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As the year draws towards an end, the annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) for social security and other govenmerntal benefits are released. Hot off the press and effective January 1, 2015 the following will apply to qualified veterans receiving and or applying for non-service connected pension benefits in the form of aid and attendance:

Surviving Spouse $1,149.00
Single Veteran $1,788.00
Married Veteran $2,120.00
Improved Pension only $1,404.00
2 Married Veterans $2,837.00
Benefits can be used to help offset the cost of in-home, assisted living or other long term care.

If you have questions about becoming eligible to receive these benefits, please call our offices in both West Michigan at (616) 931-3670 or in Metro Detroit at (586) 264-3756.

Are you a military veteran who lives in the Detroit area and have questions about VA Benefits? If so, it is important to understand how your service is characterized because your eligibility for benefits is directly tied to your military service characterization.

Anyone who has served this country in uniform will tell you that they serve with the goal of separating from active duty with an Honorable service characterization. And for a vast majority, this desire stems from none other than the pride of serving our nation with honor. However, apart from the prestige associated with serving with honor, an Honorable service characterization carries with it a vast array of benefits that are lost as the characterization is downgraded. As a former Air Force prosecutor, and a continuing member of the Air Force Ready Reserves, I became intimately familiar with the impact that service characterization can have on a veteran’s ability to collect benefits through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). The information that follows is designed to explain the various types of service characterizations, while subsequent blog entries will focus on service characterization’s impact on VA benefits and the process of appealing for relief through the Board of Correction for Military Records.

A military member’s separation from active duty will fall into one of the following two categories: 1) Administrative, or 2) Punitive. Within the two categories of separations, each category is further divided into individual service characterizations. Administrative service characterizations include: 1) Honorable, 2) General (Under Honorable Conditions), or 3) Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (UOTHC). Punitive discharges, on the other hand, are characterized by either a Bad Conduct Discharge (BDC) or a Dishonorable Discharge (DD).

Detroit and Grand Rapids area veterans may be eligible to receive VA benefits to supplement the cost of their care for either assisted living, independent living with care, or in home care.

Through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) non-service connected benefits program aging and disabled veterans that need assistance with two (2) or more activities of daily living may qualify for monthly benefits of put to $2,000.00 per month. These benefits may be used to offset the cost of care by supplementing monthly social security and pension income. Although eligibility for these benefits may be confusing, help exists to those who may qualify. By working with a skilled elder law attorney, it is possible to qualify for benefits.

If you are residing in the metro Detroit area, Grand Rapids area, Kalamazoo area, or are in Northern Michigan and have questions about qualifying for VA benefits for assisted living or in-home-care call SMDA P.C.1-866-LAW-ELDR or 1-866-529-3537.

If you are a loyal listener to WYCD 99.5 in the metro Detroit area, you have probably heard our new advertisements for elder law and VA benefit planning. SMDA P.C or Serafini, Michalowski, Derkacz and Associates, P.C. has established itself as one of the premier elder law and long term care planning law firms in the metro Detroit Area.

Our firm specializes in the issues that affect “baby-boomers” and their aging parents. Although it is no secret that we are all living longer, it is sometimes a secret how to enjoy life beyond retirement and still be able to afford care and assistance beyond our golden years. Through estate planning and long term care planning techniques our firm can assist you and your family with providing the best quality of care at the lowest cost possible.

Not only are we able to help those in metro Detroit with their needs; our satellite office in Zeeland, Michiganstands ready to service clients in West Michigan. In addition, we are pleased to announce working relationships with The Law Offices of Grossman & Moldovan, in the Kalamazoo area and northern Michigan through an affiliation with Carey & Jaskowski, P.C. in Grayling, Michigan. Our network of attorneys are able to service clients throughout the state of Michigan,

If you are in Michigan and have elder law questions, VA benefit planning questions, or estate and probate questions, please call (586) 264-3756.

As the newest member of the team at Serafini, Michalowski, Derkacz & Associates (SMDA), I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself to those who frequently read this blog.

My name is Shane Childers, and I am excited to be a part of a firm with offices in both Sterling Heights and Zeeland, Michigan, that works extensively in the areas of estate planning, elder law, probate and estate administration. And as a former military member, and current member of the Air Force Ready Reserves, I am even more excited about continuing my work with our nations veterans as part of our veteran’s law practice.

