Military Veteran Attorney Blog

Michigan Vietnam Veterans that were exposed to Agent Orange may now have the ability to file for benefits. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs recently expanded its list of ships that were subject to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam era. This is good news to Navy Veterans that were denied benefits in the past. Attached is the new database which includes the new ship listings. http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/list.asp

If you are residing in Michigan and were denied benefits related to Agent Orange exposure PRIOR TO AUGUST of 2010, please call, we can assist you with an appeal for benefits, or direct you to another that can.

We frequently come across others that assist veterans with benefits other than non-service connected benefits like aid and attendance. Benefits provided by the GI Bill or through the service connect programs can also assist veterans with service connected illnesses, injuries or conditions. One such benefit provided by the VA is the VA loan and mortgage program.

For more information contact Jeff Zimmerman at Simple Mortgage. Mr. Zimmerman specializes in VA loans and mortgages. As a special thank you to veterans, anyone who utilizes Simple Mortgage for a purchase or refinance between now and the end of the year and mentioned your blog will receive a $500 visa gift card at closing!

Metro Detroit and West Michigan seniors that receive VA benefits for long term care through VA Aid and Attendance Benefit, have always looked forward to the annual federal budget announcement of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). This year the announcement is not favorable. The latest from the Social Security Administration is that there will not be a COLA adjustment for 2016.

As a result veterans receiving this benefit can be all but certain to receive the same monthly amounts that they have in 2015. For now this is the only change to the VA non-service connected benefits that will be in effect for 2016. The proposed “looks-back” and transfer regulations are not a definite yet…

For more information about the COLA and your benefits follow the link below. If you do not receive VA benefits to assist you or your loved ones with long term care, please call our office at 1-866-529-ELDR. We can assist wartime veterans with long term care planning throughout the State of Michigan.
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Michigan Medicaid law is always evolving. Most changes will impact the ability for a family to become eligible to receive benefits to pay for the cost of nursing home care. A recent change creates a favorable planning opportunity for Michigan families seeking Medicaid benefits for a loved one. The regulation allows a community spouse to appoint his or her beneficiaries to the exclusion of the State of Michigan on a “Medicaid Approved Annuity”.

This change will effectively allow a community spouse (a husband or wife living at home while his or her spouse resides in a nursing home) to help protect his or her own assets. Medicaid Approved Annuities allow the well spouse to receive the value of the assets that a married couple owns, at the time of nursing home admission, that exceed qualification, in regular monthly payments over the duration of his or her life expectancy or less.

Most Michigan residents are shocked to learn that they can protect almost everything when a spouse enters a nursing home. Even more Michigan residents are elated to learn that a single person entering a nursing home can still protect more than half of his or her estate. Accordingly, if you have a family member entering a nursing home, it is important to understand the law. As elder law attorneys with experience in nursing home and long term care planning, we can help.

Michigan Vietnam Veterans living in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas often seek advice related to agent orange exposure. These claims are known as “service connected” disability claims. Following a change in law in August of 2010, Vietnam Vets can seek disability benefits for “presumptive conditions”. These conditions can include type II diabetes, certain pulmonary conditions, and, ischemic heart conditions.

Although we cannot help most vets with service connected claims there are specific avenues veterans can pursue for assistance. Often while working with “non-service” connected pension issues and long term care planning, I come across useful resources for veterans seeking “service connected disability benefits”. Service connected benefits are the more often thought of benefits for veterans. This is the benefit that involves rating a veteran’s disability brought on directly from or during service and paying a monthly disability benefit.

A recent resource that I discovered is a website devoted to Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange. A link to this website and newsletter can be found at: /http://files.ctctcdn.com/761af348101/79fe5db6-f624-4d0e-8f70-697eb1238f02.pdf

Have an IRA? Facing a long-term care planning situation? Or maybe you have a loved one with elder law needs?

