Top 17 Articles of 2017

From the passing of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act to offer much-needed support to caregivers, to Trump’s tax overhaul, we covered a lot of ground in 2017. It was a year that included a massive data breach, the ACA almost being repealed, and amazing new technological innovations to help seniors age-in-place. At the Farr Law Firm, we adopted some new pets (Critter Corner staff members), including Magic the Bunny and Bebe the Cat. And we grew with the addition of an experienced estate planning attorney, Kathy Limjoco, and a new office assistant, Danny Bonner.

To celebrate the new year, we’ve ranked our 17 most popular articles from 2017. Check out the list to see the year’s highlights and remind yourself of the most important issues of the past year, and tell us what you’d like to see next year. And as always, thank you for reading our newsletter and blog! We are here to educate and to make a positive difference in your life and the lives of those you love!

17. What is the Difference Between a NORC and a NOSS? – Many seniors wish to age safely in their homes and neighborhoods, and others hope to downsize to a smaller place. Among the many initiatives to facilitate aging in place, two prominent community-centered models that have emerged are Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and Naturally Occurring Support Systems (NOSSs), both of which have “naturally” developed to address the discrepancy between how communities are designed and what older adults need to age in place.

16. Overcoming the Fear of Death – Many people don’t like to think about or talk about death, but it’s almost impossible to know what a dying person’s wishes truly are unless the issues have been discussed ahead of time and included in incapacity planning documents, including Advance Directives. Talking about death with those close to us is not about giving up on life, but a way to ensure greater quality of life when faced with a life-limiting illness or tragic accident.

15. Tax Overhaul: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Seniors – Congress has ushered through the first major tax overhaul since Ronald Reagan was president. The measure, which President Trump signed into law earlier this month, is about to change the lives of millions of Americans, including seniors. As the bill recently became a law, this article describes the good, the bad, and the ugly that seniors (and some not-so-senior folks) can expect.

14. Medicare Doesn’t Care About Home Care – One of the greatest gaps in Medicare coverage is that it does not help to pay for home-based long-term care, or any long-term care for that matter. According to the Center for Medicare Advocacy associate director Kathleen Holt, allowable benefits are broader than most people realize, but “it doesn’t matter what’s actually covered, because home health agencies routinely decline to provide even the skimpier services that Medicare publicizes to Medicare enrollees who request them.” This article describes some issues seniors have encountered when it comes to Medicare and home care.

13. Why Don’t ALL Nursing Homes Offer This? – Alzheimer’s patients sometimes wander, which can be dangerous. Security systems, such as the Stanley Healthcare WanderGuard Controller and Exciter, are designed to monitor exits to prevent a resident from leaving a nursing home facility unescorted. Locating technology, such as this, allows even wander-prone residents to have the freedom to move within the facility to access services, including communal areas such as the cafeteria, hair salon, recreation areas, etc. At the same time, the technology ensures that staff can find the residents if required.

12. Simplifying the Medicare Process – A recent analysis of AARP’s helpline data confirmed that many people are struggling to navigate the complexities of the Medicare program and to afford their coverage. The report, “Medicare Trends and Recommendations: An Analysis of Call Data from the Medicare Rights Center’s National Helpline,” recommends laws requiring earlier and more detailed information to newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, as well as other policy changes. This article offers tips for finding your way through Medicare once you’re 65 or older.

11. These are Responsible for 40% of All Injury Deaths – Organized efforts to prevent outdoor falls by older adults, sadly, have been somewhat neglected, as most research has focused on falls occurring in the home or hospital environment. Up to now, little research has been available about the contexts in which outdoor falls occur, how features of the external environment can present as risk factors for outdoor falls, and which outdoor falls are more likely to lead to injury and/or fear of falling. A new study, conducted through New York University and published in the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, focused solely on the outdoor fall experiences of older adults. The findings are being used to develop and pilot an outdoor fall prevention program.

