42 minute interview of John Watts by Davis Nelson on the VA Pension (Aid & Attendance)
You are here because you want to learn more about the remarkable VA Pension (Aid & Attendance) benefit that can pay war time veterans up to $25,000 a year tax free. We hope you find this 42 minute video of John Watts helpful as in the interview you will learn the following:
- What is the VA Aid & Attendance benefit
- Who does it help (veterans and widows)
- The three requirements to receive this benefit
- How do you qualify under the military requirement
- How do you qualify under the health/disability requirement
- What are the financial requirements and how do you qualify
- How does Alabama Medicaid interact with the VA benefit (hint: the laws are different)
- What about legal fees
- And much more
We also have written materials we will happy to send to you and we are also happy to meet with you by phone, in our Birmingham office or in our Madison (Huntsville) office.
Give us a call at 205-879-2447 or fill out our contact form and let us know how we can help you.
Also for your convenience, below is the full transcription of this interview
Hope you enjoy.
Davis: Well, today I am interviewing Alabama lawyer, John Watts, a good friend of mine, and like me, he is an Elder Law lawyer, and also does veterans’ benefits. John, I want to welcome you today.
John: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.
Davis: Thanks. I’m glad you’re taking the time to do this because this is a very important topic and I want everybody to know as much as possible about the way you do things. We both do this kind of work involving veterans’ benefits and it’s very important work and it helps a lot of people and we’re going to try to extend that message today so we can help more. Again, welcome.
John: Thank you.
About John G. Watts
Davis: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
John: Sure. As Davis said, my name is John Watts. I’m an Elder Law attorney in Birmingham, Alabama and like Dave is, I’m a VA-accredited attorney, which means that I can advise veterans about benefits, including this VA pension that we’re going to be talking about today.
What is the VA Improved Pension?
Davis: Well, it is an important topic and I’d like you to start by – I’ve got a lot of questions for you here. I had to write them down. I had so many. What I’d like you to do is start by explaining a little bit about, give people an overview of what this thing is called VA improved pension. What is it?
John: Okay, well this VA improved pension, some people call it just VA pension. Some people call it Aid and Attendance and this is a non-service related benefit so it doesn’t have anything to do with being injured while in military service. It just means that we qualify and now, because of our health situation where maybe we’re having trouble getting around or living alone, now this benefit can pay a pretty substantial amount of tax-free money, so a very important benefit to deal with long-term care issues.
Davis: Good, very good. What do people get out of this? One of the early questions I always get is what’s in it for me? What do I get if I qualify for this particular benefit?
John: Sure, great question. This is unlike Alabama Medicaid or Georgia Medicaid, where the money goes to a facility. Instead, this money for VA pension comes directly to the veteran or to the surviving spouse of the veteran, and it’s based on whether we’re talking about a veteran who’s married or a single veteran or a surviving spouse, different levels of compensation and it depends on what our need is but just to give the two ends of it here, for a married veteran who needs Aid and Attendance, and I think we’ll probably talk about that in just a minute, that’s around $25,000 a year tax free, so 5 years, if my math is right, that would be $125,000 tax-free, so pretty remarkable benefit and even for a surviving spouse, it’s about $13,000 a year, so over 5 years, that would be $65,000 or so, again tax-free.
Many times, our clients are living only on social security, so it may be a married couple that’s living on $1,200, $1,300 a month. If we can add over $2,000 a month tax-free, that makes a huge difference. For a widow living on $800 a month in social security, to add another $1,100 is all the difference in the world.
Davis: It certainly sounds like it can alter the quality of life of a veteran or a surviving spouse by having this particular benefit. I’m thinking the next question people are going to ask is, “How do I get qualified? What are the requirements that I have to meet to be eligible for this particular benefit?” You and I tend to divide that up into three areas. We talk about the military service of the veteran. We talk about the health of the claimant for the benefit and we talk about the financial requirements that have to be met. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that, starting with the military requirement?