My legal career began when I joined the United States Air Force JAG Corp after graduating from law school and passing the bar exam in 2008. As a member of the JAG Corp, I worked in several unique areas of the law. For instance, I served as the Chief of Military Justice at Ellsworth AFB, SD, where I served as the lead prosecutor for military courts-martial. As a prosecutor, I handled a broad array of criminal cases. I also earned a Meritorious Unit Award and an Air Force Commendation Medal for my service while at Ellsworth AFB, which included advising B-1B pilots and squadron commanders on the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Convention while working in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. However, the most rewarding accomplishments of my military career involved the assistance I was able to provide to many of our nations retired and disabled veterans. And it is with great pride that I will continue my work with our nation’s greatest heroes as a member of the team at SMDA.

For decades, our nation’s veterans have fought with the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to secure service-connected disability benefits for conditions believed to be linked to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. Many suffered with chronic illnesses caused by the toxic herbicide, but were denied benefits by the VA. However, recent medical studies have established a definitive link between several diseases and exposure to Agent Orange. As a result, new laws were enacted to create a presumptive service-connection for veterans suffering from a listed disease who served in the Republic of Vietnam, Thailand, or the Korea Demilitarized Zone between January 1962 and May 1975.

Vietnam veterans with a listed disease are presumed to suffer from the condition as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. The news laws encourage veterans who were previously denied disability compensation to reapply for benefits. For those claims previously denied by the VA, a finding of service-connected disability for the same condition could result in a retroactive payment of benefits from the date of the original claim. Many of these positive determinations result in substantial back payments. Moreover, so long as the veteran files the claim during his or her lifetime, the claim survives the veteran. Any retroactive payments are then payable to the surviving spouse, heirs, or the estate.

If you or a loved one served in the Republic of Vietnam, Thailand, or the Korea Demilitarized Zone during the Vietnam conflict and suffer from any of the diseases listed below, you may be entitled to substantial compensation from the VA. Call Serafini, Michalowski, Derkacz & Associates, PC today, we can help.

Do they, or, don’t they? This is a hot topic facing seniors that are veterans who are currently residing in independent living facilities in metro Detroit and West Michigan. The question involves whether or not the costs of living at a senior living community otherwise qualify as un-reimbursed medical expenses under the Veteran’s Administration (VA) non-service connected pension benefit regulations.

The regulations that define aid and attendance allow seniors living in assisted living facilities or private duty nursing homes to count their monthly expenses, including rent AND care, as qualified reimbursable expenses. These expenses, more or less, “trigger” eligiblity for aid and attendance benefits.

Traditionally, only “care” expenses were counted as re-imbursable expenses under federal. Rent at independent facilities would not be counted towards qualification for the benefit even if the applicant received services at the facility and could no longer reside at home. These rules are puzzling given that many seniors choose to receive assistance and in senior apartments that is identical to the services and care offered by true assisted living facilities.

If you are a veteran receiving non-service connected pension benefits and/or aid and attendance, the federal government has more good news for you following the announced increase in benefits that we earlier reported.

As must of you know, once you receive non-service connected benefits you must complete the annual report to the VA known as the Expense Verification Report or EVR. If you have ever completed this form you know, firsthand, that it is cumbersome and confusing. Fortunately, due to an administrative change with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, this form may no longer be required to continue your benefits.

The VA has sent out a release that the EVR will no longer be required; instead, they will compare information obtained through cross-checking records from the IRS and other federal agencies.

Finally some good news from Washington which will mean good news for Detroit veterans receiving VA benefits.

After a few years of no increase to non-service connected pension benefits, the federal government has increased the maximum benefit amounts for veterans receiving aid and attendance. The amount of increase is equal to the 1.7% cost of living adjustment for Social Security.

The numbers for veterans receiving aid and attendance effective January 1, 2012 (provided that the Mayans are wrong) will be:

Are you a senior residing in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Ottawa or Kent County and need assistance with long-term care planning, elder law or veteran’s benefits to provide in home care, assisted living, or, nursing home care for yourself or for a loved one?

In my last entry we discussed the use of qualified or retirement assets to: (1) provide an additional “private” benefit to supplement monthly income; and, (2) to protect other non-qualified assets from “spend down” and estate recovery. In this entry we will explore the use of a home’s equity to provide care by supplementing monthly income.

A home with equity can also be used a s a “private benefit” for a senior that is not a veteran and needs assistance to cover the cost of his or her care. Using the equity to create a flow of income like or in place of a monthly VA benefit can create a solution to a long-term care problem.

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