10. This Virginia Law Makes It A MUST to Do Medicaid Planning for Married Couples – According to the “doctrine of necessaries,” a law in Virginia (Va. § 8.01-220.2), spouses have liability for the emergency “necessary” medical treatment for the other, including follow-up care as long as they are not separated. In other words, as long as the marriage subsists, the financial resources of both spouses should be available to pay a creditor who provides necessary goods and services to either spouse. This is one of the reasons why Medicaid Planning is so important for married couples.

9. Key Elder Law Dollar Amounts – These are figures for 2018 that are frequently used in the elder law practice, including the figures for Virginia Medicaid spousal impoverishment, the Federal long-term care insurance deductibility limits, Medicare premiums and co-pays, Social Security Disability, and Supplemental Security Income.

8. What Happens When a Long-Term Care Insurer Goes Belly Up? – In many cases, long-term care insurance companies underestimate the true cost of coverage and they are struggling now to make good on all their promises. This article describes how, in most cases, an insurer in a similar situation will quietly find a buyer, and policyholders may not know what happened, or care, as long as their claims are paid.

7. The Ugly Side of Hospice Care – A Kaiser Health Care investigation found that the hospice care that people expect — and sign up for — sometimes disappears when they need it most. In fact, families across the country have called for help in times of crisis and have been met with delays, no-shows, and unanswered calls.

6. Supreme Court Rules that the Bare Minimum Isn’t Enough/Planning for an Uncertain Future – The United States Supreme Court recently made it easier for parents of special needs children to ensure that their children receive an appropriate education. In fact, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, a unanimous Supreme Court made it very clear to educators that they are required to educate a disabled child more than just enough to help them “get by.”

5. Bill to Support 40 Million Caregivers Becomes Law – Informal caregivers provide invaluable support for their loved ones every day. Each year, unpaid family caregivers provide 37 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at an estimated $470 billion — as much as the combined annual sales of Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft. Recently, legislation to establish a federal strategy to address the needs of family caregivers became law. The Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage, or RAISE Family Caregivers Act, recognizes the tremendous need for caregiver support and calls for the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers. The law makes it easier to coordinate care for a loved one, get information, referrals and resources, and improve respite options so family caregivers can reset and recharge.

4. 575,000 People Are Using This Medicare Benefit. Are You? – Doctors are now talking to seniors and their loved ones about advance care planning on a regular basis. In fact, end-of-life consultations are now being paid for by Medicare, and being used by more than a half a million people. Last year, the first year health care providers were allowed to bill for advance care planning discussions, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, according to Kaiser Health News. Nearly 23,000 providers submitted about $93 million in charges, including more than $43 million covered by Medicare. This was much higher than expected. In fact, it was almost double the 300,000 people the American Medical Association projected would receive the service in the first year.

3. Please Stop Feeding Me! – Nora Harris, who passed away earlier this year, has turned into a central character in the ongoing debate over advance directives and dementia, and voluntary stopping eating and drinking (VSED). The issue at the center of the controversy is whether patients with dementia and other progressive diseases can stipulate in advance that they want oral food and liquid stopped at a certain point, hastening death through dehydration. This article discusses some of the issues that affect whether or not VSED is ethical and legal.

2. How to Avoid 3 Scams Following the Massive Equifax Data Breach – 143 million American consumers had their sensitive personal information exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. This article discusses how to avoid three scams resulting from the breach.

1. What Happens to Debt When We Die? – When it comes to debt, there are many factors that can affect repayment after death, such as where you live, the types of loans you have, as well as who applied for them and whether anyone else co-signed or gave a personal guarantee. While it’s not pleasant to think about your eventual demise, it’s necessary to know if your debt could be passed onto another person. This article describes what happens to different types of debt when we die.

Thank you for making these our top 17 stories of 2017. We promise many new and exciting things to come in 2018! We also hope you will consider taking the advice that these articles offer. Please consider attending one of our monthly seminars in Fairfax and, as always, if you or a loved one are nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us for a no-cost initial consultation. Happy New Year!