John: Sure. This is the starting point for anybody that contacts us, whether it’s the veteran himself or herself or whether it’s a surviving spouse, and that is did the veteran serve during a time of war? We need 1 day of active duty during a time of war and a total of 90 days of active duty, consecutive active duty, but just 1 day during a time of war, and a time of war basically follows what we learned in history, so World War 2, although the VA actually extends that to ’46, Korean War, about ’50 to ’55. Vietnam, it does make a difference whether we were in country or not in the country of Vietnam, but with that one exception, to be a wartime veteran does not have anything to do with being in combat or overseas. You could be at Aniston the whole time or you could be military police or you could be in Alaska at a radar station, whatever the situation may be. You do not have to be in combat to be a “wartime” veteran.
Then we need an honorable discharge and I guess to be technically correct, it’s better than dishonorable but I know you’re like me, we like to make it very practical and honorable discharge is what we’re talking about for 99% of the people that either one of us have ever represented. If we are a veteran, 1 day of active duty during time of war, honorable discharge, then that military requirement is satisfied and there’s really nothing else we have to do with that.
Davis: Well, that sounds pretty easy and pretty straightforward, not a lot of questions associated with that. How about the other two requirements that in particular, let’s start with the health requirements. There are thing that can get a little bit more technical, I believe.
John: It does, and if the veteran is alive, then we focus on the veteran’s health. Now that the veteran’s passed away, then we focus on his widow’s health. What we’re looking at is rather than giving you all the fancy technical stuff, do you need help just living? Is it okay to live by yourself or does somebody in your family say, “Wait a minute. Dad just doesn’t need to be living alone.” Well then we always ask the question, “Why? Why can this person not live alone? Why does your mother need to not be alone?”
Usually, we get answers such as, “Well, she’s at risk if she takes a shower. She might fall.”, or, “She cannot do medication management.”, or, “She has dementia, Alzheimer’s.” There are two levels of – the way the VA looks at is one is called house-bound, which means,
“I can’t just get in my car and go. I can’t just go walk to the bus station or walk to the store.” I need somebody to help me to leave my house. In a little bit higher, the highest level of benefits is Aid and Attendance. That’s why sometimes, we refer to it and our clients refer to it as the whole benefit’s called Aid and Attendance. It’s not technically correct but as a practical matter, that’s what we’re looking at.
That just says, “Do I need help with activities of daily living?” Davis, I know we have different ways that we try to use to illustrate it. One way that I use is this morning, I got up, I got in the shower. I went to the bathroom. I got dressed. I got something to eat. I drove myself to work. I can do all these things on my own. Well, those are activities of daily living. Now if I ever get to a point where I cannot do those things on my own, where I need my children or somebody else to help me get dressed or to help me get to the bathroom or to take a shower, take a bath, now I need the aid and attendance of somebody else to help me with those things. At that point, then the VA says, “Okay, you qualify under that medical requirement.”, and there’s some doctor forms and things of that nature but that’s the basic second requirement.
How does the VA Pension help pay for assisted living?
Davis: Well, from some of the things you say here, it sounds like some unique benefits associated with this particular program and I want to explore one in particular because it deals with a great concern that just about everyone of my clients has and that is the need that it might be forced to go on to a nursing home prematurely in part for financial reasons. Is there any way this can keep people at home longer, for example, or help to afford an assisted living facility?
John: Right, and I’m sure all of my clients are the same as yours. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “You know, today will be a great day to get to the nursing home.” Nobody wants to get to a nursing home. Now, when we walk into a nursing home though, we look over here and the room is filled, and we look over there and the room is filled. Nursing homes are filled with people who do not want to be there. Sometimes, there’s simply no choice. If you have the wrong kind of stroke or a bad fall, there may be no way your family can care for you at home, but what’s sad is and I think this is what you are asking about is when people go to a nursing home when they could have stayed at home, but because of money, they have to go to a nursing home and get on Alabama Medicaid, because as a practical matter, Alabama Medicaid will only pay for care in a nursing home, which is as a practical matter, don’t pay for care in assisted living or at home.
This benefit can give us the money so that we can then, instead of having to leave our home and go to where the help is, we can bring the help to us at home, and that is what everyone of my clients, they want to be able to stay at home and if they have to go to an assisted living, they want to stay there and not then have to go to a nursing home. It’s a great benefit to get that money into us so that we could stay at home.
