Veterans not always aware of benefits

But Nancy Lacey then asks if the parent served in the military during wartime or was married to someone who did — because the federal pension they’re entitled to often makes the difference between being able to afford assisted living or not.

The Clark County Veterans Office this week began reaching out to the county’s 11 assisted living facilities for the first time to promote the benefit and to instruct them what paperwork is needed to obtain a pension faster. Clark County is home to nearly 13,650 veterans.

“Many, many times, I’ve put smiles on people’s faces,” said Lacey, director of admissions at Eaglewood in Springfield. “It becomes clearer that, ‘Yeah, Mom or Dad is going to be able to afford this.’”

At Eaglewood — where an apartment with some level of nursing care costs an average of $2,800 a month — Lacey most often works with an adult child, who frequently isn’t aware that a pension for wartime vets and their surviving spouses through the Department of Veterans Affairs even exists.

“A lot of times, we’re telling them about the benefit that they might not know about otherwise,” Lacey said.

That’s largely why the county veterans office brought in admissions personnel this week for the first training locally of its kind. Another session is slated for October.

“They’re the first one the family sees,” said Cathy Ater, executive director of the Clark County Veterans Office, which files for VA benefits on behalf of local veterans.

“It’s their resident,” Ater added, “but our veteran.”

To make filing easier, the county provided stacks of brightly colored packets containing paperwork to those who attended the training. But, what’s printed on the front of each packet could prove the most valuable — a checklist of all the paperwork needed to file for the pension.

In the past, Ater said, facilities would often provide random paperwork to the county veterans office.

“We’re trying to stress to them you can’t piecemeal them,” she said. “If you put together a good claim with everything in it, that claim is going to go faster.”

“We’re helping them to help us,” Ater said.

The VA, whose claims backlog is infamous, has started calling for what are known as fully developed claims, a new initiative that promises faster decisions.

Samantha Downs, community services representative at Forest Glen Health Campus in Springfield, called the training session she attended “wonderful.”

“The packet makes it wonderful,” Downs said.

Currently, a low-income veteran age 65 or older — who served at least one day during a wartime period and now requires assisted living — would be eligible for both the pension and an added Aid and Attendance benefit for a maximum monthly payment of $1,732.

Their widow, who must not have remarried, is eligible to receive a maximum of $1,113.

“A pension is the difference between someone being able to afford it and not,” Ater said.

A campaign medal for time spent in a combat zone isn’t a requirement, either.

A veteran who was drafted, for example, during the Vietnam War, but was sent to a base in West Germany will qualify as a wartime veteran when it comes time for them to move into assisted living.

Downs said her late aunt, the wife of a World War II veteran, lived at Forest Glen and the pension paid for more than half of her daily rate.

“When you’re looking at long-term care,” Downs said, “it’s worth the trouble to go through.”

Springfield resident Carl Brooks, 92, a B-17 navigator during World War II who became a prisoner of war after being knocked out of the sky over Berlin on May 7, 1944, uses a different VA benefit to pay for his apartment at Eaglewood.

As a former POW who survived a 54-mile forced march and lived on 700 calories a day for three months, he doesn’t get the pension, but instead qualifies for VA disability compensation.

The VA, Ater said, only allows a veteran to take whichever benefit is larger.

“It enables me to be here,” said Brooks, a local pharmacist who’s been retired for nearly 27 years.

Even still, Brooks, who’s lived at Eaglewood for two years, said he didn’t know he was eligible for any money at all until just 10 years ago, when he already was in his 80s.

For Karen Hayes, who only recently took over as admissions manager at Dayview Care Center in New Carlisle, the effort by the county veterans office to reach out to facilities like hers was more than welcome.

“Now I definitely know what’s out there,” Hayes said.

Getting an elderly parent moved into assisted living is stressful, she said. For some families, VA benefits are the last thing they think about.

That’s where she and other admissions personnel come in.

“They served our country for this,” Hayes said. “They deserve any help they can possibly get.”

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