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-143
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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Len Bennett is the Consumer Attorney of the Year

VPLC Executive Director Jay Speer with Board member Leonard Bennett receiving the Consumer Advocate of the Year Award from the National Association of Consumer Advocates

VPLC Executive Director Jay Speer with Board member Leonard Bennett receiving the Consumer Advocate of the Year Award from the National Association of Consumer Advocates

Leonard Bennett received the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) 2017 Consumer Attorney of the Year Award in November.  NACA is a nationwide organization of more than 1,500 attorneys who represent consumers victimized by fraudulent, abusive and predatory business practices.

Len’s dedication to helping his consumer clients and helping other lawyers represent their clients is legendary.   He is a national leader on the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and his class actions on behalf of consumers have resulted in payments of millions of dollars refunded to consumers and wide-scale improvements in how the consumer reporting industry operates.    For many years he has delivered countless entertaining presentations to national NACA and National Consumer Law Center conferences on consumer rights.

Beyond his advocacy on the national stage, Len is dedicated to making a meaningful impact on the lives of Virginians. He is committed to helping Virginia legal aids help consumer clients.  For eight years, he has provided cy pres funds or gave his own money to pay for Virginia legal aid attorneys to attend the annual consumer law conferences around the country.   Recently, he and his co-counsel donated the fees they earned in a class action settlement – $193,930 to fund a new consumer attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center.  Len has also been active in an effort to stamp out illegal internet lending that is harming Virginians.  His firm teamed up with the Virginia Poverty Law Center and has filed several class action lawsuits against internet lenders making illegal and abusive internet loans.  He recently worked with VPLC and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to bring $15 million in relief to Virginia consumers caught up in an internet loan scam.

VPLC is grateful to Len for serving on our Board of Directors, for all the ways he helps us with our legislative advocacy, his financial support and his willingness to give our clients access to the courts through class action litigation.  He has done so much to bring about a fair and open marketplace for all Virginians.

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Is the “Refund Freeze” going to thaw?

Melting Icecubes

After two years of defending rate freeze, Dominion says it’s ‘time to transition away’ from the controversial 2015 law  So, victory may be at hand in the bipartisan effort to repeal this law.  However, we still expect a difficult fight ahead of us to have those excessive profits returned to Virginia’s energy consumers. A recent State Corporation Commission report estimates the overearnings amount to be $326 million to date.  We expect a continued fight to steer excessive fees to consumers instead of allowing the money to go towards project costs that should be shared with Dominion’s stockholders, not funded solely by Dominion’s customers without going through the regular SCC review and cost allocation process.

As our recent report pointed out, there are several different rates and charges on your energy bill so it can be difficult to figure out what you are being charged and why.  It also makes it easier for energy company lobbyists to confuse the public and legislators alike with complicated legislation, hiding whether consumer or stockholders are getting the benefit of the monopolies profits.

Our Affordable Energy Project will continue to be engaged in the legislative process at the General Assembly and the regulatory process at the State Corporation Commission to make sure low-income consumers voices are heard.  Stay tuned….

New VPLC Study Released: The Myth of Virginia’s Rate Utopia

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TSP Investment Increases for 2018?

Q: It looks as though we’re going to get about a 2 percent raise in January. Will my Thrift Savings Plan investment amount increase automatically?

A: It depends on whether you are investing by dollar amount or by percentage of salary. If you’re a dollar-amount investor, the withholding per biweekly pay period stays the same unless you change it. If you’re investing by percentage of salary, the amount rises automatically when your salary increases.

There’s a special consideration for those under the Federal Employees Retirement System who invest at or near the annual maximum, which will rise in 2018 to $18,500 from $18,000.  – Read more in this Washington Post article.

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Tax Overhaul: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Seniors

Congress has ushered through the first major tax overhaul since Ronald Reagan was president. The measure, which President Trump signed into law last Friday, is about to change the lives of millions of Americans, including seniors. As the bill recently became a law, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly that seniors (and some not-so-senior folks) can expect:

Please note that many of these new laws will first be applied to 2018 taxes.