What are the requirements to qualify for the VA Pension?
Davis: It certainly sounds like there’s a lot of flexibility in the way this program can be applied because it does get paid in cash and it does get paid directly to the veteran or to the surviving spouse. I’m sure a lot of people watching this were thinking, “It sounds like maybe I don’t meet all the qualifications here.” I wanted to talk next about the financial part of it because that seems to be the place where we have the issues come up about eligibility. Let’s talk about that third part of this here about – a little more in detail about the financial requirements to be eligible for the program.
John: Sure. That’s where – again our practices are very similar. The financial aspect is where people often, if they ever find out about this benefit, they’ll say, “Well I don’t qualify.” Here’s what we’re talking about, two things. First of all is the income, so the VA looks at our household income and then they compare that with the benefit that they would pay. The practical matter is we want to get our income down as little as possible, legitimately within the rules of the VA and the VA allows us to do that with certain un-reimbursed medical expenses, which in the right situation can even be family members that are providing care for us.
Then there’s an asset level, where the VA says, “Certain assets count and certain do not count, so our house does not count or our car does not count.” Generally, other assets will count and there’s a certain level. Unfortunately, that’s not quite defined as you and I know. We just have to use our judgment on what that is but we have a pretty good sense of what that is, and so the assets are above that, the VA will say, “Well I’m sorry, you do not qualify.” That’s where the few people that actually find out about this benefit, the vast majority of those few people figure, Well, there’s nothing I can do because the VA says I make too much money and I own too much stuff.”
Davis: Is there anything I can do about that? Let’s say they are in that position and they say, “It sounds like this would be ideal. I could certainly use that extra money because I am incurring additional – I’m not getting the care I need because I can’t afford it.” In that case, is there anything they can do to become eligible even if they’re not today? Are there active steps they can take to become qualified?
John: Yes, and let’s start with the income. The VA has rules. They don’t always make sense and I know we’ve expressed frustration about this. Sometimes, the VA does not consider pharmacy bills to be un-reimbursed medical expenses, but yet, if we’re in assisted living, the entire cost of that normally is a “un-reimbursed medical expense”, but the thing that most people don’t know about, the VA certainly does not advertise this as well. They don’t advertise any other program but they certainly don’t advertise this, that if I’m a veteran at home and seeing my adult daughter is taking care of me, well I can actually pay her and the VA will count that as a medical expense, even if she’s not a nurse, not a doctor and there are a number of requirements that have to take place for that, so there are ways, there are strategies, there are planning techniques to take our income from up here, where it’s too high to legitimately bring it down to where we can now get this benefit.
For the assets, right now and we’re recording this right at the first of the year, there’s no limitation or restriction from the VA standpoint on me as a veteran giving away assets, transferring assets to, it could be family or to a charity or to a trust or to any place I want to send it. The VA does not have a problem with that. Now they’re talking about
making that, having a so-called lookback period where when you apply, the VA will then look backwards in time and say, “They’re looking at your financial. Did you give away anything?”, and if you did, there could be some penalties, but right now, we don’t have that issue, and so yes, if somebody is a wartime veteran and medically, health-wise, they need this benefit, the financial, we can almost always make that work.
They encourage people not to let that initial look at the financial, make them say, “This benefit’s not for me.” It can be for you. We just have to plan and to implement a strategy that fits within the rules of the VA.
How did John Watts come to know about this benefit?
Davis: Sure there are a lot of people out there right now who are saying, “This is a fantastic benefit.”, in fact, and as you’ve just described, there are situations where the benefit can more than double the household income for the veteran family. That can make a huge difference in the quality of their life, but the thing that’s always struck me is how few people are actually receiving this benefit today. I’ve heard numbers from the VA as low as only about 300,000 or 350,000 people are getting this, so obviously, the word is not getting out there that this is available. I know, I was a lawyer for a long time before I even knew about this benefit, and I think you have a story about how you came somewhat late to know about this benefit as well.