The biggest misconception for clients facing elder law issues is that Michigan elder law attorneys can only help veterans or adults facing nursing home placement and Medicaid planning.. This is not true. Using the same techniques for families that are facing nursing home placement or VA benefit planning, skilled elder law attorneys in Michigan can achieve fantastic results.

Understanding the law is key. Michigan Medicaid, which provides benefits to seniors confined to nursing homes, has a five (5) year “look-back” period. The law is interpreted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a strict policy that applies to ALL transfers occurring within a five (5) year period of application for Medicaid benefits. Further, the law assumes that any person over the age of sixty-five (65) can presume that they will reside in a nursing home in the future. As a result, many seniors and their families are reluctant to make transfers, even at the expense of their own care. However, if proper planning is used, a potential benefit applicant can INTENTIONALLY trigger a “divestment penalty” and actually PRESERVE assets if and when he or she needs nursing home care.

The time has come and gone for “public comment” regarding new proposed rule changes to the VA’s non-service connected benefits program. The benefits can provide much needed relief to seniors struggling to provide for their own long term care expenses. Currently, eligible veterans or their surviving spouses can collect up to almost $2,100.00 per month if married; $1,750.00 per month if single; and, $1,150.00 per month as a surviving spouse.

Proposed regulations introduced in late January, will, more than likely, be effective in the near future. The regulations will introduce a three (3) year “look-back” period and “penalties” for asset transfers performed to create eligibility for these benefits. The regulations, like most new legislation creates uncertainty. Many of the provisions within the regulations appear to affect veterans eligible under current law and treat applicants differently depending upon the class of eligibility they are seeking.

Pursuant to federal law, regulations like these, should not become law any earlier than one (1) year from the expiration of the “public comment period.” The public comment period expired in late March of this year. According to this analysis, more than likely, the effective date of the new regulations will be April 1, 2016. However, as with much legislation, executive orders, and regulations, the answer remains clear as mud. For now, the best path remains to move forward with planning and seek assistance from skilled elder law professionals that understand current law.

Michigan veterans may be able to file presumptive claims related to exposure to herbicides from their service in Vietnam. In august of 2010, the VA released a list of over thirty (30) presumptive conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

The VA also tweaked its rules with regard exposure to these herbicides to include naval and other veterans that did not have “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam era. A great example are United States Navy Veterans. Blue Water Veterans are those who served in deep water, but did not actually dock or set foot on land in Vietnam; whereas, Brown Water veterans patrolled the inland shoals and waterways.

Brown Water veterans are covered by statute related to presumptive conditions; whereas, Blue Water veterans must prove that they were directly exposed (forming a nexus) and are not covered presumptively, with the exception of those with non-Hodgkins lymphoma (which is presumptive to Blue Water service).

In about a month, the public commentary period for the new proposed VA regulations will end. There is still time to help our veterans and seniors that rely on non-service connected, improved pension and aid and attendance benefits. In Michigan there are about 600,000 living veterans that can become eligible for these benefits.

The proposed regulations are too restrictive, do not provide “cures” for ineffective planning, and will create a reliance on other, more costly, federal and state benefits. The likely outcome of the proposed regulations will be that seniors and veterans will be dissuaded to apply for benefits that are desperately needed to assist with memory care, assisted living and home care.

Please see our earlier posts regarding these changes.

Many deserving veterans are often overlooked when considering VA benefits to assist with the cost of long term care. Specifically, Merchant Marines, serving during World War II may qualify for VA Aid and Attendance. During Worl War II, Merchant Marines took up arms to assist in the Pacific and Atlantic to support Allied forces and to ensure that precious cargo and supplies continued during the Period of Armed Conflict, December 7, 1941, to August 15, 1945.

Michigan Merchant Marines serving during this time, can qualify for the same VA benefits that are available to their United States Navy brethren. Such benefits can provide up to:

$2,120.00 per month for a married veteran $1,788.00 per month for a single veteran $1,149.00 per month for a surviving spouse