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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 vary.
• Basic Veterans Pension and the Basic Survivors Pension (also called a “death pension”).
• Aid & Attendance (A&A) Pension, called an “enhanced pension”, provides cash assistance to help cover the cost of long-term care
• Housebound Pension, also an “enhanced pension”, provides cash assistance for permanently disabled 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 may need to be made about which to pursue. VA pensions come as cash benefits, and the benefit amounts often exceed Medicaid’s income limits, which might make one ineligible for Medicaid. Some states count VA pension benefits as income towards Medicaid’s income limit while other states do not. Some states require a veteran to apply for VA benefits, others do not.
To generalize, 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 not the case for all families. In some situations, for example, married couples who both have care needs but require different levels of care, 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 the advice of a financial planner who is an expert in both areas. Find a planner here.
VA Pension Rates (Maximum Annual Pension Rate or MAPR) for 2022
The Veterans Pension, Survivors Pension, A&A Pension, and Housebound Pension provide veterans (or their surviving spouses) with supplemental income. This monthly cash benefit 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. That said, for the period from Dec. 1, 2021 – Nov. 30, 2022, the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR), which is the highest benefit amount one can receive each year, are as follows:
Basic Veterans Pension / Basic Survivors Pension
• Veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child – $14,752 / year ($1,229 / month)
• Married veteran – $19,319 / year ($1,609 / month)
• Surviving spouse without any dependent children – $9,895 / year ($824 / 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.
• Veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child – $24,609/ year ($2,050/ month)
• Married veteran – $29,174/ year ($2,431 / month)
• Surviving spouse without any dependent children – 15,815/ year ($1,317 / 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 amount a veteran or survivor spouse may be able to receive for Basic Veterans / Survivor Pension plus Housebound Pension.
• Veteran who does not have a spouse or dependent child – $18,028 / year ($1,502 / month)
• Married veteran – $22,595 / year ($1,882 / month)
• Surviving spouse without any dependent children – $12,093 / year ($1,007 / 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. For this reason, we have partnered to provide a simple VA Pension Eligibility tool. It is free and takes about 5 minutes to complete. Start here. Also, assistance is available to help veterans who might be ineligible to understand how they can become 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 for 2022
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 they potentially can receive. When a veteran is married, their 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” can be reduced by subtracting Unreimbursed Medical Expenses (UMEs) from their 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. For UMEs to be deducted, the total amount must be greater than 5% of the MAPR.
For example, the MAPR for an unmarried veteran with no dependent children who is applying for the Basic Veterans Pension is $13,931, and 5% of this amount is $696. If the veteran has UMEs in excess of $696, they can be deducted from the countable income. After income calculations (deducting UMEs from MAPR), if one’s income is less than the MAPR, they are 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 for 2022
To be eligible, a veteran or surviving spouses’ net worth (assets) must be limited. In 2018, the VA made dramatic changes to how net worth is treated by imposing a limit of $123,600. In 2022 the net worth limit has been increased to $138,489. Net worth includes savings and checking accounts, mutual funds, stocks, and vacation homes. One’s primary home does not count towards the asset limit.
For persons whose income is greater than their unreimbursed medical expenses, their annual income after allowable deductions will be added to their net worth. For instance, if a veteran receives $750 / month ($9,000 / year) in Social Security and has no allowable unreimbursed medical costs, $9,000 will be added to their net worth.
If an applicant is over the net worth limit, this does not mean they cannot still meet the 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.
In addition, there is 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 $138,489. This rule became effective October 18, 2018 and does not include transfers made before this date. 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 up to 5 years 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.
Our organization has partnered to provide veterans with a simple Pension Eligibility Test. It is free, fast (takes 5 minutes), and provides an estimate of the monthly cash assistance one can receive. Start here.
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 due to a disability and require long term care
- 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 permanent disability.
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 Veterans 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). 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. This may include documentation of income and assets, marriage certificate, military discharge papers, receipts for unreimbursed medical expenses, physician statement of injury / disability, or death certificate of veteran (for survivor spouses). Applications and documentation must be mailed to the Pension Management Center in one’s state or one can 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 offer guidance 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.