If you’re like many people, you may not be aware of all the federal, state, and local government benefits and community support services that are available, especially to seniors and those with disabilities or low incomes. You or your loved one can get information about:

  • Respite care
  • Home meal delivery
  • Transportation
  • Economic assistance
  • And much more

It’s not always easy, however, to know where to go for help making sense of the maze of agencies and regulations governing eligibility—and that’s where benefits counseling comes in. Here’s some information you as a caregiver can use to find out if a benefits counselor is right for you.

What is a benefits counselor?

Benefits counselors may work for an agency of the federal or state government, or a charitable organization such as the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. They work with you to see if you or a loved one may be eligible for government-provided benefits, depending on your needs. For example, if you’re looking for caregiver support, a benefits counselor may be able what’s available in the area where you live.

Some benefits counselors can evaluate your financial situation and other criteria to see if you’re eligible for economic assistance. In some cases, they help people who already receive certain benefits qualify for additional assistance and services.

  • NIH Senior Health (a website operated by the National Institutes of Health) has an extensive library of resources for seniors and caregivers; for example, Help with Home Care provides information for caregivers of loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, including phone numbers to help you find local services.
  • For those with disabilities, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a range of information. For example, it links to the Centers for Independent Living, which lists contact information by state.
  • The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has links to a variety of health-related information about such topics as hospice care, hospitals, nursing homes, home health care, and more.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has benefits counselors that can explain veterans’ benefits in detail.
  • The Medicaid program provides health-care coverage to those who qualify. Program details vary by state.
  • If you can’t afford to heat or cool your home, see this HHS page, which provides a phone number for referral.
  • You may also want to contact the benefits counselors at your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

If you’d like to know how to find a benefits counselor in your area, you can start by contacting your local Area Agency on Aging using this locator tool from the Department of Health and Human Services, or call the agency at (800) 677-1116.

What can benefits counselors do?

Depending on the agency for whom they work, benefits counselors can help you identify resources and apply for economic assistance within the community or government. For example, according to caregiver.com, your benefits counselor might review and investigate your eligibility and status with regard to any or all of the following:

  • Social Security and Social Security disability payments
  • Medicaid benefits
  • Assistance paying for prescription drugs outside the Medicare Program
  • Income tax credits
  • Veterans Administration benefits
  • State and local government benefits and resources
  • Community-based services and assistance
  • Health-care benefits

It’s important to note that benefits counselors are not lawyers and they cannot represent you in court, cautions caregiver.com. They may refer you to an attorney if they believe it is necessary to help you get benefits you may be entitled to, however.

How should I or my caregiver prepare for a benefits counseling session?

Your benefits counselor might need to take a deep look at your personal and financial history to see what programs you may be eligible for, so it’s important to have documents and information ready at the time of your appointment. Depending on the type of benefits counselor you’re working with, caregiver.com suggests you or your caregiver bring personal records such as:

  • Insurance coverage documents and any recent statements
  • Recent bank account statements and federal and state tax returns. Not all benefits counselors will need these, but if you are applying for some types of economic assistance, you’ll need proof of income and assets.
  • Social Security cards
  • Statements from retirement accounts if you are receiving benefits from them
  • Military service records, if applicable
  • Information about any medications you are taking (if applying for prescription drug benefits programs)
  • A list of any federal, state, or local benefits programs you’re currently enrolled in

After reviewing your documentation, your counselor should be able to tell you if you qualify for any additional programs and services and even help you apply for many of them. He or she might also make any referrals for legal assistance or community-based aid you may need.

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