Q: What can you tell me about lung cancer screenings? My
husband was a long-time smoker, but quit many years ago,
so I’m wondering if he should be checked out.
to recent recommendations from the U.S. Preventive
Services Task Force - an independent panel of medical
experts that advises the government on health policies -
if your husband is between the ages of 55 and 80, is a
current smoker or quit within the last 15 years, and has
a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years, he’s at
high risk for lung cancer and should talk to his doctor
about getting screened.
years are determined by multiplying the number of packs
he smoked daily by the number of years he smoked.
You’ll also be happy to know that lung cancer screenings
- which are recommended annually to those at risk - will
be covered by all private health insurance plans
starting in 2015, and Medicare is expected to begin
coverage this February or March. The Medicare screening,
however, will only cover high-risk beneficiaries through
cancer kills around 160,000 Americans each year making
it the most deadly of all possible cancers. In fact,
more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and
prostate cancers combined.
Lung cancer also occurs predominantly in older adults.
About two out of every three people diagnosed with lung
cancer are 65 or older, and the risk of lung cancer
peaks at age 71.
The goal of annual screenings is to detect cancer early
before symptoms appear, so it can be cured. The
five-year survival rate among people with lung cancer
when it’s caught in its earliest stage is 77 percent,
versus only 4 to 25 percent for people whose cancer has
get screened for lung cancer, your husband will need a
low-dose computed tomography (CT) chest scan, which is a
painless, noninvasive test that generates detailed
three-dimensional images of his lungs.
the screening, he will be asked to lie on a table that
slides through the center of a large, doughnut shaped
scanner that rotates around him to take images. Each
scan takes just a few seconds, during which time he’ll
be asked to hold his breath, because movement can
produce blurred images. The entire procedure takes only
a few minutes from start to finish.
also need to be aware that a lung CT screening has its
downsides. First, it exposes you to some radiation -
about the same as a mammography but more that of a chest
CT screenings aren’t foolproof either. They can produce
a high rate of false-positive results, which means they
frequently detect small spots (abnormalities) on the
lungs that are suggestive of cancer but aren’t
cancerous. These false alarms lead to more testing and
sometimes lung biopsies, as well as unnecessary worry
Because smoking causes 80 to 90 percent of all lung
cancer cases, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to
not smoke, and if you do smoke, quit. Even if you’ve
been a smoker for a long time, quitting now still
decreases your risk. Other factors that can increase the
risk of lung cancer include exposure to secondhand
smoke, radon, asbestos and other toxic chemicals or
more information on lung cancer screenings, call the
American Lung Association at 800-586-4872, or use their
online tool (LungCancerScreeningSavesLives.org), which
will help you determine if your husband needs to be
Convenient ways to get help with your Social Security
Dec. 9, 2014
Q: Can you recommend some easier ways that I can get
help with my Social Security questions? When I call
their toll-free help line I get put on hold forever, and
the wait time at my local Social Security office is over
It’s unfortunate, but the past few years the Social
Security Administration has made some major budget and
staff cuts that have greatly increased their phone
service and field office wait times for their customers.
With that said, here’s an alternative option and some
tips that can help make your access to Social Security a
little faster and easier.
the evolution of the Social Security website, the
quickest and most convenient way to work with Social
Security these days is to do it yourself online.
Depending on what you need, most tasks can be done at
SocialSecurity.gov like getting your Social Security
statement, estimating your future benefits, applying for
retirement or disability benefits, signing up for direct
deposit, replacing a Medicare card and much more. See a
complete list of what you can do online at ssa.gov/onlineservices
can also get information and answers to most of your
Social Security questions at faq.ssa.gov if you’re
patient enough to read through the information yourself.
if you need more help than their website offers, you can
always call Social Security’s toll-free service line at
800-772-1213 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7
p.m. and ask your question over the phone, or make a
scheduled appointment with your local field office. To
reduce your wait time, avoid calling during their rush
hour times, which are the first week of the month, and
daily from about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
If you’re seeking advice on when you should start taking
your Social Security benefits, you need to know that
while Social Security employees do provide information
on how the system works under different circumstances,
they aren’t allowed to give case-specific advice on when
you should start drawing your benefits.
you want help with this, you’ll need to turn to some of
the free or fee-based Social Security tools that are
available online through private financial service
companies or AARP.
