering news? Perhaps not for some people. But it IS just another example of the many reasons to apply for that reimbursement — to “get in the system,” so to speak.
It is also noteworthy that the VA is trying to make at least one benefit easier to obtain. This should have a ripple effect. By reducing the overall number of claims that need manual processing, personnel should be freed up to work on other claims, including the care giving reimbursement benefit I described above. Approval time for that benefit used to take nine months to a year or longer. More recently, before this change in July, we were seeing most approvals within two months. This may improve even more. It is projected that there will be approximately 140,000 claims for burial benefits in 2014.
Even more veterans or spouses may benefit from the time now available to review their claims. If you know a veteran or surviving spouse receiving care, NOW would be a good time to talk to a VA accredited attorney about planning for eligibility!
Debbie J. Papay and Chris E. Steiner are the attorney/co-owners of Bayer, Papay & Steiner Co., LPA, a Maumee law firm concentrating in trust-based estate, disability and legacy planning and estate administration. Call 419-891-8884 to inquire about their next free, monthly estate planning workshop.