Saturday, May 21, 2011

Over age 65 and a Veteran? Don't miss out on VA Pension Benefits

Most of Pennsylvania’s 1.12 million veterans are eligible for at least some benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) although many are unaware of the benefits that are available to them. VA can provide significant assistance in helping veterans  meet their daily living, health-care and long-term care needs. 

As an elder law attorney who is both a Veteran and over age 65, I know that one benefit that is often overlooked by Veterans in my age bracket is VA Pension.  I see Pension as a way that our Government says “thank you” to Veterans who have served in time of war and now are older and in need of some financial assistance. This article is intended to give you some basic information so that you can determine if you, or perhaps someone in your family, might be able to benefit from this wonderful assistance program.     

What is VA Pension for veterans?

Pension is a benefit paid to wartime veterans who have limited or no income, and who are age 65 or older, or, if under 65, who are permanently and totally disabled.   Veterans who are more seriously disabled may qualify for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits.    These are benefits that are paid in addition to the basic pension rate.

 
Who is eligible?
Generally, you may be eligible if:
  • you were discharged from service under conditions other than dishonorable,

AND
  • you served at least 90 days of active military service 1 day of which was during a war time period.   If you entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally you must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty (There are exceptions to this rule),

AND

AND
  • you are age 65 or older, OR, you are permanently and totally disabled, not due to your own willful misconduct.
As you can see, there are a number of criteria that may affect your eligibility to pension benefits.    If you are unsure if you meet all criteria, VA encourages you to go ahead and file an application, particularly if your countable income appears to be near the maximum.   VA will determine if you are eligible and notify you.    If you do not initially qualify, you may reapply if you have un-reimbursed medical expenses during the twelve month period after VA receives your claim that bring your countable income below the yearly income limit.   (These are expense you have paid for medical services or products for which you will not be reimbursed by Medicare or private medical insurance.)\

What is countable income for veterans pension eligibility purposes?
This includes income received by the veteran and his or her dependents, if any, from most sources.   It includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and net income from farming or business.

What about net worth?
Net worth means the net value of the assets of the veteran and his or her dependents.   It includes such assets as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and any property other than the veteran's residence and a reasonable lot area.    There is no set limit on how much net worth a veteran and his dependents can have, but net worth cannot be excessive.    The decision as to whether a claimant's net worth is excessive depends on the facts of each individual case.   All net worth should be reported and VA will determine if a claimant's assets are sufficiently large that the claimant could live off these assets for a reasonable period of time.  VA's needs-based programs are not intended to protect substantial assets or build up an estate for the benefit of heirs.

Are there any exclusions to income or deductions that may be made to reduce countable income?
Yes, there are exclusions.    The following are examples of what may be excluded:
  • Public assistance such as Supplemental Security Income is not considered income.
  • Many other specific sources of income are not considered income, however, all income should be reported.   VA will exclude any income that the law allows.
  • A portion of unreimbursed medical expenses paid by the claimant after VA receives the claimant's pension claim may be deducted.   (These are expense you have paid for medical services or products for which you will not be reimbursed by Medicare or private medical insurance.)
  • Certain other expenses, such as a veteran's education expenses, and in some cases, a portion of the educational expenses of a child over 18 are deductible.

How Does VA calculate your pension?
Your annual pension is calculated by first totaling all your countable income.   Then any deductions are subtracted from that total.    The remaining countable income is deducted from the appropriate annual pension limit which is determined by the number of your dependents, if any, and whether or not you are entitled to housebound or aid and attendance benefits.   This amount is then divided by 12 and rounded down to the nearest dollar.   This gives you the amount of your monthly payment.   Click here to see an example of the pension calculation.


What are Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits?
  • Aid and Attendance (A&A) is a benefit paid in addition to monthly pension.   This benefit may not be paid without eligibility to pension.   A veteran may be eligible for A&A when:
    1. The veteran requires 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 himself/herself from the hazards of his/her daily environment, OR,
    2. The veteran is bedridden, in that his/her disability or disabilities requires that he/she remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment, OR,
    3. The veteran is a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity, OR,
    4. The veteran is blind, or so nearly blind as to have corrected visual acuity of 5/200 or less, in both eyes, or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.
  • Housebound is paid in addition to monthly pension.    Like A&A, Housebound benefits may not be paid without eligibility to pension.   A veteran may be eligible for Housebound benefits when:
    1. The veteran has a single permanent disability evaluated as 100-percent disabling AND, due to such disability, he/she is permanently and substantially confined to his/her immediate premises, OR,
    2. The veteran has a single permanent disability evaluated as 100-percent disabling AND, another disability, or disabilities, evaluated as 60 percent or more disabling.
A veteran cannot receive both Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits at the same time.
How to Apply for Aid and Attendance and Housebound:
  • You may apply for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits by writing to the VA regional office having jurisdiction of the claim.   That would be the office where you filed a claim for pension benefits.  If the regional office of jurisdiction is not known, you may file the request with any VA regional office.
  • You should include copies of any evidence, preferably a report from an attending physician validating the need for Aid and Attendance or Housebound type care.
  • The report should be in sufficient detail to determine whether there is disease or injury producing physical or mental impairment, loss of coordination, or conditions affecting the ability to dress and undress, to feed oneself, to attend to sanitary needs, and to keep oneself ordinarily clean and presentable.
  • In addition, it is necessary to determine whether the claimant is confined to the home or immediate premises.
  • Whether the claim is for Aid and Attendance or Housebound, the report should indicate how well the individual gets around, where the individual goes, and what he or she is able to do during a typical day.

If I am already receiving monthly payments or a service-connected disability can I get a VA pension too?
You cannot receive a VA non-service connected pension and service-connected compensation at the same time.    However, if you apply for pension and are awarded payments, VA will pay you whichever benefit is the greater amount.

How do I apply for veterans non-service connected pension?

  • You may download and fill out VA Form 21-526, Veteran's Application for Compensation and/or Pension.   Make sure you download all parts of the application as well as the instructions for filling out the forms.   If available, attach copies of dependency records (marriage & children's birth certificates).

    You must send the completed application and any copies of other documents to the VA regional office that serves your area of residence.   Please click here to find the office of jurisdiction.
  • You may also contact a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) from a veterans service organization.    Please call the toll free number, 1-800-827-1000, for the location of the nearest VSO nearest you.   You may also look to the VA web site for a list of the nationally recognized Veterans Service Organizations.
If you have any questions, please call the VA toll free number, 1-800-827-1000, or you may contact VA electronically via the Internet at https://iris.va.gov

Source: United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Note: It is important to note that  unreimbursed medical expenses are deductible and may serve to reduce the Veteran's countable income for purposes of the determining the amount of the Pension award.A Veteran who would not previously have qualified for an award may now qualify if the Veteran or spouse has increased medical and long term care expenses.


A certified elder law attorney who is knowledgeable about VA Pension benefits can help advise the older Veteran or surviving spouse about how to qualify for this program and coordinate these benefits with other planning goals.  Each office of Marshall, Parker and Associates has at least one certified elder law attorney on staff who has been accredited by the VA. An up to date list of all lawyers who have been accredited by the VA is available at this link or by typing the following URL into your browser: 
http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp

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