The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides supplemental income for low-income wartime veterans in the form of Pension, Housebound, and Aid and Attendance benefits. The purpose of this article is to explain these benefit programs and help you determine if you are eligible for them.
The VA may award you a pension in two circumstances:
If the VA finds that you are not disabled for disability compensation purposes, the agency may still find you disabled for pension purposes. This is because for pension purposes the VA considers all of your disabilities, whether they are service-connected or not.
Many vets are unaware they even if they are not disabled, they still may be able to receive a VA pension upon turning age 65.
In addition, VA also offers two supplemental or improved pension programs: Housebound Benefits and Aid and Attendance (A&A). A&A pays a higher monthly rate than Housebound Benefits. These two benefits are “add-ons” to the pension; you are not eligible for either add-in benefit unless you first qualify for a pension.
To be eligible for the pension, and to be considered for A&A or Housebound benefits, you must first:
Eligibility for A&A requires that a veteran:
Housebound benefits also require that you be substantially and permanently confined to your home because of your disabilities. If you aren't confined to your home, you can show that you have one disability rated at 100% and another at 60% or more to qualify for Housebound Benefits.
If you are age 65 or older, even though you are presumed disabled, to get housebound benefits you still have to show that you are confined to your home or have a disability that is rated at 60% or higher.
In addition to the pension, you can receive Housebound Benefits or A&A, but not both.
The VA has designated certain periods of military activity as “wartime.” Active duty during the following periods qualifies as wartime service.
To be eligible for the pension, Aid and Attendance, or Housebound Benefits, you must also meet certain financial requirements. Generally, you must have less than $80,000 in assets (but the VA can lower this amount for older individuals). When calculating your assets, the VA does not count the value of your personal vehicle or the home you live in.
Some veterans transfer their assets to obtain eligibility, because then you can successfully apply for these benefits, as soon as the day after such a transfer. However, such a transfer can negatively affect your Medicaid eligibility, so it is critical to consult an elder law attorney before transferring any assets. (Even if you have VA health care benefits and are eligible for VA long-term care, you still may need your Medicaid benefits in addition to VA benefits. Nolo's article on Medicaid Basics provides additional information.)
In addition to the limit on your assets, your income must also be low. Your annual income must be less than the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (this varies depending on the type of improved pension). When calculating your income, the VA will not count welfare benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Likewise, the VA will deduct certain medical expenses from your total income to determine what the VA calls your “countable income.”
The types of medical expenses the VA permits you to exclude from your income are:
The VA determines your annual income and then deducts all of your unreimbursed medical expenses to determine your countable income, and then pays you the difference between your countable income and the Maximum Annual Pension Rate. It can be helpful to review the VA webpage that explains this pension benefit calculation process in detail and provides examples.
If you are eligible for Improved Pension, the VA will also give you free medication as long as it is ordered by a VA physician. You will also have access to free VA hospital and outpatient care.
If you are age 70 or older, expedited processing is available to you, so make sure to request it. At a minimum, it will take four to nine months for your application to be processed. Sometimes nursing homes or assisted living facilities will accept delayed payment if they know you qualify for A&A and cannot otherwise afford care. They are aware that your award of benefits will be retroactive
For assistance obtaining benefits, contact National Association of Senior Veterans (NASV) for pro bono help determining your eligibility for benefits. Fill out the online form http://nasv.org/about-us/rei/
If you are denied pension, Housebound Benefits, or A&A, you will need to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA Office that issued the denial. For help, contact a local disability lawyer who's certified by the VA.