Max Schaffer is quick to tell you that he served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II for exactly 4 years, 8 months, and 11 days. His penchant for details and accounting served him well in wartime and throughout his career as a successful businessman. When Schaffer moved into Belmont Village of Burbank, California, in 2008 at the age of 90, he had a clear plan and sufficient income and savings to pay for his rent and care. Then, two years ago, the financial markets collapsed and the ensuing recession changed everything for him and for most elder Americans struggling to afford the costs of senior housing and long-term care.
In the main, seniors pay for senior living through a combination of fixed income, savings, and home equity. Fixed income covers a fraction of the annual cost of an assisted living apartment, according to a research collaboration published in the 2009 Overview of Assisted Living by the American Seniors Housing Association and the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry. The research also shows that families contribute significantly to the cost of housing and care of a loved one, from 7%-15% depending on care services. The effects of the recession-plunging home values, lower stock prices, miniscule CD rates, lingering unemployment-have reduced the income and financial statements for both seniors and families.
Responding to these circumstances, long-term care providers have identified several sources of financial support for current and prospective residents. Building awareness of Veterans Administration (VA) benefits among resident veterans like Schaffer is one way that providers can help residents augment their income. A senior living line of credit and funding from the sale of a life insurance policy are two ways to help make funds available quickly when a resident's needs can't wait. To help reduce the costs of rent and care, many providers offer shared apartments. Depending on individual circumstances, seniors and families may benefit from certain tax benefits afforded to them by the IRS. In all, these solutions can have a big impact in the calculus of making ends meet. Providers are a factor in the equation, providing education and awareness in an integrated financial solutions package.
“The Aid and Attendance benefit is a small part of a much larger VA pension plan. Not many veterans know about it.”
Belmont Village Senior Living, which owns and operates 19 assisted and independent living communities in six states, has implemented the above-mentioned financial solutions with success. Here is a rundown of how each solution has contributed to a more financially sound resident population.
For Schaffer, the Aid and Attendance benefit program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been a godsend. “I wouldn't have applied without the recession. Now I need it,” he says. The benefit is for veterans whose disability or death was not caused by military service, and it may be utilized in assisted and independent living.
Schaffer learned about the benefit during an educational presentation at his community. He admits that the application is arduous, requiring extensive documentation about military service, medical history, and his current finances. His lifelong business skills helped him to complete the application on his own and he now receives $1,644 a month.
Spouses of veterans are also eligible for VA benefits. Judi Gordon of Mason, Illinois, secured a VA Aid and Attendance benefit for her mother, June Felice, a Belmont Village assisted living resident in Carol Stream, Illinois. Felice's husband, John, now deceased, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Gordon learned about the benefit from an insert in her monthly statement. The application process took two months, Gordon says, and the benefits are retroactive from the initial time of application.
To honor its resident veterans and promote the federal Aid and Attendance benefit, Belmont Village commissioned Los Angeles photographer Thomas Sanders to create photographic portraits of its veteran residents, which are now part of permanent exhibitions in many Belmont communities. The images and stories of these veterans are featured in a new book, The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II, published by Welcome Books, New York, available in bookstores.