It is a challenge to keep up with US Military veterans benefits as they are always changing, and many veterans miss out on what can be life-changing aid. Many wartime veterans receive a disability pension due to injury. But did you know that wartime veterans age 65 or more may qualify for a VA Pension without being disabled? The Veteran’s Administration qualifications for this type of VA Pension include:
- Your military service discharge is deemed anything other than dishonorable conditions,
- Your service was 90 or more active duty days with at minimum one day of service during a period of wartime.
- You are age 65 years or older,
- Your countable family income is below a threshold set every year by law.
Eligible “Wartime” Periods of Service
The VA website recognizes the following wartime periods that determine if your service was during an eligible wartime period:
- World War II (December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946)
- Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955)
- Vietnam War era (February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.)
The Potential Amount of the Benefit
2020 Family Income Limits (Effective December 1, 2019)
|If you are a…||Your yearly income must be less than…*|
|Veteran with no dependents||$13,752*|
|Veteran with a spouse or a child||$18,008**|
|Housebound veteran with no dependents||$16,805|
|Housebound veteran with one dependent||$21,063|
|Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has no dependents||$22,939|
|Veteran who needs aid and attendance (A/A) and has one dependent||$27,195|
|Two veterans married to each other||$18,008|
|Add for each additional child to any category above||$2,351|
|*Some income is not counted toward the yearly limit (for example, welfare benefits, some wages earned by dependent children, and Supplemental Security Income. It is also important to note that your medical-related expenses are considered when determining your yearly family income. *To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed $687 ** To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed $900|
The financial information chart above, published by military.com, is commensurate with the numbers posted on the Veteran’s Administration website. Be aware; there is a look-back period that will determine if you have transferred assets in the three years previous to filing your claim. If you did move assets for less than the fair market value during this period, a penalty will be imposed. That penalty comes in the form of a wait time for benefits to become available and is determined by the amount transferred. That said, there are a number of exceptions to this rule and it would be helpful to speak with an elder law attorney who is also VA accredited.
Understanding Basic VA Pension
What is important to know is that the basic level of VA Pension does not require any disability or need for assistance with any activities of daily living. The VA will pay a qualified veteran the difference between personal countable family income and the yearly income limit category into which they fall. Payments are made in 12 equal installments per month and rounded down to the nearest dollar. As an example, a single veteran with a $5,000 annual income qualifies for an annual limit of $13,752. Subtracting that veteran’s income from the income limit yields an annual pension rate of $8,752, which translates into a VA monthly pension check of $729.33 or $729.00 rounded down to the nearest dollar value. Keep in mind that the definition of income and income for VA purposes are different. There are certain unreimbursed medical expenses that can be deducted from a claimant’s overall annual income to increase the amount of basic pension awarded. That is why it is important to talk to an elder law attorney familiar with VA pension before assuming you or a loved one is ineligible for Gulf War (August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)
Understanding VA Pension Aid and Attendance
In addition to VA pension, wartime Veterans may also qualify for an additional allowance called Aid and Attendance. To qualify medically for VA Aid and Attendance, one of the following must be true:
- Another person is required for you to perform daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and feeding, or
- You spend a large portion or all of your day in bed due to illness, or
- Due to a loss of mental or physical abilities related to a disability you are a patient in a nursing home, or
- Your eyesight is severely limited (wearing glasses or contacts your eyesight is 5/200 or less in both eyes or your concentric contraction visual field is 5 degrees or less)
There here are similar benefits available to surviving spouses of wartime Veterans. These are known as Survivor Benefits and sadly are even less widely known than the VA pension benefits for wartime outlined above. In addition to the requirements above, an eligible spouse only needs to have been legally married to the veteran at the time the veteran died. It is not necessary for the surviving spouse to have been married to the veteran during their period of military service. While eligible veterans or surviving spouses can apply for benefits on their own through the www.va.gov website, it is advisable to seek the advice of counsel before applying. There may be planning options available to avoid a penalty period and speed up the qualification process. In addition, the VA rules concerning these pension benefits changed drastically in October 2018 and the new landscape is even more complicated. Learn more about benefit changes in our VA benefits video. So even if you have been told in the past that you or a loved one is ineligible, it would be helpful to have your circumstances reviewed under the new rules by an experienced elder law attorney.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He's all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help people be prepared and have the peace of mind they are protecting their families and aging parents for when life happens.