John: Yeah, and we have – it’s a fact that very few people know about this, very few people get this benefit and then we say, “Why? Why are people not knowing about it?” I think in part, because when we think of VA benefits, we really think of the serviceman or servicewoman who is injured and there’s a benefit for those folks and that’s very important, but that dominates the news. That’s what we hear about, maybe with Vietnam, Agent Orange or the Persian Gulf, all sorts of problems people are dealing with, but then when you hear about this VA pension, if you happen to hear about it, sometimes it sounds too good to be true and I was at a conference, not a legal conference but just a business conference and during a break, a gentleman came up to me and said, “What do you do?”, and I said I’m a lawyer, and he goes, “Oh, I’m a lawyer too.” We had that connection and he says, “What type of work do you do?”, and I said, “Well, I litigate cases in federal court and help consumers.”, and he goes, “I help veterans.”
I thought, well that’s great. That’s very needed. He said, “I help them in a way nobody knows about.” My first thought was, “Really? Nobody knows about this.”, and then he looked around and said, “I found a secret government benefit for veterans.” I’m pulling back a little bit, going, “Really? Secret government benefit?” I’ve been a lawyer all these years and I know all these federal laws and I’ve never heard of this. Then he said, “If you pay me money, I’ll tell you about it.”
I get all sorts of little alarm bells going off in my head, going, “Get out of here. Get out of here.” I left that meeting, and I remember I called my law partner and I said, “You’ll never believe I ran into this crazy guy that said he had this secret government benefit.” I never thought about it again, then I had family members who still are wartime veterans or widows of wartime veterans and their health started to decline, I didn’t think about this benefit. I had friends and clients who would tell me about the issue with, “Mom’s got dementia now, and her husband, deceased husband was a wartime veteran. What can we do?” I don’t know.
I knew about Medicaid and nursing home but I didn’t know about this benefit, so I say all that to say I don’t regret being skeptical, Davis, because I think there are a lot of scams and I think of emails, you suddenly, somebody wants to run $10 million through your account and give you $3 million. It’s wise to be skeptical, but my mistake was, and I hope you don’t make this mistake was I did not investigate this benefit. I should have said, “Well let me check out.” Does the VA website mention this benefit? We go talk to other people about this, and so that’s where I made the mistake of not following up on this and we just want to encourage people to find out about this benefit and see if it applies to you, and if you’re skeptical, that’s good. Be skeptical but investigate.
Davis: Absolutely, and I know that many of our clients, and we hear this all the time, that the discussions within the family are someone will say, “This sounds too good to be true.” It is because it gets paid in cash and all the other features and its flexibility is unusual for any government benefit, but this idea that it’s too good to be true, and so a lot of people are stopping there and they’re not doing anything at all, so they’re not educating themselves but for those who do want to pursue it and to find out more, how do they do that? Where do they go for the information that they need? I know, I’ve seen a lot of misinformation, a lot of misleading information on the internet about this because there are a lot of people who have tried to capitalize on it, not for the benefit for the veteran.
Where do they go to get reliable information?
John: That’s a great question and it’s kind of a joke. Somebody says, “Well, I read it on the internet. It must be true, Davis.” Again, we need to be skeptical but the VA website, you can go and type in about this special or improved pension and it will describe it to you. That can give you a lot of assurance, “Hey, this is very legitimate.” People in Alabama can go to my website, Alabama Elder Lawyer. You can start to look at it and investigate it and as you’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of scams out there. A lot of people taking advantage of veterans, so the message I’d like to leave on this point is make sure that whatever advice you get is going to be in the veteran or the widow’s best interests and we don’t – we should not do the VA pension in a vacuum. Unfortunately, we see a lot of people out there doing that.
It says if they have blinders on and all they can see is the VA pension because they’re trying to sell you some financial product, and there are appropriate products out there but they do not look at Alabama Medicaid, and there are different rules and there’s kind of a tension, Davis, between what can you do with VA, what can you do with Medicaid? It’s not that one’s right, one’s wrong. It’s just we have to be aware of both of those programs and this was something that I appreciate you taught me is we always look at what’s in the best interest of the veteran. Sometimes, it’s to not get this benefit, even if they qualify or could qualify. Sometimes, we don’t want to give away $1 million worth of assets to get this benefit based upon this particular circumstance, so we really have to look at in a – what’s the word now – holistic way, look at everything and make sure that it makes sense even if we can qualify for this benefit.
