Family Elder Law Expert Blog

Family Elder Law is pleased to offer the legal blog entitled “The Family Elder Law Expert Blog,” authored by Jason A. Penrod, B.C.S., CELA. Jason is board certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is also the founder of Family Elder Law with offices in Lake Wales, Lakeland, and Sebring, Florida. The blog addresses legal issues of particular interest to our readers. In addition, the blog will answer individual questions from the readership on a wide range of topics.

Family Elder Law Expert Blog


Seniors: Beware of Debt

Thursday, November 21st, 2019

America experienced its worst financial crisis since the great depression between 2007 and 2010. Known as the subprime mortgage crisis, it happened because home prices fell in 2006, triggering loan defaults. Then the risk spread into pension funds, mutual funds, and corporations who owned the derivatives. It also spread into the global credit market resulting in higher interest rates and reduced availability of credit. Quantitative easing was necessary for several years to lower interest rates and spur economic growth. The cautionary tale to all Americans was learning to live beneath their means and do not carry excessive amounts of debt. Many Americans did not take heed and as a result, they are in substantial debt. One of the saddest cases of all of the debtors is the senior in their 60s and 70s in retirement years, and generally on a fixed income.

Veteran Benefits Related to Agent Orange & Newly Associated Diseases

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

During the Vietnam War (1962-1975), the United States military, as well as the Republic of Vietnam, used defoliants for tactical purposes to reduce cover for enemy forces, improve perimeter visibility of military installations, and even to kill enemy food crops. Agent Orange is the most infamous of the tactical herbicides whose names became shortened to the identifying color band on the drum in which they were shipped and stored. These toxic herbicides have created a host of health problems in Vietnam Veterans who are now in and around their sixtieth decade. The illnesses are even linked to the offspring of these veterans.

In 2017, then Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin decided to add more diseases like bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and symptoms akin to Parkinson's to the VA's growing list of illnesses and health concerns with highly likely links to the toxic herbicide according to an Institute of Medicine 2016 report (IOM).  In addition to these findings, in 2018, the National Academies of Sciences found evidence linking Agent Orange to more diseases like hypertension and associated stroke. The Academy also links Agent Orange to monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), which is the presence of abnormal proteins in the bloodstream. The addition of these health concerns and diseases is in large part due to the change of their evidence classifications from the "limited or suggested" to "sufficient" category.

Earlier in 2019, then acting head of the Veterans Health Administration, Dr. Richard Stone, informed Congress that the VA was hoping to make a final decision on these "new addition" illnesses within 90 days. 90 days came and went. At a time when giving ailing senior veterans quicker access to rightful disability compensation and health benefits, thousands of veterans have lost hope. Unfortunately, for some, the culpability delay tactics are costing veteran lives; the longer the delay, the fewer lives to be addressed.

The Military Times is reporting these documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by a veteran, are being broadly overlooked or objected to by the White House. According to the documents, there are about 83,000 veterans currently experiencing one of the three newly proposed presumptive illnesses. However, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, expressed concerns regarding the budgetary impact of disease expansion within the current program and its potential adverse effects on the existing disability benefits program. Budgetary concerns seem to be overriding over 40 supportive scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and additional documents Shulkin presented in a letter addressed to Mulvaney. The position of the White House remains to expand veteran care through the private sector.

Much of the inability to form a consensus in providing additional benefits revolves around the use of the term “presumptive” in describing the illness. Presumptively linking hypertension to Agent Orange exposure may be scientifically valid; however, the case can also be made linking hypertension as a disease typically found in older people, like Vietnam Veterans. Thus as Vietnam Veterans age, presumptive illnesses and their sources become difficult to isolate. The Veterans Health Administration, upon reviewing the results of their Vietnam Veteran Morbidity Study and the Vietnam Mortality study, concluded in May of 2018 that there is insufficient scientific data and information to overcome the limitations that exist in the scientific support requirement for rulemaking.

