Savvy Senior: Long-Term Care Benefits for Veterans and Surviving Spouses

By Jim Miller | July 1, 2024

  1. Long-Term Care Benefits for Veterans and Surviving Spouses
  2. Dreading a Colonoscopy? There Are Alternatives
  3. Can You Stop and Restart Social Security Benefits?
  4. How to Find Reliable Health Information Online

Long-Term Care Benefits for Veterans and Surviving Spouses

Dear Savvy Senior,

I understand that the Veterans Administration has a benefit that can help veterans and spouses with long-term care costs. We recently had to move my elderly father into an assisted living memory care facility, and my mother will probably need care too in the near future. What can you tell me?

-Searching for Aid

Dear Searching,

The Veterans Administration (VA) does indeed have an underutilized benefit that can help wartime veterans and their surviving spouses pay for a variety of long-term care costs.

This benefit, called “Aid and Attendance,” is a special pension that’s paid on top of existing VA pensions for eligible veterans and surviving spouses. In 2024, it pays a maximum of $2,727 a month to married veterans; $2,300 a month to single veterans; or $1,478 a month to a surviving spouse. The money is tax free, and can be used to pay for assisted living, memory care, nursing home or in-home care services.

Currently, around 156,000 veterans and survivors are receiving the Aid and Attendance benefit, but many thousands more are eligible who either don’t know about it or don’t think they qualify.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify, your dad must have served at least 90 days of active military service with at least one day of service during a period of war, and not have been discharged dishonorably. Single surviving spouses of wartime vets are eligible if their marriage ended due to death.

In addition, your dad will also have to meet certain thresholds for medical and financial need to be eligible.

To qualify medically he must be either disabled, or over the age of 65 and need help performing basic everyday living tasks such as eating, bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom. Being blind or in a nursing home due to disability or receiving Social Security Disability or SSI also qualifies him. Single surviving spouses have no age restrictions, but they must require help with basic everyday living tasks to be eligible.

To qualify financially your parents “net worth,” which includes assets and annual income combined, must be below $155,356 in 2024.

To calculate this, add up your parent’s assets, which includes their personal property (like investments, real estate, etc.) excluding their primary home and vehicles. And tally up their income over the past year (including Social Security, pensions, interest income from investments, annuities, etc.), minus any out-of-pocket medical expenses, prescription drugs, insurance premiums and long-term care costs over that same period of time.

The VA also has a three-year lookback to determine if your parents transferred any assets to ensure they would qualify for benefits. If so, they may be subject to a penalty period of up to 5 years.

How to Apply

To apply for Aid and Attendance, you’ll need to fill out VA Form 21-2680 and mail it to the Pension Management Center (PMC) for your dad’s state. You’ll need to have your dad’s doctor fill out the examination information section. Or you can also apply in person at a VA regional office near your parents.

For more information or to download application forms see You can also call the VA at 800–827–1000 if you have questions.

If you need some help, you can appoint a Veteran Service Officer (VSO), a VA-accredited attorney or claims agent to represent your dad. See to locate someone.

If your dad is eligible, it can take months for his application to be processed, so be patient.

You should also know that if your dad’s Aid and Attendance application is approved, the VA will send a lump sum retroactive payment covering the time from the day you filed the application until the day it was approved. Then your dad receives monthly payments going forward.

Dreading a Colonoscopy? There Are Alternatives

Dear Savvy Senior,

Are there any easier alternatives to a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer? I just turned 60 and my wife keeps nagging me to get tested, but I hate the idea of drinking that laxative solution and being sedated for the procedure.

  • Squeamish Steven

Dear Steven,

While a colonoscopy remains the most accurate screening test for detecting colon cancer (94 percent accurate), there are other easier – although less accurate – tests available. But be aware that if the result of one of these tests are positive, you’ll still need to undergo a colonoscopy. Here’s what you should know.

Screening Guidelines

Colorectal cancer, which develops slowly over several years without causing symptoms especially in the early stages, is the second largest cancer killer in the U.S., claiming more than 50,000 Americans each year.

Colorectal cancer screening guidelines from the U.S. preventive Services Taskforce and the American Cancer Society call for most adults to get screened starting at age 45 and continuing through age 75. Earlier screenings, however, are recommended to people who have an increased risk due to family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

But despite these guidelines, and the fact that colonoscopies save an estimated 20,000 U.S. lives each year, around 40 percent of eligible people don’t get screened.

Why? Because most people, like yourself, dread the laxative prep and sedation, not to mention the procedure itself.

But a colonoscopy is not your only option for screening for colon cancer. There are currently several types of FDA approved stool tests that you can take in the privacy of your own home that requires no laxative-taking/bowel-cleansing preparation. The two most accurate that you should ask your doctor about are the:

Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This test looks for hidden blood in your stool, which suggests polyps or even cancer. Your doctor will give you a FIT test kit to use at home. You take a small sample of stool and mail it to a lab to be analyzed. You don’t need to do any prep. The cost of this annual test is covered by private insurance and Medicare. FIT has an almost 80 percent accuracy rate for detecting colon cancer, but it detects only about 28 percent of advanced polyps that might turn into cancer.

Stool DNA test (Cologuard): This screening kit looks for hidden blood as well as altered DNA in your stool. Your doctor will order the test, and you will receive the collection kit in the mail. You do the test at home every three years and send your stool samples to Cologuard via UPS. No special prep or change to your diet or medication schedule is required. Cologuard, which is covered by most private insurers and Medicare, detects 92 percent of colon cancers but only 42 percent of large precancerous polyps. It also may provide a false-positive, indicating that you might have cancer when you don’t.