I just encourage people to investigate it and to make sure that you’re getting the right advice and if I can just say one more thing, here’s a simple test. If somebody says, “I want to explain this benefit to you and here’s how much it will cost you for me to explain it to you or for me to apply it for you.”, then I would run, run the other way. That is a perfect warning that you’re dealing with somebody who is not legitimate.
Children or grandchildren are encouraged to be part of the process for applying and qualifying. Why?
Davis: Now I know that some of those solutions that you and I talk about, we often need to involve other family members so they need to know as well. I think, aren’t you like I am in the sense that I try to – I encourage the rest of the family to participate, for example, probably in better than half of our cases, an adult child is already providing some kind of care for an elderly father or mother. We need their support, we need their buy-in on this, don’t we?
John: Right, and we always tell the veterans, it’s up to you if you want your children involved. As you mentioned, a lot of times, a solution involves the children and we certainly encourage people, have your children at the meeting or have them on the phone with us, materials that we prepare and we give away. If your children want those, we want them to have them and I know for example, if my mother said, “I’m going to go meet with ________.”, a lawyer, financial advisor, insurance person, I would want to know more about that and I would want to either be there or to have my brother be there with her, just so you have that somebody else, a second set of eyes, kind of like going to the doctor. You want to have a family member with you.
We strongly encourage family members to be involved in this, to be educated and we certainly respect the attorney-client privilege, I don’t want to be misunderstood on that, but we are as transparent as possible.
We do not want to say, “Don’t tell your children that you’re talking to me.” Again, if somebody is saying that, that ought to be a warning sign that, “why would they not want my adult children to know about this or my granddaughter to know about this?” We encourage the family to come together because to solve the problem of long-term care, whether we’re in a crisis right now or we can see it coming, the family’s got to pull together. You can’t do it by yourself.
What should I do now?
Davis: At this point, I’m thinking some of these people are saying, “It sounds like maybe I might be a good candidate for this particular benefit.” What’s the very next step they need to take? Should it be to contact you?
John: Yeah, that’s certainly fine. You can call my office at 205-879-2447 or go to Alabama Elder Lawyer and it has our phone number, it has contact information. Generally, the way that I do it, you’ll initially speak with a lady named Carolyn and she’s a very nice lady, very experienced and what she’ll do is just get a quick sense of what your situation is. When did you serve in the military or when did maybe your deceased husband serve in the military?
Then tell me a little bit about your limitations or the help that you need, because we get, and I know you do too, we get 90 year old healthy veterans that say, “Well, I’m in great shape now but what do I do if I ever need this in the future?” Then we have veterans that are really struggling, really in bad shape medically and the family’s providing round the clock care.
Give us a call, we’ll be glad to talk to you. There’s no charge for that. We don’t charge to talk to people about this benefit and then Caroline will get that information to me and then we can set up a call or a meeting in person and then we can go over it and find out first, do you qualify? If you don’t qualify, can you qualify? If you can qualify, does it make sense to do that? Again, the focus is going to be what’s on the best interest of the veteran or the widow of the veteran.
Davis: I think I know the answer to this, but I believe you represent veterans all over the state of Alabama. We’re not just talking here in Birmingham, so not just here but all over the state, you’re able to help them?
What is the cost to hire John Watts?
Davis: Good. The final thing and I know this is on everybody’s mind, is what does this cost? How do I get charged for doing the work that you do? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about whether you charge for doing the claim to the VA or just for the legal work? How does it work with you?
John: Okay, and that’s a fair question, I’m a consumer too. When I’m buying something or seeing a doctor, whoever it may be, so that’s a very natural question and just starting with the very simple nobody, including lawyers, can charge to prepare the petition or prepare the claim, the initial claim that’s filed with the VA. If anybody tries to charge on that, I would run in the opposite direction.