The years go on, and the back and forth continues as more Vietnam Veterans suffer Agent Orange-related illnesses and die. The longer political ploys are used to delay the approval of adding presumptive disease, the more intact the Veterans Health Administration budget will remain. This country’s policy and legislative process should not hinder America’s support of its veteran population. It is unconscionable to use delay tactics in the hopes this issue will self-resolve with the impending deaths of tens of thousands of sick Vietnam Veterans who may be fully deserving of additional medical care and benefits, but not receiving them. The VA must redouble its efforts to free up more benefit monies to right this egregious wrong.

Are Seniors With Alzheimer's Taking Too Much Medicine?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease in the US accounts for one in every four deaths or about 610,000 people. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women. And yet, is reporting that in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease deaths have increased by 123 percent while deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11 percent. Alzheimer's is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the US, and one of every three seniors dies with some form of dementia. These numbers should give the government, and the health care industry pause as the silver tsunami of baby boomers continues into retirement. Current projections of Alzheimer’s disease-associated costs could be as much as 1.1 trillion dollars. 

Poor Money Decisions May be Indicative of Dementia

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

Diminishing brain function due to the onset of dementia can lead to the destruction of your financial well-being. If you are age 50 or older, easy access to your financial assets like stocks and bonds, checking and savings accounts, money market accounts, and other assets can lead to loss of these funds if an unauthorized person gains access to them, or if they are mismanaged. Family members are often unaware their loved one needs help before the unintentionally mismanaged assets, now gone, bring about devastating consequences for both the person living with dementia as well as their family. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that from diagnosis to death, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) care will cost an average of $424,000 per individual, and 70 percent of that cost is out of pocket expenses to the family system of the affected loved one.

What's the Difference Between Medicare & Medicaid

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

Most people who work in healthcare may recognize the acronym LASA, which stands for “look-alike-sound-alike” and is usually seen when referencing medications.   When it comes to federal programs, Medicaid and Medicare, in written form, look alike and they do sound alike but work very differently.

Addressing Resident Abuse in Senior Living Facilities

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

If you have an elderly family member or friend living in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, it is imperative that you stay attuned to the signs of abuse to your loved one. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports the most common types of abuse include physical (29%), psychological (21%), gross neglect (14%), financial exploitation (14%), and sexual abuse (7%). While the facility's staff perpetrates the majority of these abuse cases, 22 percent of cases are a result of resident on resident abuse. However, these statistics reveal only part of the story.

Cost of Living Adjustment & Social Security Benefit Calculation

Friday, November 8th, 2019

A non-partisan advocacy group called The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) has a new analysis that asserts the federal government measuring tool to calculate the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) is flawed. The decrease in social security benefit monies that are paid to seniors is eroding their financial protection against rising costs. Changes in the COLA is tethered to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers Index (CPI-W), which determines the inflation rate for a basket of goods and services from one year to the next, affecting more than 64 million beneficiaries next year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released its annual CPI-W data from Quarter 3 since 1975, providing the final inflation number needed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to calculate a given year’s COLA.

5 Reasons to Revisit Your Retirement Holdings

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 is suggesting it is time to rethink your financial retirement portfolio. You may have built up a significant nest egg in a 401(k) plan, but it does come with serious baggage during your golden years. It is impossible to argue against the early stages of a 401(k) when employers match your contribution to the plan. You can take advantage of the tax breaks because contribution money comes out of your paycheck before calculating taxes and that money compounds every year. When you retire, however, the tax impact of a 401(k), 403(b), or traditional IRA can become significant. 

How to Build Wealth

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

If you are a part of the millennial generation or younger, there is a steady path you can pick that can over time make you a self-made millionaire. It does not require a unique set of skills, specialized knowledge, or even excessive risks. Americans who achieve millionaire and multi-millionaire status using this technique took an average of about 32 years to accumulate multi-million dollar wealth with some achieving it in as early as 18 years. They are called saver-investors, and when you encounter one, at first glance, they might not seem that rich.

The Autism Cares Act

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Much attention over the last ten years has been given to the research for causes and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD.   The Combating Autism Act became a law in 2006,  was reauthorized in 2011, then again reauthorized and renamed to Autism CARES Act in 2014 (Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act) which provided federal funding for research and monitoring the prevalence of autism and for training providers in detecting and diagnosing autism.  Even still, there is no one single test for autism, no definitive cause for autism in general, and no cure yet.  To be able to continue valuable research, education, social programs, and services to support the autism community, the law needed to be updated so certain parts of it would not expire by the end of September 2019.   With bi-partisan backing and passage through the U.S. Senate, President Trump signed the Autism CARES Act of 2019 into law on September 30, 2019.   The 1.8 billion afforded by this law will allow the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to continue their work on autism.  

