As we celebrate Armed Forces Day today in Jacksonville, and as Memorial Day approaches, and we prepare to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we need also to honor those who served and are now elderly or disabled, and on a fixed income. Neither should we forget the surviving widows, widowers, and dependents of deceased veterans.
According to the VA Pension Program Final Report, from ORC MacroEconomic Systems, Inc., in 2010 there were more than 700,000 military veterans in the US who are entitled to various pensions and other benefits, who have no awareness of those entitlements, and therefore are not receiving what the U.S. Veterans Administration is prepared to pay them. Among the potential beneficiaries are surviving spouses of veterans, dependent children of deceased or disabled veterans, as well as the veterans themselves. While the Veterans Administration (“VA”) doesn’t try to hide the existence of the benefits, the VA doesn’t sufficiently promote awareness of the benefits – probably for budgetary reasons.
The benefits fall broadly into two categories. There is compensation benefits for service connected disabilities. There also is a category of benefits available to all veterans meeting the required criteria, some of which do not involve any showing of a disability.
Disability compensation is paid to those veterans who have a service connected disability. The amount varies depending on the severity of the disability, and whether the veteran has dependents (spouse and children). Most veterans who have a service connected disability are receiving benefits.
But, there is a larger group of veterans who may be entitled to VA pension benefits who often are not aware of their eligiblity for the benefits.
Wartime veterans with limited income, who are 65 years of age or older, are entitled to VA Pension payments, even if they have no service related disability or are otherwise disabled. The same pension is also available to veterans who are under 65, but who are disabled. The more seriously disabled veterans, including those in assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes, may qualify for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits that are paid in addition to the pension.
Generally, a veteran is eligible for a VA pension after age 65 (or before 65 if disabled), if:
- The veteran received a discharge that was not dishonorable, and
- The veteran served at least 90 days of active military service, at least one day of which was during a war time period. A veteran who entered the service after 1980, must have served at least 24 months of active duty, and
- The veteran’s countable family income is below the annual income limit set by Congress each year ($15,493 for 2011 for a veteran with spouse or dependant child), and
- The veteran’s countable assets don’t exceed a reasonable amount for the veteran’s expected needs (usually about $80,000 not including home and automobile).
There are a number of factors that can affect countable income and countable assets. A veteran’s pension amount is calculated totaling all countable income and reducing that total income by any allowable deductions (such as recurring medical expenses, including Medicare premiums and unreimbursed prescription costs). If the veteran’s total income after reducing it for all allowable deductions is less than the annual pension limit authorized by Congress, that amount is then divided by 12 to determine the veteran’s monthly pension payment.
The amount of pension that can be paid for those who qualify ranges from almost $1,000 per month for a veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child, and over $1200 monthly for a veteran with a spouse or dependent child.
Aid and Attendance (A&A) and Housebound benefits are paid in addition to the pension payments as described above, but a veteran must be eligible for the pension payments before these benefits can be paid. A & A is provided for those veterans who need the assistance of another person to perform one or more of the activities of daily living, including bathing, feeding, dressing, toileting, moving from room to room, management of prosthetic devices, or the inability to protect one’s self from the hazards of daily living. It often is paid to veteran’s who reside in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, including skilled nursing facilities.
The VA pension benefit for a veteran, without a spouse or dependent child, for housebound pension can be as much as $1200 per month without dependents, and over $1500 per month if there is one dependent (spouse or child). A veteran who qualifies for Aid and Attendance benefits can receive an amount that ranges from a little over $1500 per month, if the veteran does not have a spouse or dependent child, to almost $2000 per month for a veteran with a spouse or one dependent child.
A veteran can apply for these benefits by obtaining VA Form 21-526, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension, or by going online to http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp. Certain documentation must be submitted with the application.
Assistance with filing the application can be obtained from an Accredited VA Benefits Attorney (I am an Accredited VA Benefits attorney), or a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) affiliated with a veterans service organization. Such assistance can be critical to obtaining benefits, especially where advanced planning is necessary to legally reduce countable income or countable assets to qualify for eligibility. Accredited VA benefits attorneys and Veterans Service Officers can be identified through the VA’s accreditation site online at http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp.
If a veteran currently resides in an assisted living facility, or a skilled nursing home, the veteran and the veteran’s family will find the assistance of an experienced Accredited VA Benefits Attorney especially helpful because of the need to coordinate their VA benefits planning with Medicaid planning, so that actions that are allowable for VA Benefits planning, but not Medicaid planning, will not disqualify the veteran from the Medicaid benefits to which they are otherwise entitled under the law.
If you are a veteran over 65 or suffering a disability – whether service connected or not – you owe it to yourself to determine whether you are eligible for a VA pension. If you know a veteran who is over 65 or disabled, honor them this Memorial Day by helping them learn whether they are entitled to VA pension benefits. More than 700,000 veterans have earned these benefits and aren’t receiving them. We need to change that!
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