Do I Qualify for the VA Pension Benefit?

By Marty Fogarty  

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Aid and Attendance” benefit is not a standalone benefit. It is a monthly award above and beyond the “Service” benefit. As such, in order to be considered eligible for the Aid and Attendance pension benefit, you–the applicant (either a veteran or their surviving spouse)–must also qualify for the Service benefit.

There are two sets of criteria you must meet to even be considered by the VA for this pension dispensation: the service qualifications and the asset qualifications. If you meet all those criteria (and demonstrate it to the VA) the Department will investigate further and determine how much to distribute.

The Service Qualification

The Aid and Attendance benefit award requires you to:

  1. Have served on active duty for at least 90 days.
  2. Have served at least one day during wartime (as defined by the VA—see the dates and conflict names below for more information.)
  3. Have been honorably discharged from service.

Members of all traditional branches of the armed services are eligible for consideration (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) in addition to individuals who served in certain capacities but who weren’t officially attached to one of the services. (This is a “grey” area we can help you figure out. It requires additional investigation and research to determine if you or someone you know can claim this benefit based on this special service.)

Eligible “Wartime” Dates and Conflicts

  • World War I: April 6, 1917, through November 11, 1918
  • World War II: December 7, 1941, through December 31, 1946
  • Korean War: June 27, 1950, through January 31, 1955
  • Vietnam War: August 5, 1964 (February 28, 1961, for veterans who served “in country” before August 5, 1964), through May 7, 1975
  • Persian Gulf War: August 2, 1990, through a date to be set by Presidential Proclamation or Law

The Asset Qualification

In addition to having served honorably during a time of war, your total assets (excluding your home and automobile) must fall within monetary guidelines in order to receive this pension. In addition, the final dollar amount of the assets you must claim will affect the total dollar amount (if any) that will be awarded.

As a general rule, you must have no more than $50,000 ($80,000 for married veterans) in assets. This includes any retirement funds you might have (though Social Security Income is not counted as income for this purpose), investments, and property other than that on which you live.

However, that figure is just a general rule because the VA doesn’t have any hard and fast income limits. It uses a calculation which factors in your age and life expectancy, unreimbursed medical payments, and other variables to create what it calls IVAP (Income for Veteran’s Purposes.) Essentially, it’s a specific figure that’s tailored to each veteran and not simply a blanket figure.

This works in your favor because there are many legal and above-board ways to reduce your total asset amount—if you know how to find them—that will translate into a higher pension award.

Health Considerations

The Aid and Attendance pension is designed to help you cover the cost of your long term care needs by supplying you with supplemental income based on your condition. In addition to passing the service and asset qualifications, you must also demonstrate a medical need for some sort of assisted living care.

The VA’s definition of need is quite specific though most veterans who currently use some sort of assisted care (or are planning to in the very near future) can easily qualify.

  1. You must require the assistance of at least one other person in order to perform two basic daily activities (such as cooking, bathing, toileting, administering medications, etc.)
  2. Or show legal and medical proof that you are blind or nearly blind
  3. Or currently reside in a long term care facility such as a nursing home

If you meet all of these requirements, chances are you can get the Aid and Attendance benefit. However, the application process is often confusing and requires a great deal of paperwork. The VA will require medical and financial statements in addition to proof of service and honorable discharge. For that reason alone, many veterans choose to employ an outside third party who knows how the application process works and can help them expedite it. Left on their own, most veterans have to wait between 6 and 36 months to get through the application screening alone.

The good news is that the benefit is retroactive so no matter how long it takes to get through the application process, you will be awarded the full amount due to you after acceptance. In short, the sooner you get started, the better off you will be.

Read more — “How do I apply for VA Benefits?”

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