Veterans' pension benefits should be part of long-term care planning

On behalf of Christine Alsop

Veterans may be eligible for one of three levels of pension benefits.

Our veterans are offered a wide array of medical, monetary, educational and other benefits for their military service, but unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, known as the VA, does not always do a good job of getting the word out of veterans’ benefit availability to potentially eligible beneficiaries.

One benefit can make a real financial difference to certain low-income elderly or disabled vets, their spouses and families: the tax-free military veterans’ pension.

Three levels of pension benefits

Eligibility for a basic pension requires that the veteran meet specific low-income and length- and time-of-service requirements. In addition, he or she must be one of the following:

  • Over age 64 with no or little income
  • Totally and permanently disabled
  • A nursing-home resident receiving skilled nursing care
  • A recipient of Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income (called SSDI and SSI, respectively)

If the veteran has died, his or her surviving spouse and certain children may be eligible for a survivors’ pension, also called a death pension. The deceased veteran must have met certain service requirements and the eligible survivor must meet particular low-income levels. An eligible surviving spouse must also not have remarried, and an eligible surviving child must be either under 18, under age 23 in a VA-approved secondary school, or permanently disabled and incapable of supporting him or herself because of a disability that started before adulthood.

The amount of monthly veterans’ or survivors’ pension payment depends on the rate set by the VA that varies considering the number of dependents, whether the veteran served during certain early time periods and whether the veteran is married to another veteran. In addition, the benefit amount is reduced by income (calculated after subtracting certain deductible medical expenses).

The pension amount may be increased if a veteran (or eligible survivor) finds him or herself in more dire circumstances, as reflected in two underutilized programs. The first such program is the Housebound allowance, met if the veteran is basically housebound because of a permanent disability.

The second such program is the Aid and Attendance or A&A allowance that increases the pension rate if the veteran meets one of these conditions:

  • The veteran needs the aid of someone else to perform basic activities of daily living like eating, bathing, dressing and so on.
  • The veteran is confined to his or her bed because of medical impairment.
  • The veteran is a nursing-home resident because of incapacity.
  • The veteran is blind.

Seek legal guidance

Like that of other types of government benefits like SSDI or SSI, the application process for VA benefits can be challenging and lengthy. Sufficient supporting evidence of income, disability, physical and mental impairment, and limitations on daily activities can be difficult to gather and present in a military pension application. Therefore, it can be a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable elder law attorney for assistance with an application or appeal of a denial, if necessary.

An experienced estate planning lawyer can also advise a veteran or his or her survivor about other potential VA benefit programs. In St. Louis, Missouri, The Elder & Disability Advocacy Firm of Christine A. Alsop, LLC, is honored to represent veterans and their families in VA benefit eligibility matters throughout Missouri and Illinois.

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