ABLE Update

Significant progress has been made in 2016 with two states – Ohio and Tennessee – allowing contributions to ABLE accounts; and several more states expected to follow by the end of the year. Some important things to understand about these plans, and ABLE accounts in general. First and foremost – they do not, nor should they, take the place of a Special Needs Trust. ABLE accounts have a maximum limit of $100,000 to continue receiving Social Security and Medicaid benefits (higher balances will suspend eligibility); and each state’s maximum balance will match the maximum balance of their traditional 529 plans. Special Needs Trusts do not have a maximum limit. Additionally, ABLE accounts are subject to Medicaid payback – depending upon the type of Special Needs Trust this is not the case.

Individuals can only have one ABLE account, and $14,000 per year is currently the total contribution limit. Recent legislature has passed allowing eligible individuals to open an ABLE account in any State, regardless of where they reside. Currently neither Ohio nor Tennessee offer a state income tax deduction for contributions, and it’s unclear if any states will incorporate this into their accounts. Qualified withdrawals –  withdrawals applied towards qualified disability expenses of the beneficiary, may be taken tax free. The definition of qualified withdrawals is extremely broad at this time – including expenses like buying an iPad or music therapy.

It’s important families have a plan for what the ABLE account is going to be used for. Although there are many investment options available, if the contributions will be applied to daily living, or short term goals, the best option is to leave the money in cash. The ABLE account vehicle provides a great opportunity for individuals with disabilities to have an emergency fund; something they’ve never been able to accumulate in the past because of the $2,000 asset limit for social security benefits.

How do you get the money out of the account? Both Ohio and Tennessee offer debit cards with their accounts, and I think it’s a safe bet to say most, if not all, plans will offer something similar. Tennessee has a 10 calendar day waiting period after a contribution has been made before funds may be withdrawn; Ohio’s waiting period is 7 business days for check contributions, and 5 business days for an ACH contribution.

Another important clarification: although the disability had to be diagnosed before age 26, there is no age limit to open an ABLE account. For example, if an individual is in their 50s, but received a disability diagnosis at the age of 16, they may open an ABLE account. These accounts are not just for families with children or young adults, if you’re unsure if you or a loved one will qualify consult an advisor or visit the ABLE National Resource Center’s web site.

ABLE accounts don’t solve all of a families’ problems, but they are a step in the right direction to providing individuals with disabilities independence and providing families with a sense of security. Although there is a contribution limit, there are no restrictions on who can contribute. An ABLE account should be considered another tool for the success of your financial plan.

Veterans – File your claims!

I’ve heard it far too often than I think I should – I’m not filing a VA claim, I’d rather leave the money for those that have seen combat; they really deserve it. This bothers me. As a veteran who served in several combat zones, although not boots on ground in Iraq or Afghanistan, I can attest to the fact there are a myriad of other hazards faced even when not in direct combat. But yes, those who have been boots on ground definitely need to apply.

I’m not advocating making something up – if you came out of the military in the same shape, or better, than you came in – GREAT! However, many of us did not. In fact, although we may not be eligible for any compensation right away, because  we have an injury that’s not impacting us AT THIS TIME we may receive a 0% rating. Filing the claim and getting a 0% rating is better for the veteran than not filing at all. By granting a 0% rating the VA has acknowledged the injury or illness is service connected. This is important because if/when this condition gets worse it’s already been tied to your time in the military and the VA simply looks at the severity; you’re not trying to prove it happened when you served 30+  years ago.

Filing claims as soon as possible minimize the possibility of other causes clouding the issue. Various Service organizations, like the DAV, VFW and American Legion will help service members file claims and then follow the claim through the process on the veteran’s behalf. You don’t have to be a member, and the service is free. They will also help you prepare the claim, ensuring it’s not submitted without the necessary proof – minimizing the wait time you may otherwise encounter. This is still not a “speedy” process; it can take between 8 – 12 months for a fully developed claim to be processed. If you don’t have all your documentation ready the wait time may be as long as 2+ years.

The VA uses 38 CFR Book C to determine disability ratings. This is a very comprehensive list of ailments, and it outlines exactly what is needed to qualify. This is not a suggestion to go page by page trying to find what will get you the most money. It IS a suggestion that you review your medical records and start being honest about what your health is like while on Active Duty. The VA has a history of taking a long time to acknowledge illnesses and injuries, but when they do those who have a documented history are taken care of. Some recent examples are vets stationed at Camp LeJeune between 1953 – 1987 and the VA’s burn Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.

To find what the sum of multiple ratings will be, use the combined ratings table. VA compensation increases if you’re married, have a child or a dependent parent. If you have a disabled child the compensation will remain in place after he/she turns 18 – but you will need to file the request and prove the child’s disability. Be honest with yourself, should you die of a service connected disability there are benefits your family is entitled to. So things like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc… need to be brought up, not hidden, during your annual exams. It may seem like the end of the world at the time, but in the long run it can really help your family.

 

Quality Trust

The DC Quality Trust is an independent, non-profit advocacy organization focused on improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families in the District of Columbia and beyond. Their Mission is “to be an independent catalyst for change in the lives of people of all ages with developmental disabilities in the District of Columbia and beyond. They partner with people and their families so they can succeed, thrive and experience full membership in the communities they choose.”

Who They Are

So we know their mission, but who are they? First and foremost, the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities is not a Trust. They are an advocacy agency focused on assisting children and adults with developmental disabilities in the District of Columbia. They were founded in 2001, as part of a class action lawsuit (Evans v the District of Columbia) settlement – which closed the District’s institution for children and adults with intellectual disabilities (Forest Haven).

I think it’s important to share their  values, because to me this is really what helps set them apart.

  • They presume capacity, promote it, expand it and defend it in all their actions, policies and practice
  • People should control all aspects of their lives, as desired
  • Supports should reflect a lifespan approach
  • Families are a critical advocacy partner

The second and third bullets resonate with me and my circumstances. I think it’s easy to forget sometimes that individuals with disabilities are first and foremost individuals. The disability just happens to be something they have, it’s not who they are. So rather than assuming they can’t make any decisions, take a more liberal approach. Let the individual speak up for him/herself. At first they may not say much, especially if they’re older and have lived most of their lives doing what they were told. But eventually most will speak up – and this is what the Quality Trust is advocating for.

What They Do

Quality Trust was founded to be an independent monitoring organization. They conduct visits with people, going where they live and spend their days to ensure there is no abuse, neglect, personal theft, etc. They check in with those they monitor to verify the required supports are in place, and meet the needs of the individual(s).

They provide training to families; based upon inclusion, self-determination and collaboration with other organizations. The topics are individualized and tailored to meet the received requests and specific needs.

Quality Trust has a Legal Advocacy team which helps people get the supports services they need to live full and meaningful lives in the places and ways they choose. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Seeking eligibility and access to Vocational Rehab
  • DDA and Social Security services
  • Medicaid and end of life planning

What Else Should I Know

The Quality Trust has several other initiatives to help individuals with disabilities. Most notably is the Jenny Hatch Justice Project and Project ACTION!

The Jenny Hatch Justice Project is an integrated, multi-faceted resource and outreach center dedicated to advancing people with disabilities’ right to make their own choices and determine their own path and direction in life.

Project ACTION! is a regional coalition of self-advocates and self-advocacy groups from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.  ACTION! stands for Advocacy, Change, Training, Information, Organizing and Networking.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of the Quality Trust, and any errors noted are my own. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). I will be posting about at least one organization a month, using information and notes I took when I met with them – as well as additional research I completed online. All opinions and views are my own.