Welcome to Bridge the Gap with hosts Josh Crisp and Lucas McCurdy. A podcast dedicated to inform, educate and influence the future of housing and services for seniors. Bridge the Gap aims to help shape the culture of the senior living industry by being an advocate and a positive voice of influence which drives quality outcomes for our aging population.

Why Veteran Benefits Matter to Senior Living Operators in 2024

Patriot Angels leaders Suzette Graham and Mary Sue Patchett discuss the importance of aiding veterans and their spouses through the process of obtaining benefits.


We're experts in the aid and attendance benefits.

Mary Sue Patchett

Guest on This Episode

Josh Crisp

Owner & CEO Solinity

Josh Crisp is a senior living executive with more than 15 years of experience in development, construction, and management of senior living communities across the southeast.

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Lucas McCurdy

Owner & Founder The Bridge Group Construction

Lucas McCurdy is the founder of The Bridge Group Construction based in Dallas, Texas. Widely known as “The Senior Living Fan”.

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Suzette Graham

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Mary Sue Patchett

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840,000 veterans live in assisted living.

Quick Overview of the Podcast

Patriot Angels leaders Suzette Graham and Mary Sue Patchett discuss the importance of aiding veterans and their spouses through the process of obtaining benefits. Helping U.S. wartime heroes and spouses pay for their senior care is the mission of Patriots Angels.

This episode was recorded at the ASHA Annual Meeting. 

Produced by Solinity Marketing.

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Welcome to season seven of Bridge the Gap, a podcast dedicated to informing, educating, and influencing the future of housing and services for seniors. Powered by sponsors Accushield, Aline, NIC Map, vision, ProCare HR, Sage, Hamilton CapTel, ServiceMaster, Patriot Angels, the Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. And produced by Solinity Marketing.

Lucas 00:50:

Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the Senior Living podcast with Josh and Lucas here at the ASHA membership meeting in a warm place called Miami, Florida. We have some of our favorite people on our show today. We have Suzette and Mary Sue of Patriot Angels. Welcome to the show.

Mary Sue 01:08:

Great, thank you Lucas and Josh.

Suzette  01:09:

Thank you for having us.

Lucas 01:10:

Yes, yes, Suzette, welcome back to the show. And Mary Sue, welcome to the show. We are so excited about your new position. Tell us about this. When did you join Patriot Angels?

Mary Sue 01:22:

Yes, I'm very excited too. So I retired from full-time Day-to-Day operations about two and a half years ago. Moved my parents into senior living. So it's one thing caring for other parents. Now you're caring for your own parents. I really wanted a chance to give back to the industry. You know, it's really important. I've been in the industry for 40 years. Can you believe it?

Josh 01:42:

Oh my gosh.

Lucas 01:43:

My goodness.

Mary Sue 01:43:

And so Suzette gave me a call and said, hey, we worked so well together when I was at Brookdale. And so we need some help. Lots of things are happening right now with veterans. There was a study that just came out and this was really compelling for me. 840,000 veterans live in assisted living. Now we're not talking about independent assisted and memory care, we're just talking assisted living. And Suzette, it's 120,000 veterans that are receiving benefits right now. Eight and a tenth.

Suzette  02:11:

It's right at 130,000. So it's real close, but there's, it just shows you there's that many that are not getting it. That could be.

Josh 02:18:

Well, I'm not going to try to do that math in my head, but that's a big number. So

Suzette  02:22:

Can I do the math for you?

Josh 02:23:

Yes, please.

Suzette  02:24:

Because I have done it. And it's about a hundred million dollars a month being left on the table of all the veterans and widows that are not getting their benefits just in assisted living, that could be bridging the gap for them to be able to pay for their senior care.

Josh 02:40:

Well, okay. So let's just pause all the other things we want to talk about for just a minute. 'cause I do want to talk about this. At Bridge the Gap, obviously we're big on informing, educating, influencing. I feel like we have a huge opportunity here because I want to know, I'm sure you all have spent a ton of time thinking why, why is it that so many people aren't receiving the benefits that they've earned, they deserve, that would help them to be able to maybe get in a community sooner, stay longer, all those kind of things. So what's the reasons here?