Depending on the service, these tools take into account
the different rules and claiming strategies that can
affect your benefits, and some of them can crunch
hundreds of calculations to compare your benefits under
various scenarios and different ages to help you figure
out the best time to start claiming.
of the best free tools are AARP’s Social Security
Calculator (aarp.org/socialsecuritybenefits); SSAnalyze
which is offered by Bedrock Capital Management (bedrockcapital.com/ssanalyze);
and Analyze Now (analyzenow.com - click on “Computer
Programs”) which offers a “Free Strategic Social
Security Planner” but requires Microsoft Excel to use
if you don’t mind spending a little money, there are
higher-level services you can use like Maximize My
Social Security (maximizemysocialsecurity.com), which
charges $40 for their report, and takes into account the
thousands of different factors and combinations to help
you maximize your benefits.
Social Security Solutions (socialsecuritysolutions.com,
866-762-7526), which offers several levels of service
(ranging between $20 and $250) including their $125
“Advised” plan that runs multiple calculations and
comparisons, recommends a best course of action in a
detailed report, and gives you a one-on-one session with
a Social Security specialist over the phone to discuss
the report and ask questions.
Personal tech products designed specifically for seniors
Dec. 9, 2014
Q: Can you recommend any tablets, smartphones or
computers that are specifically designed for seniors? I
would like to buy a device for my technology-challenged
grandmother so she can get online and keep up with her
grandkids better, but it needs to be super simplified so
she can use it.
There are actually several new tech products on the
market today that are designed specifically for older
boomers and seniors that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable
These devices come equipped with simplified software,
big, vivid features, less clutter and better customer
support packages, which makes them more appealing and
much easier to use than mainstream devices. Here are
several top senior-friendly options to look into.
If you’re thinking about a smartphone for your
grandmother, check out the new GreatCall Touch3. Made by
Samsung, this Android smartphone has a 4-inch
touchscreen with an organized large icon menu list on
the home screen that provides users simple access to
often-used features like the phone, text messages,
camera, pictures, email and Internet, along with your
contacts and apps.
also has a 5-megapixel camera, a full-size onscreen
keyboard, and offers a variety of health and safety
features like the 5Star app that lets you immediately
speak to a certified agent 24/7 who can identify your
location and get you the help you need. Urgent Care,
which provides access to registered nurses and doctors
for advice and diagnoses. And MedCoach, which sends
Available at greatcall.com or 800-918-8543, the Touch3
sells for $170 with a $20 introductory discount, plus a
one-time activation fee of $35, and no-contract is
required. Monthly service plans that include unlimited
5Star and Urgent Care service start at $25. And their
data plans start at $2.50 per month for 20MB.
If you’re considering a tablet, a top senior-friendly
option is AARP’s new RealPad, which costs $189 at
aarprealpad.org, walmart.com/realpad or Walmart stores.
Produced in partnership with Intel, the RealPad is an
Android tablet with a 7.85-inch touchscreen. It provides
a clutter-free simplified home page with large text
icons to frequently used functions like email, social
networks, weather, news, games, camera and pictures,
Google, the Web, apps and more.
also has a 2-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel rear
camera, and comes with 24/7 phone support, a bunch of
tutorial videos, and a “Real QuickFix” tool that
connects users to technology support agents over the
Internet who can access the tablet and fix problems.
If you think your grandmother would like a desktop
computer, the Telikin (telikin.com, 800-717-7640), which
has been around for three years now, is an excellent
Ready to go right out of the box, this all-in-one
touch-screen computer displays a big button menu on the
screen at all times, providing simple access to most
functions like the Internet, email, games, video chat,
photo sharing, news and weather, and more.
Available in two sizes - the 18.6-inch “Telikin Touch”
that costs $699, and the 22-inch “Telikin Elite II” for
$1,079 - these computers come with built-in speakers, a
Web camera, microphone, wired keyboard and mouse. They
also offer a “tech buddy” feature so you can access your
grandma’s Telikin computer remotely from your computer
to help her when she needs it.
