There are special pension benefits available to help Veterans and widows of Veterans offset the costs of their medical care. Veterans can also qualify for medical supplies and medicines if the service and financial qualifications are met. Although there are three types of special pension benefits, 1) Low-Income Pension, 2) Pension with Housebound Benefits, and 3) Pension with Aid and Attendance Benefits, this article will focus on Pension with Aid and Attendance Benefits.
Eligibility for pension benefits is not tied to whether the Veteran suffers from a disability which is related to his or her service. Qualification is based solely on war-time service and is subject to income and net worth limits. These benefits are tax-free and provided in addition to Social Security and other income. The current maximum annual pension rates (MAPR) for Pension with Aid and Attendance are as follows:
Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) 1
Single veteran w/no dependents
Widow(er) w/ no dependents
These amounts may change each year based on federal cost of living adjustments.
Rules for Qualification
There are two tiers of factors which must be satisfied for qualification. The first tier is the hardest to meet. These are the service and disability requirements. The Claimant must satisfy all of the first tier requirements to qualify, and if the Claimant fails to meet any of the requirements, there is nothing that can be done. The Claimant either qualifies or doesn't qualify. The second tier is different. With the second tier requirements, the Claimant may be able to make changes that would allow the Claimant to qualify.
First Tier Requirements:
- If the Veteran entered the service prior to September 7, 1980, he/she must have served 90 consecutive days of active duty; if the veteran entered the service after September 7, 1980, he/she must have completed a continuous period of active duty of at least 24 months.
- At least one day of service must have been during a war time period, but there is no requirement that any service have been performed in a combat zone. The eligible war time periods are:
- World War I
- World War II - December 7, 1941 - December 31, 1946
- Korean War - August 5, 1964 - May 7, 1975 or February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975 if in Vietnam prior to August 5, 1964
- Gulf War - August 2 - (no end date yet established)
- The Veteran must have received a discharge that was not dishonorable.
- The Claimant must be certified by a doctor as meeting the VA's definition of disabled. The disability must not have been caused by the willful conduct of the Claimant. Disabled means:
- Needing assistance with the activities of daily living such as bathing, feeding, dressing, toileting, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting oneself from the hazards of one's environment;
- In a nursing home due to a mental or physical incapacity; or
- For a widow to qualify, he/she must not have divorced the Veteran or remarried after the Veteran's death.
Second Tier Requirements:
- The household cannot have more than the allowable amount of countable assets. The VA considers the assets of all individuals living in the home with the veteran or surviving spouse. The standard is whether the person has "sufficient means" to pay for his or her own care. Ultimately, the determination of "sufficient means" is within the discretion of the VA adjudicator. However, there is currently no hard and fast rule regarding net worth limits as there is with Medicaid.
- The adjusted household income, termed "Income for VA Purposes" or IVAP, must be less than the Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit. Income includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest, dividends, and rents. Public assistance such as Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI) is not counted.
Countable income is all income which is attributable to the Claimant, his or her spouse, and the Claimant's dependent children. Most Veterans have income which exceeds the adjusted household income, but unreimbursed medical expenses actually paid by the Claimant may be used to reduce the countable income. This includes the costs of home health care, assisted living facilities, and skilled nursing homes in addition to health and long-term care insurance premiums, and co-pays, therapy, transportation to medical appointments, prescription and over-the-counter medications, glasses, hearing aids, etc.
In order to qualify for VA Aid & Attendance benefits, the Claimant's gross income and the net worth must be below the threshold limits. With proper planning, the Veteran or widow(er) may be able to qualify for Aid and Attendance Pension moneys and other assistance while preserving some of the household assets. This will aid the family in paying for future medical and long-term care and postpone the depletion of the Claimant's assets. The goal is to stretch the Claimant's assets so the Claimant can postpone the need to rely upon Medicaid to pay for long-term care.
Qualifying for Aid and Attendance benefits is different than qualifying for Medicaid. Currently, there are no "penalty periods" associated with transferring assets for purposes of qualifying for Aid and Attendance Benefits. However, the Veterans Administration is currently considering changes which would impose income, asset, and transfer rules and limitations similar to those found in the Medicaid Rules.2 And, even if the rules are not changed, it is possible that even with the Aid and Attendance benefits, the individual may also need Medicaid at some point in the future. Thus, the plan must be carefully crafted and implemented to ensure qualification at the earliest possible date.
Only attorneys accredited by the Veteran's Administration can assist with this type of planning. And, because planning takes time, it is best to consult with a VA Accredited attorney as soon as you meet the VA disability requirements or receive a diagnosis which could cause you to be in need of assistance at some point in the future. If we can help you or someone you know determine eligibility, please call for a consultation appointment.