Suzette  03:13:

Well, I can tell you from my perspective, and then I want Mary Sue to say from an operator's perspective, I think that most people don't know about it. And if they did, they don't know how to get it. So they go down, they try to do it on their own. It's a very difficult process to get the benefit, even if you do know about it. And just to know the hoops that you have to jump through and the specifics on the application that had to be filled out. So I think a lot of people are stalemated whenever they hear about it thinking, I can't do this, or I don't qualify because they don't know what the qualifications really are. And a lot of people don't know about it. But in senior living,

Mary Sue 03:49:

I think what happens is when you're beginning to work with family members and with prospective residents, there's so many things you have to look at to make a decision. Is this a time for me to move? Is this the time for me to get more care? You may be a family member who's helping your family member realize it's time for them to get more care. And so I think the salespeople are just super busy trying to explain even what senior living is. And then maybe the funding part comes later. What I really worry about is that a family may not even ask the question, like, I'm not sure I can afford this. Is there a way I can afford it? And if they don't, they're kind of self deciding that they can't receive care that they really need. So this 840,000 that are already living in assisted living, they probably went through the move in process and they might have had some savings at the time, or maybe their level of care, they could handle the rate. But we all know rates have gone up in the last couple of years with the expenses after the pandemic. And so there may be people who didn't qualify when they moved in, who are now. So my appeal is executive directors, if you have residents that you think are not going to be able to afford to continue living with you and they're a veteran, please reach out to them and let us help them.

Suzette  04:56:


Mary Sue 04:56:

They can probably stay with you. The benefits.

Suzette  04:58:

Right? Or the spouse of a veteran.

Mary Sue 05:00:


Suzette  05:00:

So it's, yeah. And the benefits are huge. $2,300 a month for a veteran. $2,727 for a married veteran and almost $1,500 for a widow of a veteran. So it's a huge amount of money that goes to help them pay for their care, living in senior living. And you know, the big talk in the industry is how are we going to fund everything, right? When's the money coming back from the pandemic? How are we going to get occupancy back up? And yet this is the one that's never looked at. You know, they're like, how we need government money, but without the government oversight, that's what this is. This is the money that they need.

Josh 05:34:

I think we could spend a whole morning afternoon talking about the opportunities for operators with existing residents. We've touched on that. How big of an opportunity do we potentially have for those that are eligible for the benefits that aren't even in a senior living community right now, that maybe they're thinking, I can't afford senior living, but maybe with this benefit they could afford senior living and it might help them to move in sooner than later. Do you all see that as this huge untapped opportunity? And how would you go about informing or educating people on that opportunity?

Mary Sue 06:09:

I think from an operator's perspective, just like you do a marketing plan, how am I going to get the word out about my community in the outside community, right? And so you do different types of awareness campaigns and we're just asking reach out to veterans too. And I think many communities actually do this.

Josh 06:26:

As an operator. As an administrator and leading marketing teams seems like building trust is like one of the most important things that we can do to get people to want to move into our community. So the sooner we can do that and the earliest that we can in that relationship, the better. Do you see helping people understand all of their options like this, that maybe they've never been told that could potentially be something that puts someone over the edge that's thinking about moving to your community if you can figure out how to help them get that benefit?

Mary Sue 07:01:

I, I think you make a good point, Josh. I mean, when you're talking about a single veteran receiving $2,300 a month in eight intendance benefits, and that's on top of what they're receiving in social security and maybe a little bit of pension, little bit of savings. I mean, $2,300 is about maybe a third.

Josh 07:21:


Mary Sue 07:21:

Of a monthly cost, right. And assisted living with a little bit of care. That's a lot.

Josh 07:26:

And I'm getting probably way too deep in the weeds here, but because I have you all, I have to ask, and these may be very ignorant questions, but just things I'm hearing. So that number that you're quoting for the benefit, does that even include the things like medications? Because I've always, uh, heard like your medications are basically free, but in our industry, that's been a challenge historically for pharmacies. Maybe if you're, if you haven't managed medication program, but where it's difficult for repackaging and stuff. But my understanding is from talking with several pharmacies now that's, that's an obstacle that's been overcome. So that's even an added benefit to these folks being in your community. 'cause medications, as we all know, can be extremely expensive and impact their bottom line ability to pay. What would be your response on educating the consumer and the operator on that? Is that a huge piece of this as well?

Mary Sue 08:16:

Well, one of the things about Patriot Angels is that we're an expert in the AIDS and attendance benefits. But because we understand senior living, we partner with each of those senior living communities. So everybody handles that a little differently. And every state in terms of pharmacy packaging may be different as well. But overall, what I love is, I think there's a focus in America to take care of our veterans. And we're finding that policies in various different areas are kind of working to their advantage now. We just have to get the word out. Well, and especially how many new veterans now because of the Vietnam War, have come into play?

