As Veterans Day approaches this week, we honor those faithful men and women who have served our country in military service. Many of those veterans have become old enough to now suffer from chronic illnesses, or may have diminished financial resources. 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 $2,127 a month in additional income from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This money can be used to pay children, other relatives, home care companies, or domestic workers to provide elder care services at home. 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. Applicants with significant long-term care costs, such as home care, assisted living or nursing home care, may be eligible for VA pension or assistance benefits because of the special provisions of the income test. The following describes the VA Pension and Aid and Attendance benefits for a Veteran and how to qualify for them.
Pension or aid-and-attendance benefits are 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 “countable assets” below $80,000 (or lower limits depending on age and financial circumstances), and
- has family “countable income” below a yearly income limit 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 eligibility for 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 about assets (“net worth”)?
Net worth means the net value of the assets of the veteran and his or her dependents. It includes bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and any property other than the veteran's residence and a reasonable lot area. There is generally a $80,000 limit on how much net worth a veteran and his dependents can have, but veterans over age 65 may be denied even if their assets are less than $80,000 if the VA finds that they have sufficient assets to meet their needs. The decision as to whether a claimant's net worth is excessive depends on life expectancy and the facts of each individual case.
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. Public assistance such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not considered income.
How Does VA calculate the pension amount?
The annual pension payment is calculated as follows:
- First, total all countable income.
- Then, deduct all “unreimbursed medical expenses” from that total. (These are medical and health-care expenses that recur regularly and are not reimbursed by insurance or some other source.)
- Deduct the remaining countable income 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 2017, the maximum annual pension rate for a veteran with no dependents is $12,907 ($1,075 per month), and $16,902 ($1,408 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 2017, the maximum annual Aid & Attendance benefit is $21,531 ($1,794 per month) for a veteran with no dependents, and $25,525 ($2,127 per month) for a veteran with one dependent. The maximum annual Housebound benefit is $15,773 ($1,314 per month) for a veteran with no dependents, and $19,770 ($1,647 per month) for a veteran with one dependent. A veteran cannot receive both Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits at the same time.
What About Benefits for Widows of Deceased Veterans?
An un-remarried widow or widower of a deceased veteran (who met the service requirements above) may be eligible for a VA payment. This payment is known as the “Death Pension” or “Widow’s Pension” benefit. The same type assets and income tests are applied as for a living veteran, with deduction of the widow’s unreimbursed medical expenses to determine net income that will be subtracted from the maximum annual pension rate. In 2017, the maximum annual pension rate for a widowed claimant with no dependents is $8,656 ($721 per month; $944 per month for claimant and one dependent child). The maximum annual Aid & Attendance benefit is $13,836 ($1,153 per month) for a claimant with no dependents ($1,375 per month for a claimant with one dependent child). The maximum annual Housebound benefit is $10,580 ($881 per month) for a claimant with no dependents ($1,104 per month for a claimant with one dependent child). A claimant cannot receive both Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits at the same time.
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.
- You 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 with assistance from a Veterans Service Officer.
- 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, or look online at http://vab.ms.gov/csolist.pdf for the location of the VSO nearest you. Or you may contact our office for assistance.
For help in planning for eligibility for valuable VA benefits, contact us online or call us at 601-987-3000 or toll-free at 866-ELDERLAW (353-3752) today.