Estate Planning for VA Disability Compensation
This year this article is following a hypothetical family through their lives to see what role estate planning had on their family. To review prior articles, go to SeamonLawOffices.com/Blog.
We have worked with the Smith family for years regarding long-term Medicaid benefits and estate planning, so recently they contacted us for assistance in helping to see if we could help their son, Keith, who had served in the military and had been unsuccessful in obtaining Veterans’ Disability Compensation that they felt he deserved.
Keith had been in the military for several years when he injured his knee. He had surgery to repair the knee, but it never actually healed properly so he walked with a limp. He never applied for disability compensation for that injury, but years later he began having issues with his hip. His orthopedic doctor determined that Keith’s hip was deteriorating due to the initial injury to his hip that caused him to limp. The doctor believed this was a direct result of the knee injury.
Initially, Kevin was hesitant to pursue his claim. Although he was active duty, he never felt he was in harm’s way so in his mind he did not feel entitled to that help. He knew a lot of fellow soldiers who experienced far greater losses than he did. Of course, he did deserve compensation for his injuries even though they were not combat related or as life altering as the other veterans he knew.
Veterans do not need to have an attorney to apply for disability compensation, but often turn to attorneys when they receive a denial for their claim. Not just any attorney can assist a veteran, they must be accredited by the VA. A VA accredited attorney must pass a test and then maintain their knowledge through continuing education to maintain their accreditation. Non-attorneys may also become accredited as VA accredited agents.
During our meeting, Keith mentioned a family friend who was on service-connected VA disability compensation due to developing type II diabetes after having been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. Recently, the friend incurred a foot injury that would not heal properly and it became infected. The physicians were unable to control the infection primarily due to the diabetes, sadly he eventually had to have his foot amputated. I explained that even though this new issue is not service-connected, it is proximately due to a service-connected disability which means he may be able to increase his disability rating significantly. Keith was excited to let his friend know!
Keith is divorced and does not have children, so he was not concerned about his estate plan, he did not feel that it was important for him to have one. Keith presumed that if anything ever happened to him that his parents or siblings would just be able to take care of things because they were his next of kin and he trusted them. He had completed a VA Advance Directive (VA Form 10-0137) for his healthcare decisions.
I took time to explain to Keith that even when a person believes that their affairs are very simple that as an adult, they should at least have a general durable power of attorney and a last will and testament. The power of attorney would appoint a trusted agent to manage their non-medical affairs should they ever lose capacity (even temporarily). The last will and testament will make things clear and simple for their family upon their death while avoiding paying a bond. In the end, Keith agreed, and we were able to assist him with his VA issues and his estate plan.