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

Michigan veterans and seniors need to express their concerns over proposed new VA regulations affecting their ability to plan for benefits. Our office supports changes to regulations in order to protect seniors and veterans in Michigan, but, changes need to be consistent with Congressional intent, the Constitution itself, and, at the very least, consistent with Medicaid regulations that are true and tested over time.

Current VA regulations DO NOT include a “look back” period. This has provided unscrupulous planners to take advantage of the law to sell financial products unfit for seniors facing long term care planning decisions.

Seniors and veterans using accredited attorneys, agents, or other planners skilled in elder law often provide sound, legal strategies to ensure that seniors and veterans that need help, DO NOT exhaust their assets because of the cost of their care and are others forced into a nursing home, at the federal government’s own expense, in the form of Medicaid.

Your help is needed to protect Michigan veterans and seniors. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has introduced new regulations that will negatively affect your ability to receive benefits for yourself and your loved ones.

New proposed regulations, introduced January 23, 2015, will create a three (3) year “look-back” period for applicants, similar to Medicaid. It will eliminate your ability to protect your assets through legal planning strategies to immediately qualify for benefits.

Although our office supports protecting veterans and seniors from abusive planning practices, the new policies simply go too far by creating several unintended consequences:

As most Michigan Veterans are aware, Agent Orange was not the only herbicide used in Vietnam. There was also Agent Purple, Agent Green, and Agent Pink, which were part of the “rainbow herbicides” used to defoliate the jungle of Vietnam Nam. Purple and Orange were also used in Canada.

Agent Purple was used before Agent Orange came on the scene, between 1962 and 1965.

Recent changes to the federal code of regulations governing VA benefit eligibility may allow Veterans exposed to herbicides to recover benefits due to exposure while in service. 38 CFR 3.309(e) states exposure to “herbicides”…not specifically to Agent Orange; therefore, exposure to Agent Purple should also be covered if the veteran served within the presumptive time frames covered in statute.

Over the past few days, several attorneys that I collaborate with are scrambling to get the “word” out to our lawmakers about the VA’s proposed changes to regulations affecting eligibility for improved pension and aid and attendance benefits.

In the last entry we encouraged readers to contact their representatives in the United States Congress to make their opinions count and voice opposition. Following a conference with members of a national networking group, Arizona Attorney, Steven Dabbs proposed the following letter. Feel free to “cut and paste” if you would like your voice to be heard to help our seniors and veterans. Your local lawmakers can be found at: Find Your Lawmaker

RE: This is submitted in response to ”RIN 2900-AO73, Net Worth, Asset Transfers, and Income Exclusions for Needs-Based Benefits.” Proposed Rules change.

On Friday our office received notice that the VA has submitted significant changes to non-service connect benefit eligibility that will directly impact Michigan Veterans and Veterans nationwide. Click here for a link to these changes.

Michigan Elder Lawyers, National Academy of Elder Law members and several Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) oppose the proposed regulations. Specifically, the changes will:

1. Create a three (3) year look-back period for new applicants.