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Navigating Veteran’s Benefit Programs

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Many of the men and women who have served in our armed forces may be eligible for a needs-based pension program by way of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). The purpose of this article is to provide information to veterans and their families about eligibility requirements for the Aid & Attendance pension benefit.

General Information & Eligibility Requirements

The VA operates a benefit called the “Pension” program to assist veterans who are in need.  Because this is a needs-based program, there are requirements that the veteran or their surviving dependents must meet in order to be eligible.

A veteran is eligible for pension benefits if he or she was discharged under other than dishonorable conditions, served ninety (90) days or more of active duty with at least one (1) day of service during a period of war,[i] have countable income AND net worth below the established thresholds, and are considered disabled.[ii] Veterans sixty-five (65) and older are presumed to be disabled. A surviving spouse or unmarried child of a deceased veteran are eligible for the program if they meet the income requirements and the veteran met the active duty and wartime service requirements.

Aid & Attendance Benefits

Although there are different levels of needs-based pension benefits, only Aid & Attendance Benefits will be discussed in this article.  In order to qualify for Aid & Attendance Benefits, veterans must prove to the VA that they have the need for the “regular aid & attendance” of another person. A person must meet one of the following criteria to qualify for this program: 1. Require aid from another person to carry out ‘personal functions of everyday living’ such as eating, bathing and/or dressing, 2. Be considered legally blind, or 3. Reside in a nursing home.

Benefits derived from the Aid & Attendance program are unique in that the funds can be used to help pay for an individual’s care at home, in a skilled nursing facility, or even in an assisted living facility. Aid & Attendance benefits can help veterans or their dependents stay in an assisted living facility instead of paying the higher costs associated with residing in a skilled nursing facility. A veteran may receive up to $2,053 per month in VA benefits if they qualify for the Aid & Attendance program. As the costs of assisted living facilities can average $3,000[iii] or more per month and costs of skilled nursing facilities can average about $8,000[iv] per month in the state of Pennsylvania, this extra income for veterans in need is significant.

Countable Income

In order to qualify for Aid & Attendance benefits, a veteran’s “countable income” must not exceed the limits set for them by the VA. The income limit depends upon the circumstances of the veteran; medical status and existence of a spouse or dependent child will increase the limit. As a general rule, all of the veteran’s household income is counted. Some types of income are specifically excluded from this calculation.[v] If a veteran’s income is above the limit, they may qualify through income deductions if they have unreimbursed medical expenses. Countable income can be reduced by unreimbursed medical expenses.[vi]

Countable Assets and Gifting

As a general rule, a married veteran can qualify for the Aid & Attendance pension program as long as the veteran meets the asset limitation test.[vii]  The veteran’s net worth includes the net worth of the veteran’s spouse. Certain assets, such as the home, personal property, and a vehicle are excluded from this calculation. There is no set dollar amount that has been established as the net worth threshold; however, $80,000 is generally used as a measuring stick for determining whether a particular veteran may be financially eligible for the program.

In contrast to Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance program, there is currently no look-back period for the transfer of assets for the VA benefits program. Still, veterans considering gifting to reduce their countable assets should proceed with caution. Gifting may affect a veteran’s eligibility for other programs such as Medical Assistance. Before engaging in any significant gifting program, veterans should visit an elder law attorney to help the veteran understand their options and the consequences of gifting.

Conclusion

It is my hope that this article serves as a guide to help veterans better understand the Aid & Attendance Program. For more information, meet with your local VA representative or contact the Elder Law Firm of Marshall, Parker & Weber (www.paelderlaw.com) at 1-800-401-4552 for a free consultation.


[i] Wartime Service Dates – Mexican Border Period (May 9, 1916 through April 5, 1917 for veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders, or in adjacent waters), World War I (April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918; April 6, 1917 – April 1, 1920 for veterans who served in Russia; World War I service is extended through July 1, 1921 for veterans who had at least 1 day of service between April 6, 1917 and November 11, 1918), World War II (December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946; If the veteran was in service on December 31, 1946, continuous service before July 26, 1947 is considered World War II service), Korean War (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955), Vietnam War (August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975; February 28, 1961 – May 7 1975 for veterans who served in Vietnam before August 5, 1964), Gulf War (August 2, 1990 through such end date as prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of Congress, neither of which have yet occurred).

[ii] A veteran is considered disabled for the purposes of VA benefits if they fall into one of the following categories: 1. permanently and totally disabled, 2. a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled care, 3. receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, 4. receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) OR 5. be age sixty-five (65) or older.

[v] Income derived from public welfare programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), IRA interest, Federal Income Tax refunds, and funds acquired by loans or reverse mortgages are specifically excluded from this calculation.

[vi] Funds expended on home health care, assisted living care, and Medicare or other medical insurance premiums may fall into this category. In order for these deductions to apply, they must be paid by the veteran or his or her spouse, not be reimbursed, and be incurred by a member of the veteran’s household.

[vii] Countable assets are things like bank accounts, investments, annuities, and the cash value of life insurance. The veteran’s principal residence, vehicles used to transport the veteran and dependents, and household goods are exempt from this calculation.