Disability Pension VA Benefits – Do You Qualify?

There is a little known Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit for veterans or their widows to aid with the expenses of long term care costs such as assisted living.  The benefit applies to any war veteran with ninety (90) days of active duty, one (1) day beginning or ending during a period of war.  Also, a surviving spouse of a war veteran could be eligible; however, the marriage between the veteran and the surviving spouse must have ended in death.  The individual must qualify both medically and financially and eligibility must be proven by filing the Veterans Application for Pension or Compensation. 

Medically / Disability Requirements 

Veterans, spouses of veterans or surviving spouses can be eligible for Aid and Attendance benefits if they meet the following disability requirements:

  • The aid of another person is needed in order to perform personal functions required in everyday living, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, toileting, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting himself/herself from the hazards of his/her daily environment; or
  • The claimant 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
  • The claimant is in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity; or
  • The claimant 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 five (5) degrees or less.

Financially / Income Requirements

The claimant’s countable family income must be below a yearly limit set by law. “Countable” means income received by the claimant and his or her dependents.  It includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and net income from farming or business.  A claimant must report all income; however, the VA will exclude certain types of income such as public assistance income, like Social Security Income.  

Most veterans have some countable income, but there are exclusions that may reduce countable income, such as public assistance income, like Social Security Income and a portion of unreimbursed medical expenses paid by the claimant.  Unreimbursed medical expenses include:

  • Cost of a long term care institution or assisted living;
  • Health related insurance premiums (including Medicare premiums);
  • Diabetic supplies;
  • Private caregivers;
  • Incontinence supplies; and
  • Prescriptions and dialysis not covered by any other health plan.

Only the portion of the unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 5% of the MAPR may be deducted.

Net worth (the value of your assets) also affects eligibility. VA pensions are a need-based benefit and a large net worth might affect your eligibility.  All personal goods are exempt from the net worth.  These goods include the home you live in, a vehicle used for the care of the claimant, and household goods and personal effects such as clothes, jewelry and furniture.  Unfortunately, there is no asset limit set by law, and the determination of eligibility can be made at the discretion of a VA caseworker; however, as a general rule, a claimant’s assets should not exceed $80,000.

Pension Benefit Levels

There are three levels of Pension Benefit:

PENSION DOLLARS as of 01/01/2010

Improved Pension Benefit per month

 

 

Aid & Attendance

Housebound

Basic

1. Married Veteran

$1,949

$1,510

$1,291

2. Single Veteran

$1,644

$1,204

$985

3. Widow of a Veteran

$1,056

$808

$661

 

            The level of the Pension Benefit is based on the medical needs of the claimant.  The veteran is always the claimant during the veteran’s life.  If the veteran is deceased, then the claimant will be the surviving spouse.

            The Basic Level is based on income and assets only.  There is no medical need required for the claimant.  It is very hard to qualify for this benefit because it requires the income of the claimant to be reduced to less than the maximum pension amount to qualify for the pension benefit.  If the veteran is married, then they can use the medical expenses of his or her spouse to reduce the married couple’s income sufficiently in order to qualify.

            The Housebound Level applies to those claimants who are unable to transport themselves but are able to care for themselves in their house.

            The Aid and Attendance Level applies to those claimants who need assistance with at least two of their Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and cannot live independently. Aid and Attendance is a benefit paid by the VA to a veteran, a veteran’s spouse or a surviving spouse.  It is paid in addition to a veteran’s basic pension.  The benefit may not be paid without eligibility to a VA basic pension.  It is a non-service connected disability benefit, which means the disability does not have to be a result of service. 

Aid and Attendance is for applicants who need financial help for in-home care, to pay for an assisted living facility or a nursing home.  Benefits are also paid to veterans, spouses or surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person to assist them in their daily living activities such as eating, bathing, dressing and undressing or taking care of the needs of nature.  It also includes individuals who are blind or patients who reside in a nursing home because of a mental or physical incapacity.  Individuals requiring the assisted care in an assisted living facility also qualify for the Pension Benefit.

The annual income limits for the Aid and Attendance program are higher than those set for the basic pension.  The maximum Aid and Attendance benefit that can be paid monthly to a single veteran is $1,644, but the veteran must have countable income equal to or less than $0 to receive the maximum benefit.

Aid and Attendance can help pay for care in the home, nursing home or assisted living facility.  A veteran is eligible for up to $1644 per month, while the surviving spouse of a veteran is eligible for up to $1,056 per month.  If applying as a couple, then they would be entitled to $1,949 per month (see Aid & Attendance Benefits Chart below).

The following chart includes the set yearly income rate / annual pension Aid and Attendance limit set by Congress on December 1, 2009 for 2010; it also includes the maximum monthly benefit:

Aid and Attendance

Maximum Annual Pension Rate

(MAPR) Category

 

If you are a…

MAPR Amount

 

 

Your yearly income

must be less than:

Maximum Monthly Pension Rates

Single Veteran

$19,728

$1,644

Veteran with Spouse/Dependent

$23,388

$1,949

Two Veterans Married

To Each Other

 

$30,985

 

$2,582

Surviving Spouse

$12,681

$1,056

Surviving Spouse with

One Dependent

 

$15,132

 

$1,261


Receipt of Benefit

Once the application has been submitted, receipt of payment from the Veterans Administration (VA) takes approximately 6 to 8 months.  However, the VA does pay retroactively from the date of application.  An application must be submitted by the third week of the prior month for which you are applying.  For example, if you are applying for April benefits the application must be submitted no later than the third week of March and the VA will start the payment date as of April 1.

For additional information you may contact the Veterans Administration (800) 827-1000 or contact a Veterans Service Office located in your county.  You may also visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website at:  www.vba.va.gov or contact a Hodes, Pessin & Katz, P.A. (HPK) Wealth Preservation Attorney at www.hpklegal.com/practice/wealth.php.