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Veterans Affairs (VA) pensions provide a monetary monthly benefit for wartime veterans (or their survivor spouses) who are in financial need of supplemental income. There are three types of pensions and their cash benefit amounts and eligibility criteria change with each type.
- Basic Veterans Pension and the Basic Survivors Pension (sometimes called the Death Pension).
- Aid & Attendance (A&A) Pension, called an “enhanced pension”, provides cash assistance to help in covering the cost of long-term care
- Housebound Pension, also considered an “enhanced pension, which is specifically for persons with limited ability to leave their home.
Medicaid vs. VA Pensions
For persons who might be eligible for either Medicaid or a VA pension, a decision will need to be made about which to pursue. VA pensions come as cash benefits, and the benefit amounts often exceed Medicaid’s income limits, making one ineligible for Medicaid. A generalization can be made to help families quickly decide which benefit to pursue. Medicaid is a better financial option for persons who require nursing home care and the VA pension is a better option for home care or assisted living. To be clear, this is a generalization. In some cases, for example married couples who both have care needs but different levels of care needs, it may be beneficial to pursue both options. The question quickly becomes complicated when one spouse lives independently and the other needs nursing home care. It is strongly advised one seek consul of a financial planner who is an expert in both areas. Find a planner here.
Benefits of VA Pensions
The Veterans Pension, the Survivors Pension, the A&A Pension, and the Housebound Pension provide veterans (or their surviving spouses) with supplemental income. This cash benefit is paid monthly and is tax-free and can be used for any purpose such as paying for home care, home modifications like stair-lifts or walk-in tubs, or assisted living.
Calculating the pension benefit amount for a veteran or surviving spouse is complicated, as one’s current monthly income is considered, along with an applicant’s unreimbursed medical expenses. (“Unreimbursed” medical expenses means the expenses are not paid for by insurance). Calculating one’s benefit amount is explained further below under “Eligibility”. That said, for the period from Dec. 1, 2018 – Nov. 30, 2019, the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR), which is the highest benefit amount one can receive each year, are as follows for 2019:
Basic Veterans Pension / Basic Survivors Pension
- The maximum benefit amount for a veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child is $13,537 / year ($1,128 / month).
- The maximum benefit amount for a married veteran is $17,724 / year ($1,477 / month).
- For a surviving spouse without any dependent children, the maximum benefit amount is $9,078 / year ($756 / month).
Aid & Attendance Pension for Veterans / Surviving Spouses
The A&A Pension is a monetary “add on” to the Basic Veterans / Survivors Pension. The amounts below are the maximum benefit amount a veteran or surviving spouse may be entitled to for Basic Veterans / Survivor Pension plus Aid & Attendance Pension.
- The maximum benefit amount for a veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child is $22,577 / year ($1,881 / month.)
- The maximum benefit amount for a married veteran is $26,765 / year, or put differently, $2,230 / month.
- The maximum benefit amount for a surviving spouse is $14,529 / year ($1,211 / month)
Housebound Pension for Veterans / Surviving Spouses
The Housebound Pension is a cash “add on” to the Basic Veterans / Survivors Pension. The benefit amounts below are the maximum monetary amounts a veteran or survivor spouse may be able to receive for Basic Veterans / Survivor Pension plus Housebound Pension.
- The maximum benefit amount for a veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child is $16,540 / year ($1,378 / month).
- The maximum benefit amount for a veteran with a spouse is $20,731 / year ($1,728 / month).
- The maximum benefit amount for a surviving spouse under the Housebound Pension is $11,095 / year ($925 / month).
Eligibility Requirements for VA Pensions
There are multiple eligibility criteria for a VA pension. Some of these criteria are common across all the types of VA pensions, and others are pension-specific. The rules are complicated, especially with regards to income and asset calculations. Assistance is available to help veterans better understand if they are eligible
Military Service Requirements
A veteran must have been discharged from military, air, or naval service, and served a minimum of 90 days of active service (full time duty) with a minimum of 1 day served during a time of war. (See eligibility war time periods below). For those who became active duty in one of the above branches after 9/7/1980, there is an additional service requirement. These veterans must have served active duty a minimum of 24-months, and if a veteran served less than this amount of time, he / she must have finished an entire tour of duty (his or her period of obligated active duty service).
War Time Periods
- May 9,1916 through April 5, 1917 – Mexican Border Period (Veterans who served in Mexico, the borders of Mexico, or adjacent waters)
- April 6, 1917 through November 11, 1918 – World War I
- December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946 – World War II
- June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955 – Korean Conflict
- February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975 – Vietnam Era (The above dates are for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam. If they didn’t, the valid dates are August 5,1964 through May 7, 1975.)