What we can do, and the VA has said that this is perfectly fine is if there’s legal work that you need done, then you can hire a lawyer to do the legal work. Because you may take, for example, having too much in the way of assets, you may not qualify but if you transfer those assets to the right person at the right time and the right manner, then you may qualify. That’s legal work involved and so we charge for that. With the income being too high, there are things we can do to bring that income down, just like with taxes. We have a gross income and then we get to take deductions and lower those taxes.
Same thing here, well if there’s legal work involved, then we charge for that. Now, I personally like to know what I’m going to pay for something and so I am not a fan of an hourly rate. I guess if somebody insisted, I would, I guess I would. Nobody’s ever tried to convince me to do an hourly rate. We do a flat fee. We say, “Here’s your situation. Yes I think I can help you. Yes I think it’s appropriate to help you. Now, here’s the solution and here’s the cost.” It’s just one flat fee so we don’t want people nervous about calling us or sending an email or a letter because oh, I’m going to get a bill in the mail. No, it’s all covered. That’s what you’re paying for is to have access to us and for us to help you get this solution.
We always try to put our fees in the context of what benefit do you get? Here’s what you’re going to be spending on, the legal fee. Here’s the result that you are looking for so that people can have an idea of how to evaluate that fee.
Can I qualify for both the VA Pension and Disability benefits?
Davis: I have one more question, I should have asked this one earlier and I want to explore for just a minute where this particular benefit fits in in the scheme of benefits that the veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers, and this is a so-called non-service connected benefit. There is another major benefit that we hear about a lot in the news we mentioned earlier, and that is the disability compensation, and one of the things I’m seeing more and more are Vietnam War hero veterans who are receiving perhaps already – they either have never filed for disability compensation or they’re getting a very, very small compensation payment because perhaps the VA rated them only 10% disabled.
They’re having long-term care problems now. They’re suffering from PTSD and a lot of other problems. Is there any way that you could – let’s say that they come to you and they want to say, “I really like to get my disability compensation increased from 10% to 30% or 50% but I have these issues right now with long-term care. Is there any way that you could do both at the same time? If so, could I get both benefits?”
John: Yeah, and that’s a great question and I think a really important point, some lawyers only do the VA compensation or the disability. Some lawyers only do the pension but when you do both, then you can sit back and look at it and say, “All right, here’s how we can make these work together.” Davis, you and I know from experience the VA compensation, that’s a service-related claim. Those can take years to fully go through the process. Well, the VA pension normally is more like 3, 4, 5 months, so it’s much quicker. If we have a service-related injury, we can get that compensation, that disability rating, but it may take us a long time. In the meantime, let’s apply for this VA pension and let’s get that to get some money coming in so the family can provide for those needs.
Then down the road, when that disability, that service related kicks in, then we can get that, assuming that that’s higher. The VA will not let us get both. They’ll let us apply for both but not actually receive both benefits. They’ll just say, “Well, you get the highest.” That’s a good thing, and so at the higher levels, the disability can be significantly more than the VA pension.
Davis: That says then if I’m getting disability compensation today, but it’s a small amount, maybe just a couple of hundred dollars, maybe I could, during the transition period, I’m waiting for an increase. I could actually get the VA pension because that’s the larger number and then surrender that when I get my increase and my disability compensation.
John: Right, that’s right, or let’s say somebody has the 10% or 20% service-related disability, then they have a stroke, completely unrelated, well that disability money is not going to increase. Maybe it was an injury to the arm or an injury to the leg, but I’ve seen veterans that say, “Well, I’m already getting the VA disability so I guess I can’t get that.”
No, you can get the highest of it. Bottom line is if you think there’s a chance that you qualify or could qualify for the VA pension, then I really recommend you check out your options because again, if you don’t know what your rights are, then you can’t take the correct action.
You want to educate yourself and figure out, because maybe you don’t qualify now but you could make some changes and qualify and Davis, I know we’ve talked about this before just privately that there are some people, and it seems like it’s in the news more and more where people are being critical veterans for taking advantage of this and if we have another minute, I’d like to …
Davis: Absolutely, I think you ought to address that very important point.