Running on Linux software instead of the standard
Windows or Mac OS, the Telikin is also virus-resistant,
comes with a 60-day trial period, a one-year warranty
and free tech support.
also worth noting that Telikin has a partnership with
firstSTREET - a senior product direct marketing company
- that is also selling the 22-inch Telikin for $1,079,
but have rebranded it as the “WOW! Computer for
Free and Low-Cost Legal Services that Help Seniors in
Nov. 18, 2014
Q: Where can seniors turn to for free or low-cost legal
help? My husband and I need some professional legal
assistance but don’t have a lot of money to pay a high
priced lawyer. What can you tell us?
There are actually a number of free and low-cost legal
resources available today to help seniors, but what’s
available to you and your husband will depend on where
you live, the type legal assistance you need and your
financial situation. Here are several resources to check
Legal aid: Directed by the Legal Services Corporation,
legal aid offers free legal assistance to low-income
people of all ages. Each community program will differ
slightly in the services they offer and income
qualifications. See lsc.gov/find-legal-aid to locate a
program in your area.
bono programs: Usually sponsored by state or local bar
associations, these programs help low-income people find
volunteer lawyers who are willing to handle their cases
for free. You can look for a pro bono program through
the American Bar Association at findlegalhelp.org, or
Senior legal hotlines: There are a number of states
including the District of Columbia that offer senior
legal hotlines, where all seniors over age 60 have
access to free legal advice over the telephone. To find
the states that offer this service and their toll free
number, visit legalhotlines.org.
Senior legal services: Coordinated by the Administration
on Aging, this service may offer free or low-cost legal
advice, legal assistance or access to legal
representation to people over the age of 60. Your Area
Agency on Aging can tell you what’s available in your
community. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to
get your local number.
National Disability Rights Network: This is a nonprofit
membership organization that provides legal assistance
to people with disabilities through their Protection and
Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program. If you or
your husband is disabled, visit ndrn.org to find help in
If you can’t get help from one of these programs, or
find that you aren’t eligible, another option is to
contact your state or local bar association, which may
be able to refer you to a low-fee lawyer. Or, you may
want to consider hiring a lawyer for only part of the
legal work and doing other parts yourself. This is known
as unbundled legal services.
bar associations offer public service-oriented lawyer
referral services that will interview clients and help
identify the problems a lawyer could help them with. If
a lawyer can help with your problem, the service will
provide you with a referral to a lawyer. If the problem
does not require a lawyer, the service will provide
information on other organizations in your community
that may be able to help. Most of these lawyer referral
services conduct their interviews and make referrals
over the phone.
contact your state or local bar association, go to
americanbar.org and type in “state and local bar
associations” in the search field to find their
finally, if you are an AARP member, one other discount
resource that may be able to help you is AARP’s Legal
Services Network from Allstate. This service provides
members a free legal consultation (up to 45 minutes)
with an attorney along with 20 percent discounts on
other legal services you may need. To locate a lawyer
near you, call 866-330-0753.
How to improve your balance as you age
Nov. 4, 2014
Q: I’ve always been a walker, but when I fell last month
my doctor suggested I start doing some balance
exercises. Is this really something I need to practice?
What can you tell me?A: Most
people don’t think much about practicing their balance,
but you should, the same way that you walk to strengthen
your heart, lungs and overall health, or you stretch to
keep your body limber.
As we age, our balance declines - if it isn’t practiced
- and can cause falls. Every year more than one in three
people age 65 years or older fall, and the risk
increases with age. A simple fall can cause a serious
fracture of the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle,
which can lead to hospital stays, disability, loss of
independence and even death.
How balance works
Balance is the ability to distribute your weight in a
way that enables you to hold a steady position or move
at will without falling. It’s determined by a complex
combination of muscle strength, visual inputs, the inner
ear and the work of specialized receptors in the nerves
of your joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons that
orient you in relation to other objects.
all sorted out in the sensory cortex of your brain,
which takes in the information from those sources to
give you balance. But aging dulls our balance senses,
and causes most seniors to gradually become less stable
on their feet over time.
balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity.
