Guiding Veterans in Tough Times
Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - Ed Outland is not a veteran. As a young man, however, he planned to serve his country, as did his father, a career serviceman. But those hopes were dashed when he developed an illness that disqualified him for enlistment.
“I was drafted in 1969 and I wanted to be a pilot,” says Outland, founder and CEO of Family Heritage Group, LLC in Fair Oaks. “I found out I had a form of spina bifida and that was it. I didn’t get to go.”
Flash forward several decades (and careers) later and Outland, 71, heads up a company offering financial estate planning and related services for individuals and their family members. He’s found a circuitous but important way to serve his country by providing pro-bono financial services to aging, sick and injured veterans to ensure they receive, at minimum, access to a little known government entitlement benefit that a vast majority of his clients don’t even know they qualify for.
Sure, Outland has to keep the lights on, so his core company, which currently carries a portfolio of roughly $11 million, centers on financial and estate planning services for the elderly, helping them navigate the wildly complicated qualification process for Medi-Cal benefits, the state’s Medicade program for low-income individuals, and guiding clients on the purchase of life insurance, annuities and other investment and retirement vehicles.
But Heritage Group has a niche market serving veterans with critical medical issues, ensuring they and or their spouses receive assistance through the Aid & Attendance program (A&A) offered through the US Dept. Of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). The benefit, which can be combined with social security and Medi-Cal, can be used to pay for non-service related medical expenses, including long-term care fees and other expenses due to a catastrophic illness.
Outland does not charge for helping veterans get this benefit. For those veterans who may have assets exceeding qualifying levels, Outland works with them to redirect their assets in order to meet the requirements.
“Roughly 96 percent of the financial services and catastrophic illness planning we do with veterans is pro-bono work,” says Outland. “We help them or, if need be, the spouse, apply for the A&A benefit so they can deal with medical expenses with dignity and not have to go broke doing it.”
There are fewer and fewer financial advisors willing to dive into the tangled web of entitlement benefits, according to Outland, who has been working with veterans for about 11 years. Over that period, he’s established good relationships with the skilled nursing facility community, working with staff and ensuring residents are signed up for and receiving the full range of government entitlements needed to pay for their care and board.
“This work is not for the weak willed or faint of heart,” says Outland. “Believe me, the VA doesn’t like us very much.”
To qualify, a veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty with one day during a time of war and a clean discharge from service between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946 for WWII; June 27, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955 for the Korean Conflict, and between Aug. 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975 for the Vietnam War. Veterans with at least two years of active duty service during the Persian Gulf War from Sept. 2, 1990 up to present day, also qualify.
While most of his VA pro-bono clients do not have much money saved, Outland works to help all who apply for the A&A benefit to qualify. The VA stipulates applicants can have only a maximum $30,000 in assets if single, $50,000 if married.
But for most, the A&A benefit represents the last option for financial aid to cover medical care costs. Few have wealth management portfolios to break apart and redirect.
“Many of our veterans come in the door with $50 in their savings accounts,” says Outland. “Getting these benefits is life-changing for them.”
Part of Outland’s work with others also involves dispelling myths, the biggest one being that if you have money you can’t qualify for Medi-Cal. And that myth is widely prevalent among a good majority of WWII veterans and their family members who are struggling to balance paying for medical care without depleting their assets and robbing their children of an inheritance.
“The greatest generation of veterans is dying off,” says Outland. “So our job is to make sure that the $10 trillion that roughly comprises their total wealth is passed on to their families and not sucked up by the ever-increasing costs of long-term medical care and expenses.”’
Outland said of the roughly 16 million veterans who served in WWII there are roughly 750,000 still living. He estimates there also are roughly 2.5 million WWII widows still living who are entitled to the benefit and can apply for it. They just need to know it’s there.
“That’s a lot of veterans and widows out there and most of them don’t have a clue the benefit is there for them,” Outland says.
Receiving the Aid & Assistance benefit has made it possible for veterans from all backgrounds to fill the gap between Medi-Cal coverage, Social Security and pension payments and costs of long-term care, among other things, which amounts to an average of close to $7,000 a month in many places. As of January 2015, a veteran and spouse could qualify for as much as $2,126 a month through the program. The A&A benefit for single veterans is currently set at $1,794 a month, and for surviving spouses the benefit is $1,156 a month.
“It truly can mean that someone can age with dignity in a good facility and pay for it without having to lose everything they’ve spent their lives saving up,” Outland said.
Outland also has an hour-long, weekend radio program offering listeners financial and estate planning guidance, He’s successfully parlaying a long, first career in radio advertising sales and station management into a passion helping people manage their money, preserve their family’s wealth and plan for the future.
“I’m self-taught,” said Outland. “I got tired of doing radio sales day in and day out. I have been doing this for 28 years now and I guess you could say it really is a second career.”
Outland said when he “discovered” the Aid & Assistance benefit was available there were reportedly roughly 400 recipients in the Sacramento County region signed up for and receiving it. As of January of this year, he estimated his firm had successfully completed roughly 6,000 A&A cases for veterans.
“It was like the sky opened up,” Outland said. “We’ve got to get the word out there that these benefits are available.”