Many veterans are familiar with the Veterans Compensation program, but relatively few have heard of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pension. Despite what its name implies, virtually all veterans who served during a period of war meet the program's basic eligibility requirements. It is not a requirement for the veteran to have served in a combat zone or for the veteran's disability to be related in any way to his or her service. These benefits are intended to defray the cost of providing in-home or assisted living care for the veteran or the veteran's surviving spouse. Below is a summary of how eligibility for this benefit is determined.
Service During a Period of War
The VA considers qualifying service to be active duty service of at least 90 days during the following time periods:
World War II December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946
Korean June 27, 1950 – December 31, 1955
Vietnam August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975
Income and Asset Limits
Unlike Medicaid benefits, there is no specific limit on assets the veteran may own for the veteran to still qualify; however, the VA does apply a subjective assessment of assets and may deny benefits if it determines the veteran is “over-resourced.”
The VA also evaluates the veteran's income and unreimbursed medical expenses, such as required in-home or assisted living facility expenses. The veteran will normally be qualified for the Aid & Attendance benefit if these expenses exceed the veteran's income. In that case the veteran would likely be eligible for the maximum monthly benefit, currently over $2,000 per month for a married veteran. If the veteran's (or surviving spouse's) income exceeds monthly medical expenses, they may be eligible for a partial benefit.
Basic medical need is established if the veteran or surviving spouse is over age 65 or disabled. The highest level of benefit, Aid & Attendance, is triggered when the applicant is blind, requires skilled nursing care, or assistance with two or more activities of daily living, such as: dressing, bathing, toileting, self-care, etc.
How to Determine if You or a Loved-one are Eligible
If you believe that you or a loved-one may be eligible for VA pension benefits, you should consult an Elder Law attorney who is accredited to practice before the Department of Veterans Affairs. An Elder Law attorney can evaluate your circumstances to determine whether applying for VA pension benefits would be advisable. Even if you are not currently eligible, an Elder Law attorney may be able to assist you in becoming eligible for this benefit that may be worth over $20,000 per year to you or your family.
Jason Johnson is an Accredited attorney with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Contact us for a complementary consultation.
 In addition to having served during a period of war, the veteran must have been discharged or released in conditions other than dishonorable. The veteran must also be within certain income and asset limits.