You feel a little unsteady, so you curtail certain
activities. If you’re inactive, you’re not challenging
your balance systems or using your muscles. As a result,
both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like
strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a
chair become trickier. That shakes your confidence, so
you become even less active.
you have a balance problem that is not tied to illness,
medication or some other specific cause, simple
exercises can help preserve and improve your balance.
Some basic exercises you can do anytime include:
One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or
longer, then switch to the other foot. You can do this
while brushing your teeth or waiting around somewhere.
In the beginning, you might want to have a wall or chair
to hold on to.
rises: While standing, rise up on your toes as far as
you can. Then drop back to the starting position and
repeat the process 10 to 20 times. You can make this
more difficult by holding light hand weights.
Heel-toe walk: Take 20 steps while looking straight
ahead. Think of a field sobriety test.
Sit-to-stand: Without using your hands, get up from a
straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times.
This improves balance and leg strength.
additional balance exercises visit go4life.nia.nih.gov,
a resource created by the National Institute on Aging
that offers free booklets and a DVD that provides
illustrated examples of many appropriate exercises. You
can order your free copies online or by calling
other exercises that can help improve your balance and
flexibility is through tai chi and yoga. To locate a
beginner’s class in your area that teaches either of
these disciplines, call your local senior center, health
club or wellness center, check your yellow pages or try
online directory sites like americantaichi.net and
nothing is available near you, there are DVDs and videos
that offer tai chi and yoga instructions and routines
for seniors that you can do at home. Some good resources
for finding them are amazon.com, collagevideo.com and
iefit.com, or check with your local public library.
to finding affordable dental care
Oct. 28, 2014
Q: I had dental insurance through my work for many years
but lost it when I retired. Where can retirees find
affordable dental care?
Finding affordable dental care can be challenging for
seniors living on a tight budget. Most retirees lose
their dental insurance after leaving the workplace, and
original Medicare does not cover cleaning, fillings or
dentures. While there’s no one solution to affordable
dental care there are a number of options that can help
cut your costs. Here’s where to look.
While original Medicare (Part A and B) and Medicare
supplemental policies do not cover routine dental care,
there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that
do. Many of these plans, which are sold through private
insurance companies, cover dental care along with eye
care, hearing and prescription drugs, in addition to all
of your hospital and medical insurance. If you’re
eligible for Medicare, see medicare.gov/find-a-plan to
look for Advantage plans in your area that covers dental
Another way you can reduce your dental care expenses is
to join a dental discount network. How this works is you
pay an annual membership fee - around $80 to $200 a year
- in exchange for 10 to 60 percent discounts on service
and treatments from participating dentists. To find a
network, go to DentalPlans.com (or 888-632-5353) where
you can search for plans and participating dentists by
zip code, as well as get a breakdown of the discounts
Another option that’s currently available only in the
southern California area is Brighter.com. They provide
users free access to a network of dentists offering up
to 50 percent discounts on all services.
Dental school clinics offer savings opportunities too.
All 65 accredited dental schools in the U.S. offer
affordable care provided by dental students who are
overseen by their professors. You can expect to pay
about half of what a traditional dentist would charge
and still receive excellent, well-supervised care.
Another option is to check with local colleges that
offer dental hygiene programs. For training purposes,
many programs provide teeth cleanings by their students
for a fraction of what you’d pay at a dentist’s office.
search for nearby dental schools or dental hygiene
programs visit ada.org/dentalschools.
If you’re a veteran enrolled in the VA health care
program, or are a beneficiary of the Civilian Health and
Medical Program (CHAMPVA), the VA is now offering a
dental insurance program that gives you the option to
buy dental insurance through Delta Dental and MetLife at
a reduced cost.
