Little Known Veterans Pension Benefit


Filed under Planning & Money

If you haven’t heard of it, you are not alone. Currently there is a ground swell effort to inform veterans about this benefit. The Governor of Illinois felt it was such a serious situation that he created a non-profit corporation to work with other corporations, service groups and individuals like us, to get the word out and to educate Veterans and the families on this benefit. There are about 22 million veterans in the United States and about two billion dollars of benefits that go untouched every year. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that people just don’t know that the benefits are available. They don’t know that they qualify and they don’t know how to apply.

You’ll notice that it says “Aid & Attendance and Housebound”. The power of this benefit is that it provides extra income when you need it most, when you health changes and you need care. How many of you have helped care for a loved one? How many of you know someone who has lost just about everything because of the cost of care?

You know when this benefit was introduced in 1952; long-term care wasn’t such a big issue. Families stayed close. Not so many children went away to college, and then farther away for their careers. Things were pretty simple.

Now families are busy, busy. Children are scheduled in soccer, gymnastics, ballet, t-ball, so many events that they eat supper on the road, order meals by numbers “I’ll have a #2 meal super-sized” and it’s a different world.

So now, long-term care cost is a fact of life. We can’t rely on family. And most of us, being really honest would rather NOT have a family member help us with those really personal care needs. So would extra money help your family when you need care? Sure! Most of us are not going to turn it down, especially when you’ve already earned it. That’s why the Improved Pension Benefit is so important.

Qualifications for Veterans & Widows

So people ask, “What are the qualifications for this benefit?” The first qualification is a discharge from military service that is anything BUT dishonorable.

The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty with at least ONE day served during a declared state of war. Now you did not actually have to be in combat. As an example, you could have been a clerk in San Diego harbor, and never left US shores. As long as you had 90 days active service, you did not have a dishonorable discharge and one day was during wartime, you qualify onthose points.

Finally, you have to be totally disabled, OR age 65 and older. This benefit has been on the books since 1952 and one of the reasons Veterans didn’t take advantage of it was that they thought you had to be disabled. Let’s take a look at this benefit. It is a pension. At what age do we generally qualify for a pension? The age we start receiving¬†a pension is when we hit retirement and that is usually at age ….??? Right, 65! So it makes sense that if you are 65 or older, then you qualify for the pension, because of your age. It doesn’t matter that you are not disabled.

 Declared States of War

The next thing people want to know is, “What are the Declared States of War?” How many of you were in the Korean War? You will remember that during the Korean War, it was called a Police Action, an advisory thing, right? Vietnam was that way, too. However, for benefits related to Periods of War, these are the dates and events recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs. These are the wars that count for this benefit.

Mexican Border Period 1916-1917
WWI 1917 – 1921
WWII 1941 – 1946
Korean War 1950 – 1955
Vietnam War 1962 – 1975
Gulf War 1990 – . . .

DVA Improved Pension 2008

So people want to know, “How much money are we talking?” Here are the pension amounts for this year. Now there are different amounts if you are Housebound, and there are amounts if you are simply low income. For now, let’s look at the numbers for Aid & Attendance. When you need Aid & Attendance, you are typically in a facility. Your costs of care are the greatest. Your need for extra money is the greatest. AND the pension benefit is the greatest.

If you are a couple, Veteran and Spouse, and one of you is receiving care in a facility, you could receive up to $22,113 per year, TAX FREE. So how would an extra $1842/month help with you care costs? Would you want the money that your service earned? Sure you would.

For a single veteran, it could be up to $18,654/year, or over $1554/month, TAX FREE.

For the surviving spouse of a veteran, it’s up to $11,985/year, or /$998/month, TAX FREE.

This benefit is available every year you continue to receive Aid & Attendance in a facility. There is a Cost of Living adjustment every year that reflects the increase in Social Security. It’s normally, about 3%, this year it was 2.3%.

It is a Means Testing program, which means they look at both your Income and your Assets. Now at this point, people will look at each other and say, “Oh we have too much income and assets to qualify.” But there are two important things to know, that can make all the difference.

First, your out-of-pocket medical expenses are deducted from your income. When your health and lifestyle change and you need care and assistance, there can be substantial expenses, and these are deducted from you income.

Second, the VA counts your assets as of the date of the application. So, you can create an estate plan and reposition your assets before the application.

Income Testing

Let me share with you my favorite couple Roy and Dale. You remember them. They had a dog named, Bullet, a horse named Trigger, a friend named Pat who had a Jeep named….Does any know the name of Pat’s Jeep? It was Nelly belle. How about Dale’s horse, do you know her horse’s name? It was Buttermilk. They were my favorite couple when I was growing up. I used to watch their program all the time and knew that Roy, in his white hat, would always get the bad guys in their black hats.

Now Roy and Dale are very comfortable, 2500 dollars in income each month. Everything’s paid for. Life was good. But then Roy falls off Trigger and breaks his hip. He goes to Happy Trails Care Facility. His expenses for facility care, medications, health insurance premiums total $3200/mo. Now life is not so good. They are spending $700 more each month than they have coming in. Where do you suppose that extra money is coming from? Right, their savings! Their income is upside down and they are burning through their assets quickly.

So here is an example of a couple going from having plenty of income, to losing money because of a simple fall, change in health and need for Aid & Attendance. Roy was a veteran and his service has earned him the Improved Pension Benefit, they would qualify for $1801.25 per month. Would that make a difference in their lives? Could it save the drain on their estate? Absolutely!

Asset Testing

Now, it is also means tested for Assets. Whatever you have titled in your name will be counted with the exception of your house and car as long as one of you is residing in the house. This is the opportunity to put in place the estate planning that you’ve been putting off. You can put things in place so your assets are controlled by family; and you know that things will still go the way you want, without losing them. With the VA, there is no look back period. It is very important to have everything properly titled and positioned before you make application for the benefits, so be sure to consult with a professional.

Documents Needed

Sometimes people have misplaced their discharge papers. Some people call it their military jacket, others refer to it as the DD214, and still others call them separation papers. It may be that you don’t know where these papers are. Don’t worry, you can apply for duplicates and it takes about 4 weeks for them to arrive. Other forms needed are the Marriage Certificate and a Death Certificate if the veteran is deceased. These just take some time to get from the county or state departments. They do need to be certified copies and that can be done at the courthouse in most places.

If you need to do some estate planning for you assets, that takes a little time. So by the time the documents arrive, you’ll have things in place and be ready for the application process. When you send in the completed application, the first thing the DVA does is time stamp it, enter it into their system and assign a case number. That’s important, because the time stamp is the date counted for your first benefit payment. It may take up to six months for the application to be processed. But when it’s processed and approved, the DVA will go back to the time stamp on the application, and send a check retroactive back to the date the application was entered into the system.

Lance D. Fisher

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