The Good

  • You can still deduct medical expenses. The deduction for medical expenses wasn’t cut. In fact, it’s been expanded for two years. In that time, filers can deduct medical expenses that add up to more than 7.5% of adjusted gross income. In the past, the threshold for most Americans was 10% of adjusted gross income. Under the new law, people whose unreimbursed medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income can claim a deduction for those expenses in 2017 and 2018. Then, it is scheduled to revert to 10 percent for everyone in 2019.
  • Seniors can still take advantage of the additional standard deduction for filers over 65. The standard deduction will be doubled to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers who are married. The legislation leaves intact the additional standard deduction for filers who are 65 and over or blind, allowing them to claim an additional $1,300 when they file their 2018 taxes. This means that two married taxpayers who are both over 65 can lower their taxable income by an extra $2,600. Single filers who are blind or over 65 are eligible for a $1,600 additional standard deduction, on top of the $12,000 they get from the new tax law.
  • There are still seven tax brackets for individuals, but the rates have changed. Americans will continue to be placed in one of seven tax brackets based on their income. But the rates for some of these brackets have been lowered. The new rates are: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. Find out where you fit here.
  • The child tax credit has been expanded. The child tax credit has doubled to $2,000 for children under 17. It’s also now available, in full, to more people. The entire credit can be claimed by single parents who make up to $200,000, and married couples who make up to $400,000.
  • There’s a new tax credit for non-child dependents, such as senior parents. Taxpayers may now claim a $500 temporary credit for non-child dependents. This can apply to a number of people adults support, such as children over age 17, elderly parents or adult children with a disability.
  • If you’re a teacher, you can still deduct classroom supplies. The deduction for teachers who spend their own money on school supplies was left alone. Educators can continue to deduct up to $250 to offset what they spend on classroom materials.
  • The electric car tax credit lives on. Drivers of plug-in electric vehicles can still claim a credit of up to $7,500. Just as before, the full amount is good only on the first 200,000 electric cars sold by each automaker. GM, Nissan and Tesla are expected to reach that number sometime next year.
  • Home sellers who turn a profit keep their tax break. Homeowners who sell their house for a gain will still be able to exclude up to $500,000 (or $250,000 for single filers) from capital gains, so long as they’re selling their primary home and have lived there for two of the past five years.
  • 529 savings accounts can be used in new ways. In the past, funds invested in 529 savings accounts weren’t taxed — but could only be used for college expenses. Now, up to $10,000 can be distributed annually to cover the cost of sending a child to a “public, private or religious elementary or secondary school.” This change is a win for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
  • Have you gone back to school? You can still deduct student loan interest. The deduction for student loan interest, which is up to $2,500 per year, is safe.
  • Almost everyone is now exempt from the estate and gift tax. Before tax reform, few estates were subject to the federal gift and estate tax, which applies to the transfer of property during life and/or upon death. Now, even fewer people have to deal with it. The amount of money exempt from the tax — previously set at $5.49 million for individuals, and at $10.98 million for married couples — has been doubled.

