On November 11, we will celebrate Veterans’ Day in honor and memory of those who have served, fought and died to protect our freedoms. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains programs that provide for health care and assistance to veterans – programs that have proven helpful to many of our clients.
It is estimated that approximately 11.5 million veterans and 23.5 million spouses of veterans, or about 33% of all seniors in this country, could qualify for up to $2,230 a month in additional income from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This money can be used to pay just about anyone to provide elder care services at home. As an example, these funds can be used to pay children, other relatives, friends, home care companies, or domestic workers. Adequate documentation and evidence must be provided in order to receive money from VA for these services, particularly the services provided by family members or other non-professional providers. Our firm can provide guidance in getting and maintaining access to these valuable benefits.
This little-known source of money for paying long term care costs is known as Veteran’s Pension and is available to veterans who served on active duty during a period of war. An additional monthly benefit available to more seriously disabled veterans is the “aid and attendance benefit.” These benefits have an income and an asset test. Veteran households with income or assets above the test levels will not qualify for the benefit. Fortunately, there are special provisions that allow — under certain circumstances — individuals who would normally fail the tests to still qualify. VA may not tell potential applicants about the special provisions, and may even tell applicants that they do not qualify without informing them how they might do so. Applicants with significant long-term care costs, such as home care, assisted living or nursing home care, are often eligible for VA pension or assistance benefits because of the special provisions of the income test. The following is a description of the VA Pension and Aid and Attendance benefits for a Veteran.
What is VA Pension for a Veteran?
Pension is a benefit paid to a veteran who:
- Is age 65 or older, or, if under 65, is permanently and totally disabled not due to his/her own willful misconduct; and
- was discharged from service under conditions other than dishonorable; and
- served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one (1) day during a wartime period. (If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty. There are exceptions to this rule.) and
- has family “countable income” below a yearly limit set by law. (The yearly income limit is set by Congress.)
- The periods of wartime during which the veteran must have served one day are:
World War II
— December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946
Korean Conflict — June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
Vietnam Era — August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1975; for veterans who served “in country” before August 5, 1964, February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975
Gulf War — August 2, 1990 through a date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation
As you can see, there are a number of criteria that may
affect your eligibility to pension benefits.
If you are unsure if you meet all criteria, you should go ahead and file
an application, particularly if your “countable income” appears to be near the
maximum. VA will determine if you are eligible and notify you.
If you do not initially qualify, you may reapply if you have
un-reimbursed medical expenses during the twelve month period after VA receives
your claim that bring your countable income below the yearly income limit.
(These are expense you have paid for medical services or products for which you
will not be reimbursed by Medicare or private medical insurance.)
What is “countable
income” for veteran’s pension eligibility purposes?
This includes income received by the veteran and his or her dependents, if any, from most sources. It includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and net income from farming or business. There is a presumption that all of a child’s income is available to or for the veteran. VA may grant an exception in hardship cases.
Are there any income exclusions or deductions that can reduce countable income?
Yes, there are exclusions. The following are examples of what may be excluded:
- Public assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not considered income.
- Many other specific sources of income are not considered income; however, all income should be reported. VA will exclude any income that the law allows.
- A portion of unreimbursed medical expenses paid by the claimant after VA receives the claimant’s pension claim may be deducted. (These are expenses you have paid for medical services or products for which you will not be reimbursed by Medicare or private medical insurance.)
- Certain other expenses, such as a veteran’s education expenses, and in some cases, a portion of the educational expenses of a child over 18 are deductible.
What about assets (“net worth”)?
Net worth, or the net value of the assets of the veteran and his or her dependents, is also considered. It includes such assets as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and any property other than the veteran’s residence and a 2-acre lot, plus one year’s estimated income. There is a limit of $127,061 net worth in order to be eligible for benefits. So, if the value of all countable assets plus one year’s income exceeds $127,061, the applicant will not be eligible. Also, for applications filed after October 15, 2018, there is a “transfer penalty” imposed if the veteran or spouse has transferred (i.e., given away or placed in certain annuities) assets within three (3) years prior to the date of application. The total of assets transferred within the 3-year “look-back” period will be divided by the monthly Aid & Attendance benefit amount for a couple ($2,230 in 2019) to determine the number of months that benefits will be withheld. Therefore, gifts or transfers of $22,300 within 3 years prior to application will result in no benefits for 10 months ($22,300 ÷ $2,230 = 10).