Suzette  08:50:

Right now, there's over 6 million Vietnam veterans that just turned 65 that are 65 and over. And if you add in their widows, it's about 9 million right now. And what we're seeing is we used to see Korea and World War II come in in their eighties. Right. We're seeing Vietnam veterans come in in their sixties, some late fifties. And so it's a huge opportunity for that population because they are much younger, but they are coming in much younger.

Josh 09:16:

Sure. All right. So elephant in the room, maybe I'm creating the elephant in the room. I don't know.

Mary Sue 09:21:


Josh 09:22:

But I'm going to play devil's advocate for some of our operators that are out there that might have been burned or they're confused. Because quite frankly, there's, there's people out there that say, Hey, we help veterans get their benefits. In every market there's a person, right? There's a, there's an attorney group or there's a wealth planner or call 'em whatever you want. But there's somebody that says, Hey, I'm the veterans person. I send them to me. And I'd say there's a lot of operators out there that the family has either been burned in some way, maybe assets transferring to some way that, oh, they, they didn't really understand what was happening there. Or maybe they, they didn't get the benefit that they thought or for whatever reason. Can you kind of compare and contrast not knocking anyone that's out there trying to help people, but maybe just explain what you guys actually do as Patriot Angels. What's your role? What's your strategy and what do you do as, as a partner to the operators and a partner to the families?

Suzette  10:18:

So the first thing that we do is we do a questionnaire to see are they even eligible or can they be made eligible? And if they're not, we tell 'em, you know, you divorce the veteran or you have half a million dollars in the bank, or you know, whatever the things are that keep them from not being eligible. If we see that they could be made eligible, then we move them forward. Okay. That's the difference. We don't sell financial products. What you're talking about, there's a lot out there that sell that want to manage their finances, want to sell 'em an annuity, want to, you know, we don't do any of that. We strictly help families learn qualifications. What does it take to get the benefit and to help them qualify for it. Now you were talking about finding out how to make, see if they qualify or not, right?

Suzette  11:00:

So we take a look at and what does qualify, do the medicines, things like that. In the VA world, a lot of people will go to the VA and say, Hey, mom's moving into a community, does she qualify? And they'll say, you know, what does she pay for care? And they'll say, oh, she pays a hundred dollars a month for medicines. VA's going to go, well she brings in 1300, she's positive 1200. You know, she's eligible for a little bit. Okay, but not enough. What they don't tell 'em is that once you move into the community and you're paying for that care, now that wipes out all your income and you're negative. So now that you're negative, now you do qualify for the entire balance of the pension. So that's the difference. We have people call us all the time and go, Hey, I've already looked into this, I don't qualify. Let us look again. You know, because you may very well qualify for this and you just don't know you qualify.

Josh 11:47:

Sure. So small operators, maybe they've got a single community, they're living, working, they can't get away from the community. They're in there every day putting blood, sweat, and tears all the way up to your regional, even big operators. Are there parts of the country where you guys work better than others? Or can anybody at any community call you guys? Or there have to be a certain size of community or a certain size operation? Or is it like you're there to help everybody? Can you talk to our listeners about that?

Suzette  12:14:

We're here to help everybody. So it's a federal program, so it's nationwide. We can do this anywhere in the United States or any veteran that even lives outside the United States. As long as they serve in the US military, they still qualify as long as they're paying for care.

Josh 12:28:

Wow. Let's say, I mean so many of the providers here, they have people calling not really even understand what the community does, what level of care they need, if the community's right for them. Is that something to where you guys can size up for a family that we don't even know if this family's going to move to our community or not, but we know they're a veteran. Is that something that, that is a, an application that would be a referral to you? Or does it have to just be a senior living referral?

Suzette  12:55:

No, anybody can call.

Josh 12:56:


Suzette  12:56:

And we can help it. So the VA benefits are for any veteran or widow that serve 90 active duty days one day during a declared wartime honorable discharge and is needing care. Okay. So whether it be a protective environment, assisted living or it's two ADLs Okay. That they're needing. And it can be in home, it can be independent as long as there's 24 hour staffing. That's a new rulng.

Josh 13:18:

So Lucas, you're giving me that look like quit asking so many questions.

Suzette  13:22:

Not letting you have a clear word in

Josh 13:23:

No, I'm not. So Lucas, feel free to take over, otherwise I'm going to just keep asking questions.

Lucas 13:28:

Well that's why you get paid the big bucks on the show.

Suzette  13:32:

That's great.