New Blood Test

There’s also a new experimental colon cancer blood test you should ask your doctor about called the “Shield blood test.” This new test, developed by Guardant Health, detects more than 80 percent of colon cancers early when they’re most treatable.

Guardant is currently seeking FDA approval to market the test but it’s available now as a “lab-based test” (which does not require FDA approval) but it’s currently not covered by most private insurers or Medicare. Your doctor will need to request this test, which costs $895, at

Can You Stop and Restart Social Security Benefits?

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can I stop my Social Security retirement benefits and restart them later to get a bigger payment? I recently got a nice unexpected inheritance, so don’t need the money from Social Security right now. If possible, I would like to suspend my benefits and restart them at age 70.

  • Do-over Dan

Dear Dan,

Yes, there are actually two different strategies that allow Social Security beneficiaries to undo their claiming decision. But to be eligible, there are certain conditions you’ll have to meet. Here’s what you should know.

Withdrawal Benefits

If you are in your first year of collecting retirement benefits, you can apply to Social Security for a “withdrawal of benefits.” Social Security will let you withdraw your original application for retirement benefits, but it must be within 12 months of the date you first claimed your benefits.

If you opt for a withdrawal, Social Security will treat it as if you never applied for benefits in the first place. But there’s a catch. You’ll have to repay every dollar you’ve received, including those of any family members who have been collecting benefits on your earnings record, such as a spouse or minor child, along with any money that was withheld from your Social Security payments – for example, to pay your Medicare premiums.

You can only withdraw your application for Social Security benefits once, but you can apply for benefits again later when the monthly amount would be larger.

To withdrawal your benefits, fill out Social Security form SSA-521 (see and send the completed form to your local Social Security office.

If you change your mind, you have 60 days from the date Social Security approves your withdrawal to cancel the request.

Suspend Benefits

If, however, you miss the 12-month window, or if repaying your Social Security benefits is not financially feasible, there is another do-over option, but you’ll need to be full retirement age or older to be eligible.

Full retirement age is 66 and 6 months for those born in 1957, but it rises in two-month increments every birth year to age 67 for those born in 1960 and later. You can find your full retirement age at

At that point, you can “suspend” your Social Security benefit and the good news is you don’t have to repay anything. But the bad news is your monthly Social Security benefits stop and so do those of any dependent family members (except a divorced spouse).

During the suspension, you will also accrue delayed retirement credits, which will increase your monthly retirement benefit by two-thirds of 1 percent for each suspended month (or 8 percent for each suspended year) up until age 70.

Suspended benefits would automatically resume at 70, or you could choose to resume Social Security benefits earlier, but you’d only receive delayed retirement credits for the period when benefits were suspended.

You can request a Social Security suspension over the phone (800-722-1213), in writing or in person at your local Social Security office. The suspension would begin the month after you make the request.

Also note that if you’re enrolled in Medicare, there’s another consequence of withdrawing or suspending your benefits.

Normally, Medicare Part B premiums ($174.70 per month in 2024 for most beneficiaries) are deducted directly from monthly Social Security payments.

If you withdrawal or suspend your benefits and you’re enrolled in Medicare Part B, you’ll start receiving a quarterly bill from Medicare. You’ll have the option of paying electronically or by mail. Or you can sign up for Medicare’s Easy Pay, which automatically deducts your premium payments from your savings or checking account each month.

How to Find Reliable Health Information Online

Dear Savvy Senior,

How can I tell if the health info on a website is trustworthy? I usually do a Google search on a symptom, drug or health condition when I want to research something, but with so much information out there I’m not sure what I can trust.

  • Skeptical Sal

Dear Sal,

You’re wise to be skeptical! There’s an overwhelming amount of health advice on the internet today and it can be hard to tell what’s credible. To help you sort through the online clutter and locate reliable, trustworthy health information, here are a few tips to follow, along with some top-rated sites you can turn to with confidence.

Savvy Searching

First, know that Google or Bing is not always the best place to start a search. You’ll increase your odds of finding reliable health information if you begin with websites run by government agencies (identified by URLs ending in .gov), medical associations (often .org) or academic institutions (.edu).

Commercial websites (usually ending in .com), such as drug or insurance companies who may be trying to sell you their products, are usually not the most trustworthy options. To find out who’s sponsoring a site and where the information came from, click on the “About Us” tab on the site’s home page.

Also note that good health and medical information changes all the time so check the date that information was published to make sure it’s current.

Some other areas you need be wary of include online symptom checkers and artificial intelligence (AI) tools. While symptom checkers do offer potential diagnoses that could fit your set of symptoms, they are often inaccurate, and tend to err on the side of caution says Ateev Mehrotra, MD, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. AI tools, like ChatGPT, can also be wrong or generate false but scientific sounding information.

You also need to be cautious about using medical information from social media, online forums or YouTube. Comments in these places may sound authoritative even if the authors have no medical training or expertise.

Top Health Sites

While there are many excellent websites that provide reliable health and medical information, one of the best all-purpose sites that’s recommended by Consumer Reports for researching symptoms and conditions is MedlinePlus (

A service of the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, and part of the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus provides high-quality, trustworthy health and wellness information that’s easy to understand and free of advertising.

Here are a few additional websites, recommended by the Medical Library Association and others, to help you find reliable information on specific diseases, conditions and treatments.

Cancer: National Cancer Institute (, American Cancer Society ( and National Comprehensive Cancer Network (

Heart disease: American Heart Association (, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (

Diabetes: American Diabetes Association (

Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s Association ( and

Public health and vaccines: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (

Alternative medicine: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health ( and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (

Any research you do online before seeing a doctor, be sure to save or print your findings out on paper, including the site you got your information from, so you can review it together.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.