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LLOYD: Vets aren't alone when struggling with big bills

Veterans have served our country selflessly and without question upheld our country's morals and values. With a son stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base being deployed to Iraq in June, I feel a personal connection to our vets and their courageous, admirable service.

As a result, my team has worked closely with the resources available at the Veterans Assistance Association to provide important education locally to veterans and their families. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.

There is one particular benefit available that is rarely talked about or covered in the news. In an 1,800-page VA manual, this benefit is defined in four pages. It is called the Aid and Attendance Benefit. The A&A is a special pension benefit that may be available to veterans and their surviving spouses who served our country during a period of war.

Funded entirely by Congress, the benefit was created in 1951 and later enhanced in 2001. It is a non-service-related disability benefit, which means that disability does not have to be a result of military service.

The purpose of this benefit is to assist with the costs of long-term care. Often, A&A helps keep veterans or their surviving spouses out of a nursing home because the benefit pays for independent-living and assisted-living communities, as well as in-home care. It is also helpful for veterans living independently who believe that they are unable to afford a high-quality assisted-living facility, and it can also be life-changing to veterans and their spouses who are living in a home and are struggling to keep up with payments.

Assisted-living communities have turned to companies like ours for help with education and for assisting and processing qualified residents -- they view this government benefit as incredibly positive because, in some cases, it allows folks to stay living where they are most comfortable.

There are specific requirements in determining eligibility for this pension benefit. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs measures an applicant's medical need, service, income, expenses and assets. Additionally, applicants must be a veteran or spouse of a veteran who served 90 days of active duty, only one day during a wartime period -- it does not have to be served in combat -- during World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War or the Persian Gulf War, received a discharge other than dishonorable and be at least 65 years of age.

Once eligibility is determined, it can take eight to 12 months for the VA to approve the application. Applying, and ultimately, obtaining the Aid & Attendance benefit can be tedious and complex. It is important to note, if you apply for the benefit and are turned down due to an error in the application, you have to wait a year to reapply. In this often cumbersome process, accuracy is absolutely key in putting your best foot forward in obtaining the benefits you deserve as a vet and are entitled to under the law.

For frustrated and worried U.S. vets, struggling financially in retirement because of rising health care costs and unexpected assisted-living and specialty-care expenses, the Aid & Attendance Benefit can be extremely important and life-changing. It is imperative that our local community is armed with knowledge, and together remain committed to ensuring that richly deserving veterans and their families receive the full range of financial benefits to which they are entitled. They are our American heroes.

Founded in 1994 by Mark Lloyd, The Lloyd Group Inc. serves the distinctive financial needs of those nearing retirement and those already retired. "Focus On Retirement," a weekly radio show hosted by Mark Lloyd, can be heard in Athens on 1340-AM WGAU at 11 a.m. Saturdays and in Gainesville on 103.7-FM WXKT at

9:30 a.m. Saturdays and 7:30 a.m. Sundays. To learn more about The Lloyd Group Inc., call 770-932-0387 or visit www.thelloydgroupinc.com.