by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA
Historically, a member of the military could arrange for a pension and provide a survivor’s benefit to a spouse or child. A problem arose where the child had a disability and was receiving means-tested public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) or Medicaid. If the child with disabilities receiving those benefits or other means-tested public benefits received the pension, they would lose the benefits. This is because any income received from any source reduces the SSI income dollar-for-dollar, and if the pension exceeded the amount of SSI income, SSI would be completely lost. Medicaid is frequently linked to SSI, so that if SSI is lost, the Medicaid would be also be lost. What follows is a story of the Power of One.
An Elder and Disability Law attorney in Virginia, named Kelly Thompson, took up the cause of these beneficiaries with disabilities. Kelly enlisted help from the Special Needs Alliance, which is a national organization of lawyers practicing in the disability field and also the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. After several years of hard work, in late 2014 Congress enacted the Disabled Military Child Protection Act in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation allows military retirees and service members to designate their survivor benefit to a Special Needs Trust for the benefit of their disabled child or children.
By having the survivor pension benefits irrevocably paid into a Special Needs Trust, those funds are not counted in determining the financial eligibility of the disabled child. The net result is that the military member’s or retiree’s children with disabilities are able to benefit from the pension as well as maintain their vital public benefits.
Part of the requirements under the Disabled Military Child Protection Act is that an attorney certify that the child has previously applied for, or may in the future apply for, SSI or other benefits, and that the Special Needs Trust is compliant with all applicable state and federal laws. A template is provided for completion and signature