Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension

Millions have served our county in the armed forces.  But most don’t know that they may qualify for a veterans pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs that could pay them up to $1,949 each month.

For those facing declining health and strained resources, the VA Pension can be a difference maker.  The difference between hiring the caregivers that are desperately needed or relying on a spouse who may be declining also.  The difference between staying in your own home or being forced into a nursing home on Medicaid.

Why are so many veterans leaving this money on the table?  We find that they most often either don’t know about the VA Pension or they think that they don’t qualify.

Eligibility

The VA Veterans Pension program is available to wartime veterans who have limited income and are aged 65 and older (or permanently disabled).

Who is Eligible?

  • The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty (including 1 day during a designated “wartime period”)
  • The veteran must have received a discharge other than dishonorable
  • Single surviving spouses of veterans are also eligible
  • The applicant must be aged 65 and older or totally disabled if younger than 65

To get the VA Pension, the veteran must have served during a wartime period.  Except for one three-year period for some who served in Vietnam, the focus is on when the veteran served, rather than where the veteran served.  No distinction is made between those who saw Active Military Combat Duty and those who served outside of combat zones.

Wartime Periods

  • World War II — December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946
  • Korean War — June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
  • Vietnam Era — August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1975; and for veterans serving “in country”, February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975
  • Persian Gulf War — August 2, 1990 through a date to be later prescribed by Presidential proclamation or law

Income and Assets

The VA says that the pension benefit is only for those with “limited or no income” (this is the exact language the VA uses on their website).  And unlike many government benefit programs (such as Medicaid), the VA Pension doesn’t have a bright line rule on assets.  The VA calculates a veteran’s family net worth—essentially everything the veteran (and his or her spouse) has other than a residence.  If the net worth is deemed excessive, the veteran will be denied pension benefits.

As a result, many people get discouraged and don’t believe they qualify.

But having the right estate and financial plan can make or break your VA Aid and Attendance application.

Think of your income and assets like a child’s blocks, each with their own size, color, and letters.  Right now, you have those blocks arranged a particular way.  Often, we can rearrange those blocks to fit better within the VA Aid and Attendance rules and get you a benefit that wasn’t there before. That’s what a VA Benefits Plan does for you.

Pension Benefit

The annual pension benefit you can receive is calculated in three steps.  First, the VA will determine what benefit level you are eligible for based on your medical needs and family circumstances.  There is a basic pension rate, which is increased if the applicant is housebound or in need of aid and attendance.  The VA then determines which category of benefit applies based on your family circumstances (single, single with dependent child, married, surviving spouse).

Current Maximum Pension Rates (Updated for 2016)

Base Pension

$1,072 per month for a veteran

$1,404 per month for a veteran with a dependent spouse

$719 per month for the surviving spouse of a veteran

Housebound

$1,310 per month for a veteran

$1,642 per month for a veteran with a dependent spouse

$879 per month for the surviving spouse of a veteran

Aid and Attendance

$1,788 per month for a veteran

$2,120 per month for a veteran with a dependent spouse

$1,149 per month for the surviving spouse of a veteran

Second, the VA will add up your income from all sources to calculate your total family income.  Many people stop there.  They see that their total family income is more than the pension rate and think they are out of luck.

But that is a mistake because the VA allows you to deduct certain expenses from your income.  Any unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 5% of the maximum pension rate can be deducted.  So it is possible to have a $0 per month “income” as seen by the VA.  This is called Income for VA Purposes (or just IVAP).

Third, the actual pension benefit is determined by subtracting your total family income from the maximum pension rate.  If, after taking all possible deductions, your total family income is still more than the maximum pension rate, then you don’t currently qualify to receive a VA Pension.

Example Pension Calculation

Veteran Stephen lives with his wife Wendy.  Stephen is 78 years old, served in the Navy from 1951 to 1956, and was honorably discharged.  He meets all of the initial criteria for the VA Pension.

Stephen and Wendy have a combined income (from Social Security and pension) of $2,741 per month.  Their maximum VA Pension benefit is $2,054 per month.  So far, it’s looking like Stephen doesn’t qualify.

But Stephen has been declining in health recently.  Since Wendy is fairly limited herself, she hired a caregiver to come in for part of the day at a cost of $75 per day.  For a typical month, that adds $2,250 to their expenses that isn’t covered by health insurance.

Since it is considered an unreimbursed medical expense, a deduction for $2152.97 (the amount over $97.03, or 5% of their maximum pension benefit) can be taken from their income.  Once the caregiver expense is deducted, the VA considers their monthly income to be only $588.03.

Stephen is now eligible for a pension benefit of $1,465.97 per month.

Qualifying to Receive Your VA Pension

We can help you at every step along the way to your VA Aid and Attendance benefit.  We will analyze your assets and prepare a VA Benefits Plan for you.  And after implementing your plan, we can prepare and submit your VA Aid and Attendance application.  All of the attorneys at Kabbe Law Group are accredited with the Veterans Administration, authorized to prepare VA benefits applications and represent you during the application process.

If you would like to learn more about Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits, contact VA accredited attorney Natalia Kabbe at Kabbe Law Group in Naperville, Illinois.