The Bad

  • The personal exemption is gone: Previously, you could claim a $4,050 personal exemption for yourself, your spouse and each of your dependents, which lowered your taxable income. Not anymore. For many Americans, the elimination of the personal exemption will reduce or negate the tax relief they might otherwise get from other parts of the reform package.
  • The state and local tax deduction now has a cap: The state and local tax deduction, or SALT, remains in place for those who itemize their taxes — but now there’s a $10,000 cap. Previously, filers could deduct an unlimited amount for state and local property taxes, plus income or sales taxes.
  • The mortgage interest deduction has been lowered. Current homeowners are in the clear. Under the current law, homeowners can deduct the interest on a mortgage of up to $1,000,000 (half that amount for married taxpayers filing separately). Now, anyone who takes out a mortgage between December 15, 2017, and December 31, 2025, can only claim the interest deduction on a mortgage of up to $750,000 (half that amount for married taxpayers filing separately). For buyers in expensive markets, such as coastal regions, these changes might make home ownership less affordable.
  • The deduction for moving expenses is also gone. There may be some exceptions for members of the military. But most people will no longer be able to deduct the cost of their moving truck when they move for work. This will affect many seniors, who routinely downsize as they age.
  • Tax preparation deduction is also gone. Before tax reform passed, people could deduct the cost of having their taxes prepared by a professional, or the money they spent on tax prep software. That break has been eliminated.
  • The disaster deduction has changed. Losses sustained due to a fire, storm, shipwreck, or theft that aren’t covered by insurance used to be deductible, assuming they exceeded 10% of adjusted gross income. But now through 2025, people can only claim that deduction if they’ve been affected by an official national disaster. That would make someone whose house was destroyed by a California wildfire potentially eligible for some relief, while disqualifying the victim of a random house fire — such as the many house fires caused each year by people with Alzheimer’s or other types of cognitive impairment.
  • Adjustments for inflation will be slower. The new legislation uses “chained CPI” to measure inflation. It’s a slower measure than what was used before. Over time, that will raise more money for the federal government, but deductions, credits and exemptions will be worth less.
  • The individual mandate on health insurance has been scrapped. Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, but they managed to get rid of one of the health law’s key provisions with tax reform. The elimination of the individual mandate, which penalizes people who do not have health insurance, goes into effect in 2019. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that as a result, 13 million fewer people will have insurance coverage by 2027, and premiums will go up by about 10% most years.

The Ugly

AARP takes issue with several of the new tax laws which could prove to be “ugly” for seniors. First, the law makes the individual tax benefits temporary. While many Americans are expected to pay less in taxes over the next eight years, those provisions are set to expire by the end of 2025. (The cut to the corporate tax rate, however, is permanent.)

AARP also expects the tax bill to drive up health care premiums and result in more uninsured Americans. That’s because the bill gets rid of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. The severity of the impact of this measure is still up for debate among health policy experts.

As for Medicare and Medicaid, only time will tell. The tax bill doesn’t touch them directly, but the cuts are expected to add $1.46 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. That increase could trigger automatic spending cuts to entitlement programs, unless lawmakers vote to stop them. Medicare itself could see a $25 billion cut.

Even if Congress stops these automatic cuts, AARP indicates there’s still reason to worry about funding in the future. “The large increase in the deficit will inevitably lead to calls for greater spending cuts, which are likely to include dramatic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other important programs serving older Americans,” Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP’s executive director said.

Medicaid Planning for Long-Term Care

As you can see, the laws that affect seniors are changing. Regardless of what happens with the tax law, the significant costs of long-term care can impact retirement plans, savings, and assets, and the level of care one receives. That’s why it’s so important that people speak with a financial advisor and an experienced elder law attorney about their long-term care preferences and put a plan in place. We provide both of these services right here at the Farr Law Firm.

Medicaid planning can be started while you are still able to make legal and financial decisions, or can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care. In general, the earlier someone plans for long-term care needs, the better. But it is never too late to begin your planning.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please don’t hesitate to call us for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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Support William’s Christmas Wish

You’re most likely deep in holiday preparations. It’s a wonderful time of year to enjoy friends and family and pass along best wishes for good health, comfort, and joy. ‘Tis the Season!

michaelAccess to affordable health care may not be on your list this year but see the young man in the brown jacket in the picture below? His name is William, and he is one of the 240,000 uninsured Virginians living day to day in the healthcare coverage gap.  He prays for good health since he can’t afford to get sick.

Your investment can help William and 240,000 other Virginians living in the Medicaid Gap.
Your gift provides VPLC with resources as we advocate at the 2018 General Assembly.

Just a few days ago, William spoke at a joint press conference to urge Virginia’s elected officials to take action and expand Medicaid in the upcoming General Assembly session.

William grew up South of Richmond.  His parents are self-employed, and William, along with his three siblings, depended on Medicaid for their health insurance.