VA also provides free dental care to vets who have
dental problems resulting from service. To learn more
about these options, visit va.gov/dental or call
you’re low income, there are various programs and
clinics that provide dental care at a reduced rate or
for free. To look for options in your area contact your
state dental director (see astdd.org), or your state or
local dental society (ebusiness.ada.org/mystate.aspx).
may also be able to get discounted or free dental care
at one of the federally funded HRSA health centers (findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov,
877-464-4772), or at a privately funded free clinic (nafcclinics.org).
check with the Dental Lifeline Network (dentallifeline.org,
888-471-6334) which provides free dental care for
low-income elderly and disabled; Remote Area Medical (ramusa.org)
which offers free health, eye and dental care to people
in select locations; and Indian Health Service (ihs.gov),
which provides free dental care to American Indians and
Alaska Natives who are members of a federally recognized
see toothwisdom.org, a website created by Oral Health
America that will help you locate low-cost dental care.
How Medicare covers outpatient mental health services
Oct. 21, 2014
Q: Does Medicare cover outpatient counseling or therapy
sessions for seniors? Since retiring, my husband has
really struggled with depression and needs to get some
help. What can you tell us?A: Yes,
Medicare recently upgraded its coverage of outpatient
mental health services to help beneficiaries with
depression and other needs. Here’s how it works.
If you have original Medicare, your Part B coverage will
pay 80 percent (after you’ve met your $147 Part B
deductible) for a variety of counseling and therapy
services that are provided outside a hospital, like
individual and group therapy, family counseling and
more. They also cover services for treatment of
beneficiaries who struggle with inappropriate alcohol
and drug use.
or your supplemental insurance is responsible for the
remaining 20 percent coinsurance.
Medicare also gives your husband the option of getting
treatment through a variety of mental health
professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists,
clinical social workers and clinical nurse specialists.
also important to understand that if your husband
decides to see a non-medical doctor (such as
psychologists or a clinical social worker), you’ll need
to make sure that he or she is Medicare-certified and
takes assignment, which means they accept Medicare’s
approved amount as full payment. If they don’t, Medicare
will not pay for the services.
Medicare will, however, pay for the services of
Medicare-certified medical doctors (such as
psychiatrists) who do not take assignment, but these
doctors can charge you up to 15 percent above Medicare’s
approved amount in addition to the 20 percent
coinsurance, which you will be responsible for.
locate a mental health care professional in your area
that accepts Medicare assignment, use Medicare’s online
Physician Compare tool. Just go to medicare.gov/physiciancompare
and type in your zip code, or city and state, then type
in the type of profession you want locate, like
“psychiatry” or “clinical psychologist” in the “What are
you searching for?” box. You can also get this
information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227.
If you and your husband get your Medicare benefits
through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they too must
cover the same services as original Medicare but they
will likely require him to see an in-network provider.
You’ll need to contact your plan directly for the
In addition to the outpatient mental health services,
you should also know that Medicare covers yearly
depression screenings that must be done in a primary
care doctor’s office or primary care clinic that can
assure appropriate diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.
Annual depression screenings are covered 100 percent.
Medicare will also cover almost all medications used to
treat mental health conditions under the Part D
prescription drug benefit. If your husband is prescribed
an antidepressant or some other medication for his
condition, and he has a Part D plan, you should call his
plan to confirm coverage or you can search the plans
formulary (the list of medications they cover) on their
For more detailed information, call Medicare at
800-633-4227 and request a copy of publication #10184
“Medicare & Your Mental Health Benefits,” or you can
read it online at medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/10184.pdf.
What to consider when choosing a walk-in bathtub
Oct. 14, 2014
Q: I’m interested in getting a walk-in bathtub for my
wife that’s easy for her to get into and out of, but
could use some assistance. Can you offer any consumer
walk-in bathtub is a great option for seniors with
mobility problems who have trouble getting in and out of
a traditional tub. But with so many options available
today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are a few
tips that can help.
Walk-in bathtubs are specialty products that have a
watertight, hinged door built into the side of the tub
that provides a much lower threshold to step over
(usually 3 to 7 inches) versus a standard tub that’s
around 15 inches.
addition to the low threshold, most walk-in tubs also
have a built-in seat, grab bars, anti-slip floors and a
handheld showerhead. And many higher-end models offer
therapeutic spa-like features that are great for seniors
with arthritis and other ailments.
kind of walk-in tub you choose will depend on the size
and layout of your bathroom, your wife’s needs and
preferences, and your budget. Prices for a good walk-in
tub typically run between $3,000 and $10,000 installed.
