We’ve all heard the horror stories about working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, affectionately known as the VA, especially when it comes to VA pension applications. You send in your paperwork and it either drops into a black hole never to be seen again or you end up in an infuriating back-and-forth game of claim form whack-a-mole.
Though you don’t have any control over the employees of the VA and their skill (or lack thereof) at processing applications, you do have control over what you submit. That’s why I thought it would be fun to talk about ways to guarantee that your loved one’s VA pension application will take far longer than necessary to process. Do the opposite and you’ll have better results.
#10: Don’t disclose all the necessary information.
Don’t bother to read the application to find out what information you need to provide. And if you do read the application, just skim it. Why concern yourself with the details?
#9: Don’t provide supporting documentation.
Don’t send any of the documents they request, things like an original copy of the veterans’ discharge from service, proof of marriage, or documents that prove the need for benefits. Don’t worry about accounting for assets such as bank accounts, saving accounts, IRA’s, income sources, life insurance, annuities, stocks, deeds for land other than the homestead, and so on. And if you do gather supporting documentation, just throw it all into a shoebox like you do your receipts at tax time and FedEx it to the claims processer. They’ll know what to do with it.
#8: Apply for benefits without knowing which ones to apply for (compensation vs pension).
Pick one the way you’d decide by flipping a coin. VA benefits are VA benefits, right? Pay no mind to the fact that VA Compensation is paid for service-connected disabilities and is meant to compensate a veteran for loss of income due to the disability. Ignore the fact that VA pension is paid to veterans who are disabled because of non-service-connected causes and that it’s meant to provide more income to low income, disabled, active duty veterans who served during a period of war.
#7: Apply for VA pension benefits without knowing whether your loved one is eligible.
Think of it like throwing spitballs at the wall. Wait to see what sticks. Pay no mind to the fact that the VA has a very particular set of qualification for the non-service-connected pension. Don’t think about whether your veteran meets the service requirements (he or she served at least 90 consecutive days with at least one day in a wartime period and received a discharge other than dishonorable). Don’t bother to look up the list of wartime periods even though they’re easy to find online. And don’t bother to dig out your loved one’s separation papers, or DD214m, which would make it easy to confirm both eligibility requirements.
#6: Fill out the wrong forms.
Yes, the VA application process reads like an alphabet soup of forms. But shouldn’t one form be as good as any other? There’s the VA Form 21-22a, which allows the veteran to appoint someone as a representative, someone to help you and speak with the VA on your behalf. There’s the VA Form 4138, which acts as a cover letter for every VA interaction. There’s the VA Form 527 and 534, the actual pension applications. And then there’s the VA Form 2680, the form that the veteran’s doctor completes. And there are many others. Assume that they’re all interchangeable.
#5: Fill out the forms wrong.
Once you have all the forms, leave out crucial information. Leave things blank. Partially complete other sections. Don’t follow directions.
#4: Don’t fill out all the necessary forms.
See #6 above, but only fill out half the forms.
#3: Forget to sign the form properly—or at all.
Whatever the instructions are, do something different.
#2: Assume you don’t qualify.
If your neighbor’s cousin’s best friend’s brother said you won’t get any benefits, believe him. Don’t bother checking with more knowledgeable experts to see whether your loved one might be eligible.
#1: Don’t get advice from a qualified elder care attorney.
Try to do it on your own, in hopes of saving a few bucks. It may take you years to get your claim approved, which means losing out on thousands of dollars of benefits that your loved one may have been entitled to. It might mean that your VA pension application is never approved. But at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that a lawyer didn’t get any of your money.
Despite this tongue-in-cheek look at the potential ways that VA pension claims can go wrong, I truly believe it’s worth the time and effort it takes to apply. If your application is approved, the monthly award can mean the difference between your elderly loved one thriving or merely surviving.
If you want to expedite the processing of your VA pension claim, the Flammia Elder Law Firm can help. Just give our office a call.
Written by Kathleen Flammia, Attorney at Law, one of Florida’s TOP Elder Law & Estate Planning Attorneys. Attorney Flammia is a Member of the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, and she and her firm are Featured in ElderCareMatters.com – America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with the issues of Aging.