When William turned 19, he aged out of Medicaid.  Now 21, he’s a college student with little income, but he’s still ineligible for health insurance because, unlike 31 states and the District of Columbia, Virginia has chosen not to adopt the expansion of Medicaid, which would be primarily be funded with federal tax dollars you and I have already paid.

It’s hard for William to pay for the healthcare he needs, and he worries about unexpected accidents or illness.  He’s not eligible for Medicaid and William, as a student, doesn’t make enough income to qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies.

William is in the Coverage Gap.  Unfortunately, he is not alone.

The coverage gap hurts low-income working parents who have an income higher than Virginia’s current Medicaid eligibility levels.  The eligibility levels are shockingly low.

For example, a family of three living in Northern Virginia must not make more than $10,524 a year.  A family of three living in rural Southwest Virginia can’t earn more than $6,720!   The coverage gap also affects people waiting for disability determinations, disabled people waiting for Medicare, patients dealing with cancer or other diseases, adults who have mental illness or substance use disorders, and others who don’t have access to insurance through their employer.

The holidays are a magical time of year.  People of different faith traditions celebrate this season in various ways.  However, a fundamental truth of ALL faith traditions is to care for our neighbor and ‘the least of these.’   We must do better for Michael and the other 240,000 Virginians who need access to affordable healthcare.

Your renewed support will enable us to work with the new Governor and other elected officials before and during the 2018 General Assembly session.  Your financial contribution provides us the needed resources to educate our elected officials why Medicaid Expansion is the right choice for Virginia.

It is time to close the healthcare gap for Michael and many others like him.  Access to affordable healthcare is truly the best present we can give uninsured Virginians!

On behalf of VPLC, we wish you a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season!

All my best,

Jay Speer, Esq.
VPLC Executive Director

PS – Here’s the link one more time.  Thanks for helping VPLC help William.

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Programs Affecting Veterans and Progress this Year

There are currently more than 25 million veterans who served our country during wartime and may be eligible for some form of veteran’s benefits. Many of these veterans and their caregivers, who need assistance, don’t realize that they may be eligible for certain benefits that will help them. In this article, we will look at some of the benefits that were designed to help veterans, and progress that was made in 2017:

Expansion of the Post-9/11 Caregiver Program
Status: In Progress

Military caregivers are family members, friends, or acquaintances who assist veterans with a range of activities including bathing and eating, making medical appointments, travel, managing finances, and caring for children. A report from the Rand Corporation said that post-9/11 caregivers provide an estimated $3 billion per year in support and miss an average of 3.5 days of work per month.

Since 2010, a monthly stipend, training, paid breaks, and other benefits were extended to family and friends who care for injured veterans who served during the post-9/11 era. Thousands of caregivers of veteran’s who served prior to 9/11 and needed assistance were not eligible for financial support.
Earlier this month, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved the expansion of the post-9/11 caregiver program as part of a new plan to revamp the VA’s health-care system, which also is pushing for better access for veterans who want to see doctors in the private sector. The proposed $3.4 billion in federal funding over the next five years would extend caregivers’ benefits to family and friends performing full-time care for veterans of all eras. If approved by the full Senate and signed into law by the President, the new benefits would first provide help to caregivers of veterans injured before May 1975 and then expand to include those who were hurt from May 1975 to September 2001. That means caregivers of pre-9/11 veterans would get the latest training, paid time off to take a break, and a stipend to make up for all of her years of lost income.

While the program has bipartisan support, there is some concern a sweeping proposal to cut taxes could put the program on hold again. We will keep you up-to-date on the progress of this program.

The Veterans Choice Program (VCP) Extension and Improvement Act
Status: Signed into Law

In August 2014, President Obama signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (VACAA). Included in that legislation was the Veterans Choice Program. In April, President Trump signed the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act, so military veterans can continue receiving health care in the civilian sector when care is not easily accessible from a Veterans Affairs Department provider.

This bill extends and improves the Veterans Choice Program, so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice and don’t have to wait and travel long distances for VA care.