Seniors: Protect Your Online Information

Friday, October 18th, 2019

Data breaches have been one of the hot topics this year in the wake of the Capital One data breach which compromised nearly 100 million Americans. But what hasn’t been receiving much major media coverage are the recent breaches affecting seniors.

Technology Suited for Seniors with Dementia

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

The increasing number of seniors and near-seniors experiencing dementia in the United States is on a rapid rise. A hallmark of cognitive decline is a long pre-clinical phase followed by an actual medical diagnosis that progresses from early to middle and late-stage dementia. Poor memory, agitation, confusion, and understandable fear of the future are some of the first characteristics a senior may experience as cognitive decline takes hold. It is a frightening diagnosis for anyone’s future well-being.

Start Planning Now for Long-Term Care

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

No one likes to contemplate a future that involves needing long-term care.  In fact, I have yet to meet a client that aims to achieve the goal of residing in a nursing home one day.  When sitting with clients, and their families, it seems as though most would like to skip the long-term care conversation altogether.

Which Hospital Will You Go To?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

When you dial 911 for emergency medical services (EMS) your transport may route you to a hospital that is not near your home. While you have the right to ask to be transported to the hospital of your choice, either out of preference or to stay in your insurance network of doctors, you might not be permitted to do so. While you do have rights, you also have limitations, so it is best to understand how these decisions are made before experiencing a medical emergency.

Medicare Coverage for Long Term Care

Friday, October 11th, 2019

Most people understand that by paying into Social Security throughout their careers, they can receive health care benefits through Medicare starting at age 65.  Individuals under age 65 who qualify to receive Social Security Disability benefits are also covered under Medicare, as well as anyone of any age who has Lou Gehrigs disease, known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or has been diagnosed with permanent kidney disease (end-stage renal disease) that requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.  But many people may not understand what is covered when long term care is needed.

The Causes of Elder Abuse & How It Can Be Prevented?

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

According to the American Psychological Society, elder abuse is the infliction of physical, emotional/psychological, sexual or financial harm on an older adult. Elder abuse can also take the form of intentional or unintentional neglect of an older adult by the caregiver. Elder abuse has a variety of causes. It is important that family members and caregivers of senior adults be aware of the causes of elder abuse in order to prevent abuse and keep senior loved ones safe and secure.

6 Considerations to Contemplate Before Retiring

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

Before you retire or leave full-time employment for other pursuits, consider the impacts of your decision on the financial well being of your future. The transition to your next phase of life, whether full or semi-retirement, adventure seeking, or family driven, requires thoughtful planning to avoid needless surprises that can mean the difference between financial success or financial stress. Whether you have been planning your retirement for decades or days, contemplating these six key retirement elements can help you avoid unexpected problems.

Can Social Security & Medicare Survive?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

According to the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), every single day 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 years old. The deluge of aging Americans and the increase in longevity in the already 65 plus population are the main reasons why the Social Security and Medicare programs are expected to have financial insolvency issues in the coming decades. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of baby boomers agree that it is critical to preserve Social Security benefits even if it requires an increase in taxes paid into the system by working Americans. Payroll taxes by far account for the majority of monies available to pay for social security benefits.

Is Social Security at Risk?

Monday, September 30th, 2019

According to a recent government report, available here, Medicare and Social Security are at risk of insolvency. Unless action is taken, Social Security will exceed its income by 2020, whereas Medicare is projected to exceed its hospital insurance fund by 2026. Social Security will have to start spending down, potentially including massive cuts in payments to recipients by 2035. Likewise, Medicare will be forced to leave patients on the hook for more and more of their hospital and nursing home expenses.

What is a Trust?

Friday, September 27th, 2019

This is a common question we hear. Read on for information to help figure out whether you need a trust and, if so, what kind fits your specific situation.


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