How Does VA calculate your pension?
Your annual pension payment is calculated by first totaling all your countable income. Then any deductions are subtracted from that total. The remaining countable income is deducted from the appropriate “maximum annual pension rate” (based on the veteran’s marital and dependent status). The resulting amount is then divided by 12 and rounded down to the nearest dollar to give you the amount of your monthly payment.
In 2019, the maximum annual pension rate for a veteran with no dependents is $13,535 ($1,127 per month), and $17,724 ($1,477 per month) for a
veteran with one dependent.
What are Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits?
Veterans who are more seriously disabled may qualify for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits. Aid and Attendance (A&A) is a benefit paid in addition to monthly pension. This benefit may not be paid without eligibility for pension. A veteran may be eligible for A&A when:
- The veteran requires the aid of another person in order to perform personal functions required in everyday living, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, attending to the wants of nature, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting himself/herself from the hazards of his/her daily environment, OR,
- The veteran is bedbound, in that his/her disability or disabilities requires that he/she remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment, OR,
- The veteran is a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity, OR,
- The veteran is blind, or so nearly blind as to have corrected visual acuity of 5/200 or less, in both eyes, or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.
Housebound assistance is paid in addition to monthly pension. Like A&A, Housebound benefits may not be paid without eligibility for pension. A veteran may be eligible for Housebound benefits when:
- The veteran has a single permanent disability evaluated as 100-percent disabling AND, due to such disability, he/she is permanently and substantially confined to his/her immediate premises, OR,
- The veteran has a single permanent disability evaluated as 100-percent disabling AND, another disability, or disabilities, evaluated as 60 percent or more disabling.
In 2019, the maximum annual Aid & Attendance benefit (includes pension) is $22,577 ($1,881 per month) for a veteran with no dependents, and $26,766 ($2,230 per month) for a veteran with one dependent. The maximum annual Housebound benefit is $16,540 ($1,378 per month) for a veteran with no dependents, and $20,731 ($1,727 per month) for a veteran with one dependent.
How to Apply for Aid and Attendance and Housebound:
- You may apply for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits by filing an application with the VA regional office that serves your area of residence.
- You should include copies of any evidence, preferably a report from an attending physician validating the need for Aid and Attendance or Housebound type care.
- The report should be in sufficient detail to determine whether there is disease or injury producing physical or mental impairment, loss of coordination, or conditions affecting the ability to dress and undress, to feed oneself, to attend to sanitary needs, and to keep oneself ordinarily clean and presentable.
- In addition, it is necessary to determine whether the claimant is confined to the home or immediate premises.
- Whether the claim is for Aid and Attendance or Housebound, the report should indicate how well the individual gets around, where the individual goes, and what he or she is able to do during a typical day.
It’s Service-connected Disability Compensation OR VA pension.
You cannot receive a VA non-service connected pension and service-connected compensation at the same time. However, if you apply for pension and are awarded payments, VA will pay you whichever benefit is the greater amount.
How do you apply for veterans non-service connected pension?
- You can apply on line at the VA web site: http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp.
may download and fill out VA Form 21-526, Veteran’s
Application for Compensation and/or Pension. Make sure you
download all parts of the application as well as the instructions for
filling out the forms. If available, attach copies of
dependency records (marriage & children’s birth certificates).
You must send the completed application and any copies of other documents to the VA Jackson Regional Office at 1600 E. Woodrow Wilson Avenue, Jackson, Mississippi 39216, phone 800-827-1000.
- Regardless of where you reside, one of the documents needed to commence a claim for benefits is the Veteran’s Discharge Documents (DD-214 Report of Separation). If you don’t have an original DD-214, most veterans and their next-of-kin can obtain free copies of their DD Form 214 and other military and medical records by going to the following web site: http://tinyurl.com/getDD-214.
You may also contact a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) from a veterans service organization, which are located in each county in Mississippi. You may call the toll free number, 1-800-827-1000, for the location of the nearest VSO nearest you.