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Who are they and do I need one?
By Sandra Fusion, Staff Writer
There are so many benefits, both
financial and assistance-oriented to which individuals
are entitled. These include community-based programs,
state or federal assistance programs (such as Social
Security, Medicare, and food stamps), as well as
retirement and insurance programs to name a few. One of
the issues with having so many benefits available to
elderly and disabled individuals is that it is difficult
to track them and find out which ones are appropriate
for the situation. This is where a benefits counselor
The term benefits counselor can be applied to either a
paid staff person for an agency or a trained volunteer.
In simple terms, a benefits counselor is someone who
reviews existing information about your financial
situation and makes suggestions about benefits for which
someone may be eligible or changes in existing benefits
you may already be receiving.
The Older American Act authorizes benefits counselors to
provide information to elderly individuals concerning
benefits for which they may be eligible. In addition,
individuals can receive advocacy assistance and
referrals to appropriate agencies that may be able to
assist them. In particular, the act emphasizes
individuals who may not have the capacity to assist
themselves in cases where there may be disputes
Who are Benefits Counselors?
Generally, benefits counselors work with individuals who
are aged 60 and older. If someone has a disability, they
are also entitled to receive benefits counseling
information. Many of them work with or volunteer for
agencies like the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). With the
AAA, there are stringent criteria for benefits
counselors and certification levels are available. The
various certification levels designate the types of
cases for which someone can receive assistance.
Individuals receive free assistance from a benefits
counselor. It is not attorney representation, however.
Individuals who need legal representation may still
receive a benefits counselor; however, the benefits
counselor will not be able to represent them in court.
Not only paid staff can work as benefits counselors.
Many states have training programs for volunteers who
will work in conjunction with paid staff to assist
people with benefit information. The training program
often includes the examination process to certify
volunteers at a particular benefit level. Volunteers are
trained to recognize cases which they are not certified
to assist and will refer these individuals to paid staff
members within the agency who can help them.
How Can They Help?
There are many different organizations
that provide benefits to individuals, depending on their
situation. It can be confusing to figure out what the
eligibility requirements are, how to apply, what types
of documentation are needed when applying, and many
other issues that arise when looking at benefit
programs. Throw in supplemental insurance policies and
you have a recipe for confusion.
Trained benefits counselors can step into the situation
and sort through the “confusion” to help develop a
cohesive benefits plan for someone. Just because the
counselor helps sort through the benefits available
doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically be eligible. Each
organization still has specific criteria and cases need
to be examined separately. Still, the benefits counselor
serves a valuable role in discovering possible avenues
for benefits that give families alternatives that may
not have been known before.