You Don’t Have to Have a Service Disability to Earn Veteran’s Benefits
Over 1,795,000 military veterans call California home. While most veterans are aware that the Veterans Administration (VA) provides care and compensation for vets wounded during military service, very few have heard of VA pensions or understand what they are. There is a reason for this. Pensions can be difficult to explain and understand, which is why so few veterans take advantage of free money that they could be entitled to. In this short article, I’ll try to give you a basic overview of the pension system. Although, I strongly recommend that you work with an experienced elder law attorney to determine if pension planning is right for your situation.
What is a Pension?
The United States government recognizes its responsibility to take care of its veterans, especially older veterans in need of long-term care. The military pension program provides supplemental income to a specific sub-set of veterans or a veteran’s surviving spouse. The amount of this income will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The veteran’s current income
- Whether the veteran is married or has dependent children
- The veteran’s level of disability
Even at the highest levels, a pension payment will only reach a little over $2,000 a month. This is not enough to cover the full cost of nursing home care or an assisted living facility. Still, an extra check in the mail each month is welcomed by most, so it may be worth it to see if you qualify for pension payments.
Who Qualifies for a Pension?
In order to earn a pension, you must first meet some basic service requirements. You must have served on active duty in the United States military for at least 90 days and have been discharged honorably. You must also have served at least one day during a war time:
- World War II: Dec. 7, 1941 – Dec. 31, 1946
- Korean Conflict: June 27, 1950 – Jan. 31, 1955
- Vietnam: Feb. 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 “In country” or Aug. 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975
- Gulf War: Aug. 2, 1990 – TBD
You do not need to have seen combat or served overseas. As long as you were on active duty at least one day during one of these dates, you meet the criteria.
If you are over the age of 65, you automatically meet the lowest level of pension qualification. If you are under the age of 65, then you must be able to prove that you are totally and permanently disabled to earn any pension payments.
The VA has created several categories of disability that are linked to specific pension rates. In order to qualify for a higher pension rate, you must receive a medical “rating” by a Veteran’s Service Representative. For example, if you or a surviving spouse are in a nursing home or require assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), you may qualify for an extra “aid and attendance” pension.
In order to earn pension payments, a veteran or surviving spouse must show that they receive very little income. The specific income limit will vary depending on a variety of factors, but it is typically very low. However, veterans with a rating can deduct medical costs from their income, which will help bring many veterans or surviving spouses below the income qualifications if they are paying out of pocket for nursing home care or a home health aide. For example, Ernie earns $1,500 from Social Security each month and $700 from his investments. If he has no dependents, this income would put him above the income limits to receive a pension. However, let’s say that Ernie has a rating and that he pays $1,000 a month for the part-time services of a home health aide. He can deduct this amount, meaning that his income is only $700 a month – low enough that he could qualify for a pension payment.
There is no specific asset limit to qualify for a pension, but typically, the cutoff is at $80,000. Even though this asset limit excludes the home, many veterans still have too many assets. This is where your elder law attorney can come in handy. He or she can help you arrange your assets and income so that you meet the requirements to earn a pension payment. At my practice, I often create what is called a Veterans Asset Protection Trust, which can help my clients legally and drastically lower their countable assets so that they can earn a pension check each month.
As I mentioned, the pension is typically not a lot of money, but I do not know many people who will turn down an extra $800 or $2,000 a month. If you have served your country, then you deserve to be rewarded. I encourage you to speak with an elder law attorney with experience working with veteran clients.
At the Law Office of Justin M. Gilbert, we have helped many clients qualify for pension benefits. Contact my office today to set up a no-risk consultation.