- August 2, 1990 through currently undetermined – Gulf War
Countable Income Requirements
One’s “countable income” must be less than the Maximum Annual Pension Rate. In simple terms, a veteran or surviving spouse cannot have annual income greater than the maximum annual VA pension benefit amount he / she potentially can receive. (Maximum annual VA pension benefit amounts are above under the section, Benefits). Please note, when a veteran is married, his / her spouse’s income is also counted.
“Countable income” includes most income that a veteran or surviving spouse receives. Examples include earnings, retirement and pension payments, social security, and social security disability payments. However, one’s “countable income” could be reduced by subtracting Unreimbursed Medical Expenses (UMEs) from his / her annual income. Examples of UMEs include the cost of home health services, dentures, hearing aids, wheelchairs, premiums for health insurance, and prescription drugs. While UMEs can be deducted to lower one’s countable income, increasing one’s pension benefit amount, it isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. In order for UMEs to be deducted, the total must be greater than 5% of the MAPR. For example, the MAPR for an unmarried veteran who is applying for the Basic Veterans Pension and does not have any dependent children is $13,537, and 5% of this amount is $677. This means that if the veteran has UMEs greater than $677, anything over this amount can be deducted from his / her countable income. Stated simply, after income calculations (deducting UMEs from MAPR), if one’s income is less than the MAPR, he / she is income eligible.
If confused by the income calculations, be aware that there are multiple types of VA benefits advisors that can help.
Net Worth Requirements
To be eligible, a veteran or surviving spouses’ net worth (assets) must be limited. While at the time of this writing, there currently is no specific asset limit set by the VA, single pension applicants are counseled to have no more than $50,000 in assets, and married couples are generally counseled to have no more than $80,000 in net worth. One’s primary home does not count towards the asset limit.
However, a new VA rule sets a standard net worth limit of $127,061 as of December 1, 2018. Examples of net worth include savings and checking accounts, mutual funds, stocks, and vacation homes. If an applicant is over the asset limit, this does not mean he / she cannot still meet the net worth limit. VA benefit planners can offer assistance in reallocating assets so that they are not counted towards one’s net worth. Click here to contact a professional VA planner.
Another new VA rule, also effective as of 10/18/18, will only affect those whose income is greater than their unreimbursed medical expenses. For these persons, their income will be added to their assets, which therefore increases their net worth. For instance, if a veteran receives $750 / month ($9,000 / year) in Social Security, $9,000 will be added to his / her assets IF this new rule applies to him / her.
In addition, there will be a look-back period for asset transfers to prevent veterans and survivors from gifting assets in an attempt to meet the new VA net worth limit of $127,061. This will be a period of 36-months, and if a veteran (or surviving spouse) gives away assets or sells them under fair market value during this period immediately preceding pension application, a period of pension ineligibility may result. However, if an asset has been gifted and the veteran or surviving spouse is able to get it back, there will be no penalty period.
Disability / Age Requirements
The disability criteria vary depending on the specific VA pension from which the applicant is seeking assistance.
To meet the disability requirement, a veteran must meet ONE of the following conditions:
- Be a minimum of 65 years old
- Have a permanent (there is not a chance or is very little chance the disability will improve) and total (100% disability rating) non-service connected disability
- Reside in a nursing home facility
- Be a recipient of disability benefits from Social Security
Aid & Attendance Requirements
For the A&A Pension, a veteran or his / her survivor must meet ONE of the conditions below:
- Need assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, and mobility.
- Be bedridden (confined to one’s bed)
- Be a resident of a nursing home facility due to the inability to function physically or mentally
- Have profound visual impairment (both eyes have equal or less than 5/200 visual acuity OR the visual field has concentric contraction equal to 5 degrees or less)
- To be eligible for the Housebound Pension, a veteran or his / her surviving spouse must be “substantially confined” to his / her home due to a disability that is permanent.
A veteran or surviving spouse cannot be eligible for the Aid & Attendance Pension or the Homebound Pension without being eligible for the Basic Veterans Pension or the Survivors Basic Pension (Death Pension). To apply for the Basic VA Pension, veterans must fill out form VA Form 21P-527EZ (Application for Pension), and for the Basic Survivor Pension, surviving spouses must fill out VA Form 21P-534EZ (Application for DIC, Death Pension, and / or Accrued Benefits). Please note, to apply for the Aid & Attendance or Housebound Pension, additional paperwork is required.
In addition to the completed application, specific information must also be provided. For instance, documentation of income and net worth, marriage certificate, military discharge papers, unreimbursed medical expenses, physician statement of injury / disability, death certificate of veteran (for survivor spouses), etc. may be required. Applications and documentation must be mailed to the Pension Management Center in one’s state or one apply at their local VA regional benefit office.
Proceed with Caution / Seek Assistance
Filing for VA pensions can be a complicated process, and if not done correctly, one’s application may be delayed or denied. It is highly recommended that one seek assistance from a professional VA planner who can guide him / her through the application process. For more information about applying for VA benefits or for assistance with the application process, contact a professional Veterans benefits planner.