Last updated: July 18. 2014 10:14AM - 105 Views
Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

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Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson on June 18 directed all Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Medical Center and Health Care System Directors to conduct monthly in-person reviews of scheduling practices in every clinic within their jurisdiction. Site inspections will include observing daily scheduling processes and interacting with scheduling staff to ensure all policies are being followed to deliver Veterans the timely care they have earned.

“Our top priority is getting Veterans off of wait lists and into clinics,” said Acting Secretary Gibson. “We need our folks in the facilities to work directly with staff, answer all questions, and ensure our Veterans receive the timely care they have earned. Veterans must trust their health care system, and these reviews are an important step towards restoring integrity in all our scheduling activities.”

In addition to monthly reviews of over 900 Veterans Health Administration facilities nationwide, Veterans Integrated Service Network Directors will also conduct similar visits to at least one medical center within their area of responsibility every 30 days, completing visits to all medical centers in their network every 90 days. This action follows the VA’s release of results from its nationwide Access Audit, along with facility-level patient access data.

VA benefits are one of the most misunderstood programs for seniors. Wartime veterans and their spouses (even widows) may be entitled to subsidize expenses for home health care, independent living and nursing home, potentially in excess of $24,000 annually. Little is known about this program and how to appropriately receive benefits. Ideally, elder law planning should start when decisions can be made and options are available. These include how you want to deal with aging, lifestyle choices, and a sound financial strategy. The starting point should be long term care insurance but when such insurance is no longer an option or insufficient, VA benefits become the next best choice.

According to attorney Evan W. Turk, VA benefits are typically misunderstood – even by attorneys. The primary reason is that the VA’s rules are stringent about not being able to charge to apply for the benefit and it takes a lot of time and effort to get someone properly through the process. Even though VA benefits is burdened by complications, elder law planning must include VA benefits as an option because of this tremendous benefit which could delay or avoid the need to leave one’s house or other wishes. A sound well-rounded elder law strategy should include all reasonable and available options. Often times, the VA benefit becomes the most important component.

The VA lists attorneys and other professionals who are accredited by the VA who are authorized to assist the veteran and family. Many accredited attorneys provide assistance at no cost as part of their overall legal strategy (within VA rules and regulations). Turk, who practices elder law and is the Principle Counsel in Delray Beach, Florida noted that the 10 biggest reasons that seniors miss out on this important benefit are:

1. Not knowing about the program. A majority of eligible applicants do not receive benefits for no other reason than not knowing it exists.

2. Confusion to who is eligible. Spouses and widows are also eligible (even if they were not married to the veteran at the time of war).

3. Lack of understanding. It is a reimbursement of age related expenses thus expenses must exist prior to the VA providing reimbursement.

4. In many situations, eligibility is a catch-22. Since it is a reimbursement of existing expenses, those desperately in need and without means to pay are denied because they do not have a means to pay.

5. Confusing application. Benefits fit within the VA pension although one can receive a pension with 90 days of service or by having married an eligible veteran; checking the wrong box on that application could result in a denial.

6. Lack of professional advice. It is unlawful to charge for the application minimizing incentives to see benefits to fruition.

7. Complex rules. One with less than $100,000 in assets can be denied for having too much assets while one with $1,000,000 in assets can be approved by sheltering assets.

8. Length of process. If not handled properly, the time for seeing benefits to fruition can exceed a year, leaving many to give up.

9. Incomplete applications. Many VA organizations can assist with the application but are overwhelmed and often misinformed about the program and its complex rules.

10. Failure to seek appropriate advice. Many participate in the unauthorized practice of law by providing advice on sheltering assets with financial products for eligibility purposes, typically receiving financial commissions (often with no discussion about how this may be inappropriate or disqualify the applicant for Medicaid). The VA on va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp lists attorneys and other professionals who are accredited by the VA who are authorized to assist the veteran and family.

The site allows seniors to choose the type of person (Attorney/Claims Agent/VSO representative) in their geographic area to assist them. Many accredited attorneys provide assistance at no cost as part of their overall legal strategy (within VA rules and regulations).

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