Here are some other things you should know.
Quality check: The best walk-in bathtubs on the market
today are made in the USA. Also, make sure the company
you choose has a lifetime “leak-proof” door seal
warranty and lengthy warranties on both the tub and the
size: While walk-in bathtubs vary in shape and size,
most models have high-walls (three feet or higher), are
26 to 32 inches wide, and will fit into the same 60-inch
long space as your standard tub without having to
reconfigure the room. If the walk-in tub doesn’t quite
fit your old bathtub space, extension kits are available
to ensure a good fit.
options: Most walk-in tubs have an inward opening door,
but if your wife uses a wheelchair or is a large person,
an outward opening door may be a better option because
they’re easier to enter and exit. But, be aware that
because these doors swing out, they require more
One other style to consider is the “rising-wall” bathtub
made by Kohler, which sits about two feet off the ground
and has a side panel that slides up and down. These tubs
can be entered from a seated position, which makes it a
nice option for wheelchair users.
type: Most companies offer several different types of
walk-in tubs. The most basic type is a soaker tub, or
you can get a therapeutic tub that offers either
whirlpool water jets or bubble massage air jets, or a
combination of the two.
fill and drain: One drawback to using a walk-in bathtub
is that the bather must sit in the tub as it fills and
drains, which can make for a chilly experience. To help
with this, choose a tub that has fast-filling faucets
and pump-assisted drainage systems, which significantly
speeds up the process.
Where to shop: While there are many companies that make,
sell and install walk-in bathtubs, some of the best in
the industry are Safe Step (www.safesteptub.com,
800-346-6616), Premier (www.premiercarebathing.com,
800-934-7614), American Standard (www.americanstandard.com,
866-423-0800) and Jacuzzi (www.jacuzzi.com,
800-288-4002). Many big box retailers like Lowes, Home
Depot and Sears sell walk-in bathtubs too.
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs,
but many companies offer financing with monthly payment
get started, contact a few companies who will send a
local dealer to your home to assess your bathroom, and
give you product options and estimates for free.
How to check up on your hospital
Oct. 7, 2014
Q: What resources can you recommend for researching
hospitals? I need to get a knee replacement next year,
and want to find a good, safe hospital to have it done
Most people don’t give much thought when it comes to
choosing a hospital, but selecting the right one can be
as important as the doctor you choose. Here are some
tips and resources to help you research and check up on
your area hospitals.
While you may not always have the opportunity to choose
your hospital, especially in the case of an emergency,
having a planned procedure can offer you a variety of
shopping for a hospital, the most important criterion is
to find one that has a strong department in your area of
need. A facility that excels in coronary bypass surgery,
for example, may not be the best choice for a knee
replacement. Research shows that patients tend to have
better results when they’re treated in hospitals that
have extensive experience with their specific condition.
order to choose a hospital that’s best for you, it is
important to discuss your concerns and alternatives with
the doctor who is treating you. Some doctors may be
affiliated with several hospitals from which you can
choose. Or, if you’ve yet to select a doctor, finding a
top hospital that has expertise with your condition can
help you determine which physician to actually choose.
Another important reason to do some research is the all
too frequent occurrence of hospital infections, which
kill around 75,000 people in the U.S. each year. So
checking your hospital’s infection rates and cleanliness
procedures is also a wise move.
Today, there are a number of online resources that
provide hospital safety and performance data to help you
research and compare facilities. Because hospitals are
such complex places, it’s wise to get information from a
variety of sources. Here is a summary of some top
Hospital Compare (medicare.gov/hospitalcompare):
Operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services, this free tool lets you compare general
quality of care, as well as care for many medical
conditions and surgical procedures in more than 4,000
Consumer Reports Hospital Rankings (consumerreports.org/hospitalratings):
If you don’t mind spending a few dollars ($7 for one
month or $30 per year), Consumer Reports ranks 4,500
hospitals in all 50 states plus Washington D.C. and
Puerto Rico. The reliable resource provides information
on up to 34 performance and safety measures.
