We read a lot about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but what about Veterans' Benefits?
In addition to Disability Compensation for service-related disabilities, there is also a Disability Pension for non-service related disabilities. There are three levels of pension benefits:
1. Basic - Disabled Veteran unable to work
2. Housebound Disabled Veteran or surviving spouse
3. Disabled Veteran or surviving spouse who needs aid and attendance
Pension benefits are not dependent upon service-related injuries. To be eligible the applicant must have an honorable discharge, be a war-time veteran with 90 days of active duty, one day beginning or ending in a period ofWar, and be disabled, blind, or in need of care. A surviving spouse of such a person can also apply.
Periods of War that have been determined by Congress to include:
• World War II: December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946, extended to July 25,
1947, if veteran was on active duty on or before December 31, 1946
• Korean Conflict: June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
• Vietnam Era: August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1975, however, February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975 for a veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period
• Persian Gulf War: August 2, 1990 through a date to be prescribed by Presidential
The veteran need not have served in a combat zone or even overseas but simply served in the armed forces for the required time during one of the designated war-time periods.
Let's focus on the Aid & Attendance ("A&A") Special Pension. This is a benefit that is often overlooked by veterans who have disabilities that are not connected with their active duty service or their surviving spouses who have disabilities. The Veterans' Administration considers the program one of the department's most underutilized offerings. Most veterans do not know about it or how to apply.
Many elderly vets or their surviving spouses whose income is too high to qualify for the basic pension, may qualify for A&A benefits. Aid & Attendance can help pay for care in the home, nursing home or assisted living facility. A veteran is eligible for up to $1,632 per month, while a surviving spouse is eligible for up to $1,055 per month. A couple is eligible for up to $1,949 per month.
A&A provides benefits to veterans and surviving spouses of veterans who require the regular attendance of another person to assist them with eating, bathing, dressing, or toileting. The claimant doesn't have to need help in all of these areas, but there must be sufficient evidence that he or she can't function alone. It is also available for those who are blind or a vet who is in a nursing home because of mental or physical incapacity. Care in an assisted living facility also qualifies.
The pension program is needs tested, meaning there are limitations on income and net worth in order to qualify for benefits. An applicant must have limited assets - as a general rule, less than $80,000 in assets excluding a home, a vehicle, and personal belongings. (The VA has discretion to increase limits to avoid hardship for the veteran and spouse.) If it appears that the veteran may outlive his or her assets, it is likely the VA will determine the veteran to be eligible. For A&A the income limit is $19,736. Some kinds of income, like SSI, don't count toward the income limit.
Where there are long term care costs involved, there are special rules where available income can be reduced by 12 months worth of future, recurring medical expenses. For example, a veteran with $6,000 per month of income could still qualify for A&A if paying $4,500 to $6,000 monthly for home care, assisted living, or nursing home costs.
Here are some resources for more information and application information:
▸ Contact the Director of Lancaster County's Office of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Daniel Tooth, Veterans Affairs, 150 North Queen Street, Suite 101, Lancaster, PA 17603 (717) 299-7920. Mr. Tooth's e-mail address is Dtooth@co.lancaster.pa.us. website: click here.
▸ You can get more information about the pension program and A&A, in particular, at the Department of Veterans Affairs website or by calling 1- 800-827-1000 to locate a Veterans' Service Officer near you.
▸ The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is a source for information: Their website states: "Seeking benefits from the USDVA without proper representation can be difficult to say the least. Understanding the complex rules, laws and evidence requirements can be very technical and confusing. We strongly recommend that no veteran attempt to navigate this system without proper representation and assistance of an accredited representative or organization.
Veteran Service Officers serve as the veterans' assigned representative at no cost to the veteran. They help identify what evidence is required in the claim process. They monitor the process of the claim through the adjudication process and intercede on the veteran's behalf if problems arise. They review decisions made by the USDVA to ensure veterans receive the full benefits for which entitled."
▸ Many Veterans Service Organizations provide Veterans Service Officer Representatives who prepare, present and prosecute claims for benefits on behalf of veterans. These include the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars, United Spinal Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Jewish War Veterans. Usually you do not have to be a member of the organization to get help.
▸ Pennsylvania operates its own Veterans Service Organization with three field offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Fort Indiantown Gap. Here is the contact information for Indiantown Gap: Office of the Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs, Bldg S-0-47, FTIG, Annville, PA 17003, Phone: 1-800-547-2838, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Website: click here.
▸ These websites provide valuable information: www.veteransaidbenefit.org, www.veteranaid.org, and www.vetassist.org.
Many commentators complain that the VA provides very little info about A&A and the pensions program generally. The application process takes a long time and much perseverance and pushing on the part of the applicant. Keep at it. Receiving A&A may allow a veteran to pay for assisted living or other long term care without needing to dip into assets. If a VA employee is unfamiliar with or states you don't qualify for A&A benefits because your disability is not service related, ask to talk to a supervisor. Benefits, when approved, are retroactive to the application date.