The Veterans Affairs Administration has a great program to assist veterans and surviving spouses of wartime eras, named the Pension Program. It’s not something veterans automatically received, they have to apply, and, most importantly, they have to qualify.
Qualifying is simple if they meet the eligibility requirements: “Generally, a veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a wartime period to qualify for a VA Pension. If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally, you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions), with at least one day during a wartime period.”
In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the Veteran must be:
• Age 65 or older, OR
• Totally and permanently disabled, OR
• A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR
• Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR
• Receiving Supplemental Security Income” (VA.GOV)
Assuming you meet these requirements, your net worth cannot be excessive—in the eyes of the VA, this typically means it is under $80,000, however there is no hard-and-fast rule for whether or not you will be approved; it will be based on your age and ability to finance your own needs.
Now we need to talk about how much the pension is and the levels available for pension. Basic pension is available to both veterans and surviving spouses. Veterans under 65 have to provide evidence that they are totally and permanently disabled (as listed above) and they could be eligible for a maximum of $1,072 per month. These rates adjust with the current Social Security rates. Surviving spouses do not have to prove disability; they just have to prove their income is less than the maximum rate of $719 per month to qualify. All income from all sources counts, however income is reduced by ongoing medical expenses such as: Medicare, primary medical insurance, etc. As long as the medical expense can be forecasted on a monthly basis, it should be used to reduce the income amount.
After basic pension there are additional two additional tiers of pension. One is Housebound and the other called Aid and Attendance. All qualifications listed above apply, however, to qualify for these levels you need to prove you’re housebound (confined to home because of disabilities) or in need of aid and attendance, which includes:
• You require 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 yourself from the hazards of your daily environment.
• You are bedridden, in that your disability or disabilities requires that you remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment.
• You are a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity.
• Your eyesight is limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.
These levels are excellent to use if you pay someone take care of you at home, such as a home nurse or even a family member or friend; it does not have to be a licensed care provider. Maybe you’re in an assisted living facility. If that facility is assisting with two activities of daily life (ADLs, listed above), the entire cost of the stay there will count as a medical expense and reduce your income.
The current rates for Housebound are a maximum of $1,310 for a single veteran and $877 for a surviving spouse. Aid and Attendance currently is $1,789 for a single veteran and $1,149 for a surviving spouse. These amounts increase with dependents and dual veterans.
Final note on pension: it can be a difficult application process, which is why every county has a veteran service officer like me to assist. NEVER pay anyone to complete these forms. Lawyers, financial advisors, or others are not necessary for this application and some even lead claimants in the wrong direction. The VA has all types of articles and news briefs to warn claimants of “Pension Poachers,” so be careful and contact my office with any questions. This claim can get through typically in 30-180 days, and the good news is that the VA will make payments retroactively.
Bob Kelley retired from the U.S. Navy as a senior chief petty officer. He is the veterans service officer (VSO) for Grant County.