Lucas 13:33:

No, I'm not giving you that. Look, I'm taking notes just like everybody else that's listening in because this is fantastic information. One of the, the big, uh, value propositions in senior care is congregate a living where people have a purpose and they can thrive and live out a meaningful life around people that love and care for them. And then you add on people that have served our country to protect our freedoms. I can't think of any better thing to focus our attention on than this. And so Suzette and Mary Sue, we really appreciate your support, not only of Bridge The Gap to bring this information to our industry, but the people that you help day in and day out, it's very important.

Mary Sue 14:12:

Well thank you. And we really appreciate you bringing this to light.

Suzette  14:15:

Yeah, absolutely. Patriot Angels just reached over 19,000 approvals and so,

Josh 14:19:

Oh my gosh.

Suzette  14:20:

That's more than half a billion dollars back into the industry.

Josh 14:22:

Oh my gosh. That's huge.

Suzette  14:23:

And so you're talking about funds for the industry, it's a huge portion of it.

Josh 14:28:

Well, and here at ASHA, that's what everybody's talking about. The operators here, the owners here are no stranger to difficult times.

Suzette  14:34:


Josh 14:35:

To curve balls. We should be encouraged. 'cause this group that's here, this group of leaders is thought leaders. You all industry partners. That's how we get through the difficult times. And you've got some lofty goals for this year, right?

Suzette  14:45:

I, well, so I called Mary Sue and I said, Mary Sue, are you liking retirement? And she goes, well, I'm doing a little of this and a little of that. And I said, well, Mary Sue, I would like to be in 20,000 communities by the end of 2025. And she goes, wow. Sounds like we have a lot of work to do.

Suzette  15:03:

And I said, yes we do. I know.

Josh 15:06:

So you're telling me there's a chance.

Suzette  15:08:

So you're telling me there's a chance, will you join my team? And she goes, I would like that. I've always loved Mary Sue. I have to say this, working with her at Brookdale was always the ray of sunshine. I was always excited to get to talk to her and get to work with her. And so just getting the opportunity of having her on our team, it's been an honor. Yeah.

Mary Sue 15:28:

Well thank you. I think we have the same mission, right? You want to be an advocate for residents, especially veterans and to help providers.

Suzette  15:34:

Yeah, exactly.

Josh 15:36:

Well, This is good for our industry. We've been longtime fans of yours, we've been longtime fans of Patriot Angels and the support you've given. As Lucas mentioned, we cannot do what we do without partners like you. And to see you join the team, uh, this power team that, uh, Suzette, you've built through the years I met you years ago, and to just see your continued commitment to the industry and to the veterans is really, uh, wholesome. And it really helps define what our industry is all about. So thank y'all so much for what you do.

Suzette  16:07:

Thank you. And I want to give a shout out to you guys because you are doing the same thing. You guys have been just plowing at this, I mean, from the beginning. I remember watching you and then watching you do these over and over and over with really not asking for anything in return, but just getting the word out. The first official podcast for senior living. And you guys have really bridged the gap in information that needs to be out there. I love you guys as a team. I'm all of you. I think that this is an awesome, awesome opportunity to be on your show again.

Josh 16:38:

Thank you. We're flattered. And honestly, anytime we're like, now why are we doing this again? Like, how many episodes have we done? Uh, that is, that is the fuel that we need, uh, this industry that Lucas and I love and we've committed our lives and careers to. And, and so it's really awesome when you find people like yourselves that share the passion. And I think all of us hit struggle points, right? In our personal lives, our business points, and, and it's these, uh, partners that you need that gets us through it. And so we have a lot of challenges that we think equal opportunities for our industry and we're going to be your biggest fans and cheerleaders on that huge goal you have together.

Suzette  17:15:

That awesome.

Josh 17:15:

And y'all have created dream team to make it happen, so.

Suzette  17:19:

We have Malley too, don't forget. Malley comes to every,

Josh 17:20:

Malley is actually for our listeners that can't see, she's the glue.

Suzette  17:24:

She is.

Josh 17:25:

That keeps it all together.

Suzette  17:26:

Malley. Who was that? Yeah, Malley, what, where am I supposed to be?

Josh 17:30:

You can't see her right now. She's off screen making things happen and probably responding to emails as well. So, uh, yes, big shout out to Malley.

Lucas 17:37:

Well, very good. That's a great way to end the show. And to our listeners, I know that you want to connect, uh, with Patriot Angels. Look down in the show notes right there. We'll put all the links to Patriot, angels and Suzette's team there. And then you can go to btgvoice.com, download this content and so much more. Connect with us on LinkedIn. We'd love for you to be a part of our platform. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.


Thanks for listening to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. Connect with the BTG network team and use your voice to influence the industry by connecting with us at btgvoice.com.

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