Not all aging veterans are eligible to receive benefits from the Veterans Administration. Unless an older veteran has a service-related disability, veterans generally receive the same government benefits as other Americans, including Social Security and Medicare. Disabilities that are not service-related might make veterans eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or similar government programs that are available to all eligible Americans.
Veterans are eligible for VA disability benefits if their disability resulted for an injury sustained as part of their military service or if a preexisting condition was worsened by military service. According to the Congressional Budget Office, at least 4.5 million veterans receive VA disability benefits.
About 2 million veterans who receive VA disability benefits have reached retirement age. That number is expected to double by 2039.
Benefits for Disabled Veterans
Most VA disability benefits consist of a monthly tax-free payment. The amount of the payment is determined by the veteran’s disability rating. That rating is meant to reflect the severity of the veteran’s impairment.
The most substantial VA disability benefits are paid to veterans who have a 100% disability rating. However, veterans can receive those same benefits if they are eligible for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) status. At least 200,000 veterans over the age of 65 are receiving TDIU benefits.
A veteran must have at least a 60% disability rating for a single disability, or a rating of at least 40% for one disability and a combined rating for multiple disabilities of at least 70%, to qualify for TDIU. In addition, the veteran must satisfy the VA that he or she is incapable of performing work that pays poverty-level wages because of the veteran’s disability.
Expanding Services for Disabled Vets
Responding to the rapidly increasing number of disabled veterans who are reaching retirement age, the VA plans to expand programs that will allow veterans to age in place or in home-like environments. The VA will also need to increase its funding for private nursing homes, VA community living centers (VA nursing homes), respite care programs, and state veterans homes.
While the VA pays for institutional care for eligible veterans, it offers options for veterans who want to avoid residing in a nursing home, community living center, or veterans’ home. Medical foster homes are among the expanded programs that aim to keep disabled veterans out of nursing homes. Medical foster homes are private residences where caregivers are trained to provide support services to veterans who live with them.
Medical foster homes are an alternative to nursing homes for veterans who need skilled care but do not require constant nursing care. The caregivers (or relief caregivers) provide 24/7 support with the activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating, and getting dressed. Caregivers receive 80 hours of initial training and must complete an additional 20 hours of training a year.
Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care are eligible for a medical foster home if they have a complex disabling medical condition that requires coordination of care and is sufficiently severe to require a nursing home level of care. Veterans pay the cost of residing in a medical foster home, often by using their disability benefits, but continue to receive health care through the VA.
Medical services are provided to veterans in medical foster homes through the VA’s home based primary care program. That program assigns a team that works under a physician’s supervision to help veterans meet their healthcare needs at home. A VA study found that home-based primary care results in a substantial reduction in hospital admissions and hospital stays.
The VA is also expanding its Veteran Directed Care services. That program allows veterans, with the assistance of a counselor, to hire their own caregivers to assist them with the activities of daily living. Veterans are given a budgeted amount of funds to pay for those services.