News & World Report (usnews.com/best-hospitals): This
online publishing resource identifies the best hospitals
for 16 specialties, and provides rankings by metro area
and by specialty for free.
Healthgrades (healthgrades.com): A private, for-profit
organization, they provide free hospital ratings on
patient safety and medical procedures, and scores
hospitals using a 5-star scale.
Commonwealth Fund (whynotthebest.org): This is a private
foundation that provides free performance data on all
Joint Commission (qualitycheck.org): This is a
not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies
more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs
in the U.S. Hospitals receive a checkmark for each set
of measures they have met. But there’s no way to tell
whether a hospital is stronger in one area over another.
Hospital Inspections (hospitalinspections.org):
Established by the Association of Health Care
Journalist, this focuses on violations and inspection
Leapfrog Group (hospitalsafetyscore.org): This national,
not-for-profit organization grades hospitals on their
overall performance in keeping patients safe. Use your
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Burial and Memorial Benefits Available to Veterans
Sept. 30, 2014
Does the Veterans
Administration provide any special funeral services or
benefits to old veterans? My father is a 90-year-old
World War II veteran with late stage Alzheimer’s, so I’m
looking into funeral options and would like to know what
the VA may provide.
Yes, the Veterans
Administration offers a number of burial and memorial
benefits to veterans if their discharge from the
military was under conditions other than dishonorable –
which will need to be verified. To do this, you’ll need
a copy of your dad’s DD Form 214 “Certificate of Release
or Discharge from Active Duty,” which you can request
online at archives.gov/veterans.
Here’s a rundown of
some of the different benefits that are available to
veterans that die a non-service related death.
National and State Cemetery
If your dad is
eligible, and wants to be buried in one of the 131
national or 93 state VA cemeteries (see
www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp for a list) the
VA benefits provided at no cost to the family include a
gravesite; opening and closing of the grave; perpetual
gravesite care; a government headstone or marker; a
United States burial flag that can be used to drape the
casket or accompany the urn (after the funeral service,
the flag is given to the next-of-kin as a keepsake); and
a Presidential memorial certificate, which is an
engraved paper certificate signed by the current
President expressing the country’s grateful recognition
of the veteran’s service.
burial benefits are also available to spouses and
dependents of veterans.
If your dad is
cremated, his remains will be buried or inurned in the
same manner as casketed remains.
Funeral or cremation
arrangements and costs are not, however, taken care of
by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran’s
Private Cemetery Benefits
If your dad is going
to be buried in a private cemetery, the benefits
available include a free government headstone or marker,
or a medallion that can be affixed to an existing
privately purchased headstone or marker; a burial flag;
and a Presidential memorial certificate.
Funeral or cremation
arrangements and costs are again the responsibility of
the family, and there are no benefits offered to spouses
and dependents that are buried in private cemeteries.
Military Funeral Honors
benefit available to all eligible veterans buried in
either a national or private cemetery is a military
funeral honors ceremony. This includes folding and
presenting the U.S. burial flag to the veteran’s
survivors and the playing of Taps, performed by two or
more uniformed military members.
The funeral provider
you choose will be able to assist you with all VA burial
requests. Depending on what you want, certain forms may
need to be completed which are always better to be done
in advance. For a complete rundown of burial and
memorial benefits, eligibility details and required
forms, visit www.cem.va.gov or call 800-827-1000.
In addition to the
many burial benefits, some veterans may also qualify for
a $734 burial and funeral expense allowance (if
hospitalized by VA at time of death), or $300 (if not
hospitalized by VA at time of death), and a $734
plot-interment allowance to those who choose to be
buried in a private cemetery. To find out if your dad is
eligible, see benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/burials/burial.pdf.
To apply for burial
allowances, you’ll need to fill out VA Form 21-530
“Application for Burial Benefits.” You need to attach a
copy of your dad’s discharge document (DD 214 or
equivalent), death certificate, funeral and burial
bills. They should show that you have paid them in full.
You may download the form at va.gov/vaforms.