2013 Veterans Low-Income Pension, Housebound and Aid and Attendance Benefits: Important Non-Service-Connected Benefits for Seniors and the Disabled.
By Martin C. Womer, Esq.*
Updated with current VA data for 2013.
Few seniors or their families are aware of remarkable financial benefits that are available to U.S. military veterans in the form of Veterans Administration (VA) low-income pension benefits. Of those Americans who are aware of veterans pensions, even fewer of the large numbers of veterans or their widows or widowers who are eligible, or who could become eligible with proper planning by an elder law attorney, have done the planning and application to receive their federal benefits. Veteran pensions are available to large numbers of seniors age 65 or older, or who have other non-service-connected disabilities, and are financially eligible. The rules consider seniors age 65 and older automatically “disabled” for purposes of pension benefit eligibility. Additional criteria can raise the veteran’s pension benefit above the basic independent pension if the veteran is “housebound” or in need of “aid and attendance” for certain activities of daily living.
Veterans who have service-connected disabilities may be eligible for benefits that are classified as Disability “Compensation”. However, many more veterans have non-service-connected disability needs. This article is focused on the low-income pension benefits available to this much larger portion of America’s population of veterans and their widows or widowers. These non-service-connected benefits are the area of VA benefits in which the Maine Center for Elder Law, LLC assists clients in planning for eligibility.
The numbers below are maximum pension figures for the 12-month period beginning on December 1, 2012. They are the maximum one can receive after considering other income minus recurring medical-related costs. Deductible medical-related costs include a range of expenses too diverse to discuss in the space available in this article. They can include in-home caregiver costs or the costs of an assisted living facility, but the documentation must be presented properly in order for the costs to be deductible.
From December 2012 through November 2013 (actually received from January through December 2013), the maximum basic low-income pension benefit for an independent wartime veteran who qualifies financially with no dependents is $1,038.00 per month. The benefit for an independent wartime veteran with one dependent is $1,360.00 per month. If the veteran with no dependent is “housebound”, the monthly benefit increases to $1,269.00, whereas the housebound pension benefit for a veteran with a dependent is $1,590.00 per month. If the veteran with no dependent needs “aid and attendance” (commonly called A&A) for certain activities of daily living, the pension available is $1,732.00 per month. If the veteran has a dependent, the monthly benefit is $2,054.00. For all of the above categories, each additional dependent child raises the monthly benefit by $177.00.
If a wartime veteran is married to a wartime veteran and both need A&A, the maximum monthly benefit is $2,720.00.
The above monthly rates are one-twelfth of the annual rates posted on the VA website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/PENSIONANDFIDUCIARY/pension/rates_veteran_pen12.asp
Pension benefits may also be available for widows and widowers of wartime veterans who qualify financially. From December 2012 through November 2013 (actually received from January through December 2013), the maximum basic low-income pension benefit for a widow or widower of a veteran without dependents is $696.00 per month, whereas the widow or widower with a dependent is $911.00 per month. If the widow or widower is housebound, the benefit is $851.00 per month, and if he or she is housebound and has a dependent, the monthly benefit is $1,066.00. Again, the A&A benefit is the highest for the widow or widower of a veteran: Without a dependent, the benefit is $1,113.00 per month; and with a dependent the benefit is $1,328.00 per month. As for the veteran above, each additional dependent child raises the monthly benefit by $177.00.
The VA website has a Compensation and Pension Benefits Page at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/index.htm. The above numbers for surviving spouses (presented as annual figures) and simple explanations of veterans pension benefits are available on the VA website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/PENSIONANDFIDUCIARY/pension/rates_survivor_pen12.asp. A handy two-sided flyer entitled A Summary of Veterans Benefits is available to be downloaded at http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/factsheets/general/21-00-1.pdf.
With a few very limited exceptions, for a veteran of World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War to qualify for VA pension benefits, the veteran needs to have served 90 days of active duty at least one of which must have occurred during official wartime. Here is a chart of the official wartime periods: http://www.benefits.va.gov/PENSIONANDFIDUCIARY/pension/wartimeperiod.asp (Later veterans have longer active duty requirements.)
VA pension benefits can make a huge difference in the ability of the veteran or widow or widower to afford basic costs of living, in-home caregivers in order to be able to stay at home, or to afford to live in an assisted living facility of his or her choice without MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program). Planning for eligibility for veterans pension benefits is somewhat similar to, but in some instances less complicated than the intricate planning often necessary for Medicaid eligibility. A very worrisome concern is, however, that the simpler rules for VA pension benefit eligibility may entice seniors or their agents under Powers of Attorney to carry out transactions that will cause later Medicaid ineligibility if either the veteran or the veteran’s spouse, widow or widower should require Medicaid benefits within five years.
It is crucial not to preclude later Medicaid eligibility. Because of this, VA pension eligibility planning needs be done with careful analysis of its implications for eventual Medicaid eligibility for the veteran or his or her spouse. Veteran Service Organizations exist to provide no-cost assistance in preparing and filing applications for veterans benefits, but they are not qualified to assist veterans or their families with eligibility planning. Furthermore, they are not qualified to counsel veterans or their families in regard to Medicaid eligibility and the sometimes-conflicting standards and techniques that apply to the two sets of eligibility rules. Such planning requires the careful guidance and assistance of an experienced elder law attorney who is also accredited by the Veterans Administration.
* Accredited by the Veterans Administration.
NOTE: The Veterans Administration requires attorneys and other veterans benefits counselors to receive official accreditation in order to advise and represent veterans before the VA. Attorneys Martin C. Womer and Barbara S. Schlichtman of the Maine Center for Elder Law, LLC have received the required VA accreditation.