Veteran’s Telehealth Expanded
Status: In Progress

The “VA Connect” app is being expanded to allow patients to conduct telehealth visits from their home computers and mobile devices, and from private medical offices. This expansion will allow VA providers in major metropolitan areas to help veterans in rural areas, or where there are fewer options for doctors and specialists. Additionally, telehealth visits assist home-bound veterans in receiving more frequent and consistent care, and provide more rapid medical intervention for the purposes of mental health treatment and suicide prevention.

A New Electronic Health Record System Was Introduced
Status: In Progress

The VA has announced a new Electronic Health Record system that will modernize VA medical records, allowing greater access to and security for sensitive health information utilized by patients and providers.

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
Status: Signed into Law

In August, President Trump signed The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which aims to streamline the appeals process for disability benefit claims.

Here is what the new law does:

• modernizes current claims and appeals processes;
• includes three options for veterans dissatisfied with VA’s decision on their claims to seek review;
• requires improved notification of VA decisions;
• streamlines the claims and appeals process to provide veterans with the earliest possible resolution of their claims;
• provides safeguards to ensure that veterans receive the earliest effective date possible for your claim.

Expansion of educational benefits for veterans and their dependents
Status: Signed into Law

Also in August, President Trump signed an expansion of educational benefits for veterans and their dependents, boosting aid by $3 billion over the next 10 years, and extending assistance to certain individuals who did not previously qualify. The Forever GI Act removed a 15-year time limit on the use of GI benefits. The measure also increased financial assistance for thousands serving in the National Guard and Reserve, building on a 2008 law that guaranteed veterans a full-ride scholarship to any in-state public university, or a similar cash amount to attend private colleges.

Uncertainty About the Future of Health Insurance
Status: In Progress

As the year draws to a close, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and seniors who are not yet Medicare-eligible, continue to depend on coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and/or expanded Medicaid programs. 11 million veterans who are not able to receive healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system receive healthcare through the ACA. Although the ACA has problems, loss of ACA coverage will result in greater strain on Medicaid programs and a lack of preventive care for millions of Americans. It remains to be seen what will happen in this situation.

Veteran’s Aid and Attendance

The Veteran’s Aid and Attendance pension continues to provide financial aid to veterans who have served on active duty during war-time, even if only one day was served during their time of duty, to help offset the cost of long-term care. Specifically, veterans who need assistance with activities such as bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, may be eligible. Veterans who are bed-ridden, or have limited eyesight may also be eligible, as well as veterans who are patients in a nursing homes and/or assisted living facilities for either physical or mental conditions. Learn more about the Veteran’s Aid and Attendance pension here.

Applying for Veteran’s Benefits

Applying for veteran’s benefits, such as Veteran’s Aid and Attendance, can be confusing and arduous. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork. As an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, I understand both the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both benefit programs — and this interaction between the programs is of crucial importance because most veterans who start off needing Aid and Attendance will eventually need Medicaid, so all asset protection planning that is done to make a veteran eligible for Aid and Attendance must take future Medicaid benefits into account. Please call us at any time to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Fairfax Veteran’s Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Veteran’s Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Veteran’s Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Veteran’s Planning: 202-587-2797

P.S. Another benefit of being a veteran is a 10% discount off all services at the Farr Law Firm. We hope to see your family soon!

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Medical Expense Deduction will be Preserved

On Friday, Republicans released their final tax bill. Not only does the legislation retain the medical expense deduction, but it also temporarily expands the deduction for two years.

The National Association for Elder Law Attorneys played a critical role in lobbying to protect this deduction. When the House version of the tax bill was introduced last month, few organizations understood the potential devastating impact this would have on individuals with high medical and long-term care expenses.

Read more about the medical deduction and NAELA’s role in preserving it here.

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Virginians Should Insist On Fairness In Rent To Own Real Estate Transactions

rent to own scam

In recent years, some real estate entrepreneurs have begun marketing homes under so-called “rent-to-own” deals.  While the notion of renting-to-own can appeal to consumers as an affordable path to homeownership, in practice rent-to-own is most often a predatory scheme that saddles consumers with all the costs and burdens of home ownership (such as making repairs and paying the taxes and insurance) but none of the benefits and protections (such as building equity).  Sadly, there are hundreds of homes currently being advertised as “rent-to-own” in Virginia, with an unknown number already under contract.

