The Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) provides a valuable benefit. Unfortunately, the benefit is not well known or understood and many Veterans and families are unaware the benefit exists. In this blog we will provide an overview of the VA Pension benefit as well as the updated VA Pension rates for 2015.
General Requirements for Basic Service Pension
In order to qualify for Basic Service Pension, Veterans must meet several criteria.
The first requirement has to do with the amount of time Veterans were in active duty and whether they served during wartime. Prior to September 1980, Veterans are required to have at least ninety (90) days of active duty with at least one day being during a wartime period. See “Wartime Periods” chart. After 1980, Veterans must have generally served at least 24 months (or the full period for which they were called or ordered) of active duty with at least one day being during a wartime period. Second, Veterans must not have been dishonorably discharged.
Third, Veterans must meet one of the following criteria:
• sixty-five (65) years of age or older;
• permanently and totally disabled;
• in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care;
• receiving Social Security Disability Insurance; or
• receiving Supplemental Security Income.
In addition, Veterans’ worth must not be excessive and their countable family income must be below a yearly limit set by law. See “Pension Benefit Figures” chart.
Service Pension Benefits
Unmarried, low-income Veterans meeting the requirements stated above, may qualify for a monthly pension of up to $1,072 in 2015. Veterans with one dependent (including a spouse) can qualify for up to $1,404. These figures increase annually at the same rate as Social Security benefit increases.
Veterans who are eligible for the basic service pension discussed above, may qualify for additional monies if they are housebound or require the aid and attendance of another person to perform activities of daily living (or are blind or nearly so or in a nursing home). To be deemed housebound, Veterans must be, for the most part, confined to their immediate premises because of a permanent disability. This may qualify them for a pension up to the amount of $1,310 for unmarried Veterans and $1,642 for Veterans with one dependent.
When Veterans require the aid and attendance of another person to perform activities for daily living, they may qualify for up to a total of $1,788 for unmarried Veterans and $2,120 for Veterans with one dependent.
In addition, a Veteran’s surviving spouse (or child) may be entitled to some benefits, called Death Benefits, upon the Veteran’s death. In order to qualify, Veterans must meet similar requirements as set forth above. The surviving spouse must also meet certain requirements, including having a valid marriage to the Veteran and not being remarried.
In 2015, a qualifying surviving spouse with no dependents may receive up to $719 or $941 with one dependent child. Should the surviving spouse be housebound, he or she may receive up to $879 with no dependents or $1,100 with one dependent child. Finally, a surviving spouse who requires the aid and attendance of another may qualify to receive up to $1,149 with no dependents or $1,371 with one dependent child.
Pension Benefits Application Process
The application process for these benefits can be time consuming. In addition, the law is written in such a way that its interpretation can be subjective. Specifically, the requirement that Veterans’ worth not be excessive is open to interpretation by the Veteran’s Administration, the administrative body that determines whether Veterans should receive benefits and, if so, how much. Because there is room for interpretation, it is important to obtain the advice of a knowledgeable Elder Law Attorney. In the event a claim for the service pension is denied, there is an appeals process, at which point it is imperative to have qualified legal representation.
The application process is quite lengthy and cumbersome for the Veterans (and family) who are applying and in need of pension benefits.
As a nation we desire to honor our service men and women. One of the ways we do this is through benefits such as those described herein. Unfortunately, many of our Veterans and their families are unaware of the existence of the service pension benefits available. If you are or know of a wartime veteran or surviving spouse of a wartime veteran, we would be happy to meet and go over eligibility for a pension benefit.
• World War I (April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918)
• World War II (December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946)
• Korean conflict (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955)
• Vietnam era (February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975)
• Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – through a date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation)