The Stealth Benefit – VA Pensions

© Field Law, P.A. 2015

Many veterans remain unaware today that if they have served their country during past “periods of war” they may be entitled to a pension from VA. No personal notice is ever sent to veterans advising them of this pension benefit so finding out about it is purely left to chance. This article is intended to assist veterans (or their survivors) with knowing whether a pension benefit is likely to be paid on their behalf.

WHAT IS A VA PENSION?

A VA pension is a monthly benefit paid to eligible veterans or their surviving spouse and/or dependent children. It is available to those who served during a period of war (as defined by Congress—see below) and who are permanently and totally disabled (this disability is presumed to occur for all veterans upon them reaching age 65). Qualifying to receive a VA pension is a “needs based” determination. It is not automatically granted. One must qualify based both on income and assets (net worth). If one makes too much or has too much for assets they can be disqualified from receiving benefits.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A VA PENSION AND VA COMPENSATION?

A VA pension is a different benefit than VA Compensation. VA Compensation is a benefit paid to veterans who have disabilities incurred or aggravated during active duty. It should be noted that this disability does not have to be related to combat or a job held during active duty. In this way VA Compensation is similar to workers compensation in the public sector. For VA Compensation cases there is also no inquiry into income or assets. One is automatically eligible by way of their disability (so long as they meet other qualifications). Since this article pertains mainly to VA pension rules further questions on VA Compensation will be addressed by separate article. But be aware that if a veteran has such a disability they may be entitled to benefits now, regardless of income or assets.

A VA pension, unlike VA Compensation, is payable based on a veteran’s disability (which is presume to occur at age 65) but that disability does not have to originate during an active duty time period.

HOW DOES ONE QUALIFY FOR A VA PENSION?

Qualification for a VA Pension is dependent on a number of things including, as already stated, one’s income and net worth. What this means is that a veteran is not automatically entitled to a VA Pension at age 65 (as an example).

There are really three forms of VA pensions. They are:

  1. A “basic” VA Pension
  2. A “Housebound” Pension (defined below)
  3. An “Aid & Attendance” Pension (defined below)

One must first qualify for a “basic VA pension” before becoming eligible for additional VA pensions.

A veteran or their survivor must establish the following:

  1. That the veteran was in the military service and was “active” during a period of war (see definition of those war times below). “Veteran” is defined by VA as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” The word “active” here could also incorporate the Armed Forces Reserves or National Guard if they serve on “active duty” during a period of war.
  1. The “service” must be for a period of 90[1] consecutive days of “active duty” but service in a combat zone is NOT required. And, of great importance, only one day of the 90 days need be served during a period of war defined by Congress.

DEFINITIONS

  1. “Periods of War” are defined as follows:
  • WWII: 12/7/1941 – 12/31/1946, extended to 7/25/1947 if continuous with service on or before 12/31/1946.
  • Korean Conflict: 6/27/1950 – 01/31/1946
  • Vietnam Era: 8/5/1964 – 05/07/1975
  • Persian Gulf War: 8/2/1990 – (date to be prescribed by Presidential proclamation or law.
  1. A “Housebound” pension benefit will be added to the “basic VA pension” benefit when a veteran is substantially confined to their immediate premises due to a permanent disability. Medical evidence of this confinement will have to be produced in order to be eligible for this benefit.
  1. “Aid & Attendance” pension benefits will be added to the “basic VA pension” benefit if one of the following conditions are met:
  • The veteran is a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity.
  • The veteran requires the aid of another person in order to perform personal functions required in everyday living such a bathing, feeding, dressing, attending to the wants of nature, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting yourself form the hazards of daily living.
  • The veteran is bedridden, in that his/her disability or disabilities require that he/she remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment.
  • The veteran’s eyesight is limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.

INCOME LIMITS

If a veteran meets the qualifications for one, two or all three of the pensions mentioned above then the maximum annual income limits to qualify for those pensions are as follows (NOTE: these numbers change periodically):

Veteran VA Pension Income Limits (effective 12/1/2014):

  • $12,868 in annual income for a veteran without a spouse or dependent child. But keep in mind that certain “unreimbursed medical expenses” paid out of your annual income will help to lower your annual income for VA Pension purposes. (See Field Law, P.A. for more information on this)
  • $16,851 in annual income for a veteran with one dependent.
  • $15,725 in annual income for a veteran who is “housebound” without dependents.
  • $19,710 in annual income for a veteran who is “housebound” with one dependent.
  • $21,466 in annual income for a veteran qualifying for “Aid & Attendance” benefits.
  • $25,448 in annual income for a veteran qualifying for “Aid & Attendance” benefits with one dependent.
  • NOTE: If two veterans are married to each other than the annual income limits will change based on that fact and based on whether one or both are “housebound” or are eligible for “Aid and Attendance” benefits.
  • Lastly, and this is important for those affected, $2,198 in annual income can be added to the above numbers for each additional dependent child.

If a veteran is deceased but leaves a spouse and/or dependent children, a pension can still be paid out to that surviving spouse and/or dependent children. The annual income limits to qualify for this pension are as follows:

Surviving Spouse/Child(ren) VA Pension Rates (effective 12/1/2014):

  • $8,630 in annual income without a dependent child
  • $11,296 in annual income with one dependent child
  • $10,548 in annual income housebound without dependents
  • $13,209 in annual income housebound with one dependent
  • $13,794 in annual income Aid & Attendance without dependents
  • $16,456 in annual income Aid & Attendance with one dependent
  • $2,198 added to annual income limits for each additional dependent child

NET WORTH LIMITS

As far as Net Worth goes, there is no threshold amount set forth in the VA rules in order to qualify for benefits. What the VA determines is “whether your assets are of a sufficiently large amount that you could live off of them for a reasonable period of time.” Some legal practitioners believe this amount to be the neighborhood of $80,000.00 in net worth but there is no hard and fast rule. But, if you have a net worth substantially above this amount it is quite likely that you would not qualify. However, keep in mind that certain assets are exempt from your net worth calculation — like your house, for instance. That’s a big asset for VA to disregard! Even if you are close to the above dollar amount it might be worth applying in any event. If you are turned down, nothing is lost. But if you are determined to be eligible, every little bit helps. Right? One should really seek out an attorney to determine what assets might be exempt from calculating your net worth.

SO HOW MUCH WILL A VETERAN RECEIVE IN PENSION BENEFITS?

The amount of the monthly pension benefit will, generally speaking, be the difference between the annual income limits stated above and the actual annual income the veteran receives through other sources.

For example, let’s say the veteran is 70 years old, married (with no dependent children), with his only income coming from social security of $950 monthly ($11,400 annually). According to the income limits above his cap rate for income, presuming he is only eligible for “basic” pension benefits, is $16,851 annually. Thus, he would be entitled to the difference ($16,851 – $11,400 = $5,451) and this becomes his annual benefit (or $454.25 paid monthly). On the other hand, if the veteran were single, his benefit would drop to $1,468 annually ($12,868 – $11,400) or, $122.33 monthly.

In the end VA does not want the veteran receiving more than the annual amounts listed above from ALL sources if the veteran is to receive a pension from them.

IF I MEET THE ABOVE QUALIFICATIONS HOW DO I APPLY?

VA has a formal application which must be completed to be considered for this pension. VA will not allow any attorney to assist veterans in making application to VA but only “accredited attorneys” (though veterans are permitted to make their own application). Also, of importance to veterans, these accredited attorneys are not allowed to charge for this service. Out of over 25,000 licensed attorneys in the state of Minnesota only 112 attorneys are accredited for VA purposes. At Field Law, P.A., attorney Joseph A. Field is such an accredited attorney.

And, in addition to providing this free service, we have at Field Law, P.A. reduced the rather intimidating, six page, formal VA application to a two page, more user-friendly form which we use in completing the formal application. If you, as a veteran or survivor of a veteran, believe you meet the above qualifications then we would encourage you to request this form to be sent to you.

Finally, just so you know, VA pension benefits are not paid retroactively to the date of disability. They are only paid from the date of submission of your application. So, one should act promptly if it is believed they are entitled to benefits. There will be formal documents needed to supplement your application such as discharge papers and papers confirming enlistment. This will be addressed in more detail during the information gathering process.

For more information, or to get started, contact Field Law, P.A. (763) 427-9066, jfield@jfieldlaw.com.

 

[1] This 90 day time period is extended to a longer time period for more recent wars

This article is intended to provide a general overview of the topic presented and should not solely be relied upon as legal advice. The nuances of VA pensions, coupled with medical assistance planning, make it imperative that the veteran seek out competent legal advice before making final decisions.