Public Benefits: Can I Do It Myself? Contributed by: Danielle M. Marvel, Elder Law Department Manager
Occasionally we meet a client who is brave enough to ask us if they can file for Long Term Care Medicaid or Veteran’s Aid & Attendance on their own. We suspect it is on the tip of most client’s tongues. The short answer: yes, you can. The beginning of the application process for either benefit would be comparable to applying for a highly sought-after new job; the applicant would be nervous, want to do it right, want it to go well, but not know exactly what answers are expected in the blank fields. After getting past the basic name, address and phone number fields, applicants might begin wishing for an advisor.
Sometimes families have no option but to go on and learn along the way without the help of an experienced mentor. Those families can expect the following, with slight variation depending on the circumstances:
Long Term Care Medicaid: Filling out an initial referral request that includes the applicant’s demographics, health information, income and assets; receiving a 19 page application and additional consent pages to be completed covering current income, assets, and assets/transactions from the past five years; hiring an attorney to create a Miller Trust if income exceeds the income cap; navigating a “We Need” letter from Medicaid requesting supporting documentation for the application to which you have 15 days to respond, working with a Medicaid Case Manager for any additional information requested, speaking with a Medicaid Nurse about the applicant’s medical conditions, and selecting a Managed Care Organization. This information is generally exchanged via scan, fax and/or email with the entire process possibly taking up to 3 months.
Veteran’s Aid & Attendance: Gathering documentation on current and past marriages for the Veteran or Surviving Spouse, as well as assets, income, and cost of care; completing an application for benefits and several additional forms provided by the VA; and possible follow up to VA responses after review of the claim. This information is exchanged via scan, fax and/or email. The average applicant can expect a determination within six months; however, it is not uncommon for families to wait as long as 12 months. Applicants may also experience delayed responses regarding seemingly trivial adjustments, such as leaving an answer blank because it is not applicable instead of entering a “0” or “N/A”. All of which further delays the approval of the case.
During both processes, families that are applying without professional help are exposed to overwhelming information from a variety of, not always accurate or current, resources. In this mix, it is not uncommon for policies that allow for the protection of assets to be lost. The result is families depleting their financial resources unnecessarily.
Families who are torn over the decision to complete the application process by themselves, or hire an experienced elder law firm should make a list of pros and cons. The pros list would include being unburdened of the application and interview, follow up and advocacy; saving several hours of time through both processes; saving assets that might otherwise be accidentally depleted for lack of understanding required spending; avoiding the burden of understanding and navigating these agencies’ policies.
We understand the cons list, too. It’s always made up of one thing: the fee. Considering the list of pros, this investment is well worth ensuring the benefits available to your loved one are applied for and approved as soon as possible, the assets owned by your loved one are protected as much as the law allows, and your family’s peace of mind isn’t disrupted any further.
A family applying for either of these benefits for their loved one is a family that is already juggling a lot and feeling financial and emotional stress. Consider allowing professionals, who fight for these benefits on behalf of their clients every day, take over this task. Not sure if your loved one could use these benefits? That’s another perfect question for a specialized and experienced elder law firm.