John: This is something that – I know you and I are both pretty laid back but this does get under our skin a little bit when we hear people say, “You know what, those veterans, they shouldn’t try to get this VA pension.” If you don’t qualify, take no steps to qualify. Now of course, that’s not people that are having trouble getting dressed and people who are having trouble bathing themselves saying that. That’s able-bodied people that are looking down on the veterans saying, “You don’t need to qualify for that.” What irks me about that is if we grab any of those people saying that, and we say, “Let me ask you this. Do you make money?” They go, “Yeah, absolutely. I make money.”, “Well, do you pay taxes?”, “Well of course, I pay taxes.””Let me ask you this, do you take a deduction for your mortgage payment?””Of course, I do.””Well, you have children living at home, do you reduce your income?””Absolutely, it will be un-American to not do that.”
See, why do they do that? Because they should just pay more taxes if they think people shouldn’t get benefits from the government, but they’re, “Oh no, no, no, no, I’m going to pay the bare minimum in taxes. That’s my God-given right as an American.” Okay, I agree with that, as long as you stay within the rules but it’s the same thing for our clients, Davis. If the VA says hear the rules and we stay within those rules, but we could make some changes and just like with our taxes, we might take something now because that will give us a tax benefit and in the business world, you see people say, “Well, go ahead and buy things at the end of 2013 to reduce your taxes for 2013.” Okay, or when do we contribute to an IRA? There are certain deadlines.
Same thing here, people can take steps to qualify for this, and there’s nothing wrong with that and I want to share one story, and I’ll give you credit because you’re the one that told me this story, but I think it’s just so important, there’s a Supreme Court justice that worked obviously in DC, but like a lot of people, lived in Virginia, and he had to pass to get home, two bridges. One was a toll bridge and one was not. He has a choice. Do I go the toll bridge and pay $1 or $5, whatever it is? That goes to the government, or he could, by rearranging his schedule a little bit, he could take the non-toll bridge.
He asked himself this question, “Is it legal for me to not take the toll?” Obviously, he doesn’t have to take the toll bridge, but then thinking about, “Am I morally obligated to take
the toll bridge?”, because that will give more money to the government. Well no, the government said, “You can go this way and pay $5 or you can go this way and pay nothing.” You pay taxes, and he said, “I have the choice. If I want to go the toll booth, that’s fine. If I want to take the bridge, that is free, I can do that.” Same thing with our clients, with taxes and especially with these VA pension benefits and I can’t remember if I said this, Davis, but I want to make the point, this is not charity. This is not welfare. Not just anybody can get this benefit. It’s only wartime veterans and surviving spouses.
Sometimes, people come to us and they say, “Well, I was almost a wartime veteran.” Does that qualify? No, or if somebody says, “Well, I was married to a veteran and then I divorced him and then 5 years later, he died, so now I need help.” You’re not a surviving spouse. We don’t expand those rules. That would be wrong, but we don’t let anybody contract and shrink those benefits and say, “Well, you shouldn’t get it.” I’m sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now but that just really bothers me when people say that because so few people even know about these benefits and then they call the VA and the VA says, “You make too much money.”
Then when they start thinking, “Well maybe there’s something I can do.”, and somebody gets on TV and says, “You’re being wrong to try to plan for this.” It’s hurting the people that served during a time of war who now need our help and they earned this benefit and we shouldn’t do anything to take it away.
Davis: Exactly. I agree with you completely on that. Your time is just about to run out here. Any final points you’d like to make here that you want people to know about before we close?
John: Yeah, I really just – first of all, thank you for having me but the main thing is just look into this. Don’t assume, “We probably don’t qualify.” That assumption could be a $25,000 a year mistake and it could be the difference between your husband or your father or your mother staying at home, where they want to be and going completely broke and having to go into the nursing home. Don’t make any assumptions. Investigate it. If you live in Alabama and have a question, there’s no charge. We’ll talk to you. It’s 205-879-2447 or Alabama Elder Lawyer, and again, thank you for having me.
Davis: John, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for being here.
John: Thank you.