Susan Tidwell: understanding veteran benefits for seniors

Plantation South Duluth offers resources for aging veterans, caregivers

DULUTHCaring for aging loved ones can be difficult under any circumstance, but challenges often multiply when dealing with a unique segment of seniors -- veterans.According to the National Alliance for Caregivers, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to remain a caregiver for 10 years or longer, and are often unable to retain a job while providing adequate care for their veteran. With stress and pressure stacking up, these caregivers -- often the adult children or even grandchildren -- may wonder where to turn for assistance, and may be unaware of resources that are available for veterans.

Susan Tidwell, executive director of Plantation South Duluth (www.plantationsouth-duluth.com) often sees residents who are former veterans and spouses of veterans who are unaware of benefits available.

"There are more than half a million veterans in Georgia alone and most aren't utilizing the resources provided to them by the government," explains Tidwell. "According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 36 percent of veterans eligible are currently receiving VA benefits. As Veteran's Day approaches, I'd encourage all veterans over the age of 65 to explore available resources."

Curious what benefits senior veterans are eligible to receive? Tidwell says there are several options you can take advantage of, including:

-- VA Aid and Attendance: For caregivers who are no longer able to provide the amount and quality of care their loved ones need, the Aid and Attendance benefit can be a huge help. This benefit, provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, helps to offset the cost of rent in assisted living communities for veterans and their spouses. Veterans may qualify for up to $1,632 monthly and surviving spouses may qualify for $1,055 monthly. For a couple (married veteran and spouse), the maximum benefit is $1,949. For more information, visit www.veteranaid.org/apply.php for a step by step guide to applying.

-- Veterans Non-Service Connected Improved Pension Benefit Program: One of the most significant benefit programs for veterans is the Veterans Non-Service Connected Improved Pension Benefit Program, which was formed to provide aid to veterans and their surviving family members. The program gives financial assistance to veterans over the age of 65 who have served for at least 90 days and whose income is below a set amount by Congress. Retired veterans often meet these requirements and can receive substantial government aid. To learn more visit: www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/pension/vetpen.htm#1

-- Driving evaluations: With many of our residents, their driving skills decrease as they age. Through the VA health care system, veterans are eligible for an extensive driving evaluation. Veterans can receive benefits like an in-depth personal driving evaluation, patient and family education on the issue and behind-the-wheel instruction. In addition, veterans can benefit from lessons on defensive driving techniques and vehicle and equipment evaluation by certified professionals.

"Our staff is proud of both the offerings we provide our veterans and our willingness to assist residents in utilizing Veteran benefits packages," Tidwell says. "I would advise all veterans and their caregivers to thoroughly explore offerings, ask questions and do their research."

-- Plantation South Duluth

Plantation South Duluth (www.plantationsouth-duluth.com) is a senior living residential community with 61 rooms in Duluth. Plantation South Duluth has spacious studio apartments in three different floor plans and offers 24-hour staffing and amenities such as a salon, billiards room, activities room and a private dining room.

-- Senior Management Advisors Inc.

Senior Management Advisors (SMA) (www.seniormanagementadvisors.com) is a leading operator of full service independent living, assisted living and Alzheimer's care residential communities in Georgia and Florida. SMA specializes in rejuvenating and stabilizing senior living communities for owners, financial institutions, private investors and government agencies. SMA's services include consultation, management, development and renovation of residential communities.

Susan Tidwell is executive director of Plantation South Duluth (www.plantationsouth-duluth.com), an assisted living residential community in Duluth. She can be reached at 770-623-0617 or ED.DUL@smacommunity.net.