Buyers who enter into rent-to-own transactions tend to make significant down payments and then devote additional funds and efforts into repairs and improvements, only to forfeit those investments when—for various reasons—they wind up unable to complete the purchase.  Not only are rent-to-own contracts notorious for containing tricks and traps that may enable a seller to forfeit the buyer’s interest, but often the properties are in poor condition and sold for well above their market value—preventing the buyer from obtaining the needed financing.  After the seller declares a forfeiture, the buyer can be evicted from the home and loses her entire investment—and the seller then puts the property back on the market and cycles another family through the same ordeal.

Not only are rent-to-own deals financially harmful to consumers, but the properties marketed through rent-to-own companies are often in substandard or even dangerous condition.  Rent-to-own operators use these transactions as a way of essentially collecting rent for their unsafe properties despite avoiding the obligations that honest residential landlords owe to keep premises safe and fit for occupancy.

Therefore, the VPLC is advocating for new legislation in the 2018 General Assembly session that would require basic fairness in rent-to-own real estate transactions.  If enacted, this legislation would:

  • Require all the key transaction terms to be disclosed to consumers in a clear manner using standard calculations;
  • Require all taxes must be paid and liens disclosed at the outset of a contract, and for all contracts must be recorded;
  • Provides a right to pre-pay the contract without penalty (so that a buyer who is able to secure financing from a more trustworthy source can do so);
  • Ensures 60 days’ notice and a meaningful right to cure before a buyer’s interest can be forfeited for default; and

The seller must foreclose (rather than just forfeit the buyer’s equity) when a delinquent buyer has paid more than 25% of purchase price.

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Critter Corner: Surviving Holiday Stress

Dear Magic,

You are such a calm bunny. I am not sure how you do it, especially during the holiday season. My grandchildren are coming for a visit this year, and there are eight of them! Decorations need to be put up, baking has to be done, and presents have to be purchased. I should be experiencing peace and joy, but instead I am feeling stress. How can my wife and I relieve some of the stress and enjoy the holiday with family?

Thanks for your help!
Chris Mass


Dear Chris,

Happy holidays. I am sorry that your holiday is very stressful so far. Since I am a super calm bunny, I have some tips I can offer, as follows:

Focus on what brings you joy: If time with family makes you happy, then make that your first priority. If you are spiritual, then focus on the religious activities that bring you the greatest joy. If it is experiences, make sure you focus on things that will create the best memories for the family.

Have realistic expectations: Things don’t have to be perfect. It is okay that things may not turn out exactly the way you want or expect. Most likely, no one will even notice. Just relax and enjoy. Striving for perfection in your gift giving, decorations, and events can leave you frustrated and exhausted.

Establish a realistic budget: Know how much you can afford and stick to your budget. Spend only what you have saved for buying presents and avoid overusing credit cards. In the end, Christmas is about relationships and memories, not material things.

Ask for help: If you feel overwhelmed with all that you have to do, ask others to help you. Let the people who care about you know that your stress level is too high and ask for their assistance to get everything done.

Maintain your perspective: The reality is that the holiday season lasts a fairly short time. Certain challenging situations brought on by family or finances will only last for this brief season and then life returns to normal.

Continue healthy habits: Your schedule can get pretty hectic during the holidays. It is easy to let certain positive habits slip away. Exercising is a proven stress reducer and should be done consistently throughout the Christmas season. Getting enough sleep is crucial to looking and feeling your best. As tempting as it is, don’t go overboard with too much eating or drinking.

Have some fun: Make sure to have time for the things you and your family truly enjoy. Maybe it’s a favorite holiday movie, special tree lighting, or trip to the city. Those activities should be highlights of your visit with family.

Hop this is helpful and that you have a very happy holiday!


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