Veterans Benefits

Programs help older vets with home care and long-term care costs

As a member of the United States Navy, Roger Proffer of Grayslake served in the Vietnam War from 1956 to 1976. Following in his footsteps, his granddaughter, Kim Hauser, served in the Army during the early 2000s. They’re two of the more than 630,000 veterans living in Illinois.

“I knew joining the Army would make my grandparents proud of me, and that was a big thing because they were the only ones on either side of my family to overtly show love for me,” Hauser says.

In gratitude, Hauser made it a priority to look out for her grandpa after her grandma died 20 years ago. Her most recent efforts included getting him home healthcare assistance through Veterans Affairs (VA).

“I went to see him and begged for him to go to the VA with me. The note of revelation was when he sarcastically said, ‘They kind of owe it to me, don’t they? I kind of earned this.’” 

“Navigating the VA is difficult,” Hauser says. “With my husband and me being vets, we have more familiarity with it.”

While her grandfather was aware VA benefits exist, he — like many veterans — finds it confusing to figure out what benefits he is eligible for. For instance, while Proffer knew he could visit a VA clinic to see a doctor, he didn’t realize he could be eligible for a home health aide. 

And while the benefits might cover only a portion of the costs, these important programs can help bridge the gap for older veterans, as well as their family members who care for them.

Securing benefits

At 83 years old, Proffer has dementia and heart complications and has fallen a few times. Living alone, he needed more care, but it was getting costly.

“He was paying out of pocket for a home aide but had to let her go because it got too expensive. I live in Georgia, and I needed someone to be there with him,” Hauser says.

While her grandpa initially refused to look into VA benefits, in part out of pride and feeling undeserving, he eventually came around.

“I went to see him and begged for him to go to the VA with me. The note of revelation was when he sarcastically said, ‘They kind of owe it to me, don’t they? I kind of earned this,’” Hauser says.

Benefit amounts vary based on individual situations and assessed needs. Proffer qualified for the VA’s Homemaker and Home Health Aide Care benefit, which covers some costs of a home health aide. With an aide for nine hours a week, Proffer now has help with grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and has someone to socialize with as well. 

Mike Steiner, owner of home care agency Right at Home Northern Lake County, who helped Proffer secure the benefit, reassures veterans that they deserve to get assistance.

“Many older vets have never used the VA before, and a lot of times they’ll say, ‘I’m fine. I don’t really want to use those benefits.’ But it’s clear they need help,” Steiner says. “I let them know that I don’t call these government handouts or entitlements, but rather benefits they have worked hard for and earned.”

Many veterans feel that they served without expecting anything in return, Steiner says. “I explain to the veterans, ‘You wrote a blank check to the government when you joined the military, and now the government is here to help you.’”

Hauser hopes her grandfather eventually qualifies for more hours of care. But knowing he has a home health aide for some period of time each week is comforting, she says. “It brings peace of mind for him and family knowing he’s not by himself.”

4 Benefits to Help Older Veterans 

The local Veterans Affairs location can help navigate benefits. Veterans can also seek out help from companies that provide eldercare services and are familiar with VA benefits.

While there are many VA benefits available depending on an individual’s health needs and financial situation, these four benefits help older veterans:

1. Long-term care

Veterans can receive some long-term care at home, VA medical centers, or in the community if they are enrolled in the VA Medical Benefits Package. This means the veteran has applied for healthcare benefits and receives care at a VA facility on a regular basis.

“They don’t have to give up their other physicians, but they do have to go to a VA clinic, get registered, and see VA doctors,” Steiner says. 

Once enrolled for health benefits, veterans may receive adult day health care, respite care, and home-based primary care.

2. Home health aides

The Homemaker and Home Health Aide Care benefit provides for a trained person who visits the veteran at home and helps with daily activities, such as cooking, grocery shopping, and getting to medical appointments. While the home care aide is not a nurse, they are supervised by one.

To be eligible for this benefit, a veteran must meet clinical criteria and qualify for community care, which offers care to veterans through community providers when the VA cannot provide the care needed. A co-pay may apply.

3. Special monthly pension

Veterans pension is a needs-based benefit program for honorably discharged active-duty veterans, who are 65 or older or have a permanent and total disability, and who have limited income and net worth. Veterans and surviving spouses who are more seriously disabled may qualify for a special monthly pension at the increased Housebound or Aid and Attendance rate.

Eligibility is based on need, says Jerry Schmitt, certified financial planner and VA accredited claims agent. Benefits may also be available for surviving spouses under the VA Survivors Pension program.

“For instance, maybe insurance pays for hospitalization and rehab, but a veteran needs to pay for someone to come to the house for care. The veteran will have to prove their wartime service, need for care, and that they qualify for veterans pension benefits based on financial need,” he says.

4. Burial benefits 

Veterans, service members, spouses, and dependents may be eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery. Burial benefits include a gravesite in a national cemetery, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a presidential memorial certificate, at no cost to the family. 

The VA also offers a burial allowance to eligible veterans to help cover the cost of a veteran’s burial, funeral, and transportation costs.

Additionally, all eligible veterans, regardless of where they choose to be buried, can receive military funeral honors for free, including a burial flag, headstone, marker or medallion, and a presidential memorial certificate.


Resources for Older Veterans

The following are helpful resources for veterans:

Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County. Provides qualified veterans with annual one-time immediate emergency financial assistance. | 312-433-6010

Veterans Benefits Administration. Provides financial and other forms of assistance to veterans and their dependents. | 800-698-2411

Veterans Crisis Line. A free, confidential resource to help veterans of all ages and circumstances. | 800-273-8255, or text 838255

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