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VA Pension Planning – An Overview Part 1

The Veterans Administration (VA) has a program in place that helps eligible disabled veterans and their surviving spouses obtain a monthly cash payment from the VA to help pay for their care, it is called a VA Pension. VA Pension does not require the veteran’s disability to be a result of service.

With a VA Pension, the benefit is paid directly to the veteran or the surviving spouse and is tax-free. The veteran can use that money to pay for their care and can pay whomever they want as long as they are not paying their own spouse. That means they can pay an adult child to care for them without the need for a licensed medical caregiver like Medi-Cal requires.

The three levels of pension are determined by the veteran’s or surviving spouse’s level of disability. They include a Basic Monthly Pension, a Housebound Special Monthly Pension and an Aid & Attendance Special Monthly Pension. The veteran or surviving spouse applying for pension will want to aim for the most amount of pension they could get, which would be the Aid & Attendance.

To qualify for any of the three levels of pension, the service requirements, marriage requirements (if applicable), and the means test, which is the financial needs-based test, must be met. What distinguishes between the three levels of pension in terms of eligibility is the level of disability. The level of disability is always based on the health of the veteran or surviving spouse. That means if a married veteran has an unwell spouse, the disability portion will be based on the veteran’s health, not the unwell spouse’s health.

Basic Monthly Pension

Basic Monthly Pension is the smallest pension amount and has the lowest threshold for eligibility. The disability requirement is that the veteran or surviving spouse is either 100% disabled or over the age of 65. It is important to note that for VA purposes, if a claimant is over 65, they are deemed 100% disabled.

Housebound Special Monthly Pension

The Housebound Special Monthly Pension is a step up from the Basic Monthly Pension and has some additional requirements. In addition to being 100% disabled or over 65, the veteran, or surviving spouse, must either have an additional disability rated at 60% or higher, OR can prove they are substantially confined to a dwelling and its immediate premises.

Aid & Attendance Special Monthly Pension

The Aid & Attendance Special Monthly pension is the most a veteran or surviving spouse can receive in the world of VA Pension, and it is often the one people speak of colloquially as just Aid & Attendance. In order to qualify for Aid & Attendance, the basic requirement of being 100% disabled or over 65 must be met. In addition, the veteran or surviving spouse must be blind or nearly blind; OR a patient in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility; OR require custodial care. Custodial care means that the veteran or surviving spouse requires assistance with at least two Activities of Daily Living (ADLS). Activities of Daily Living are:

  • Dressing and / or undressing
  • Keeping oneself clean and presentable (bathing and hygiene)
  • Frequent Prosthetic Adjustment
  • Feeding due to loss of coordination or strength in upper body
  • Attending to the wants of nature (incontinence)

A veteran or surviving spouse can also qualify for Aid and Attendance if they are bedridden, or if the claimant requires a protective environment, which means that their physical or mental capacity makes it so that they require protection from hazards or dangers of their daily environment.

The current pension rates are as follows:

Service Requirement

In order for veterans to qualify for VA Pension, they must have served 90 continuous days of active duty, or 24 months of active duty if they served after September 7, 1980. One day of that active duty must have been during a qualified wartime, but they did not need to be in-country except for a narrow window of Vietnam. The wartime dates are:

  • Word War I April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918
  • World War II December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946
  • Korea June 27, 1950 to January 31, 1955
  • Vietnam – In-Country ONLY February 28, 1961 to August 5, 1964
  • Vietnam                August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975
  • Gulf War                August 2, 1990 to a date yet to be determined by Congress

If a surviving spouse is applying for the benefit, they will still need to use their veteran spouse’s service record to prove the wartime service.

Marriage Requirement

If a surviving spouse is applying for VA Pension based on their deceased spouse’s service record, they must meet the following marriage requirements:

  • They must have been legally married to the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death.
  • They must have been legally married to the veteran for at least one year prior to the veteran’s death OR had a child with the veteran if less than one year.
  • They must have continuously lived with the veteran.
  • They must not have remarried after the veteran’s death.

In Part 2 of this post, we will discuss the Means Test, or the financial requirements a veteran or surviving spouse must meet in order to qualify for VA Pension, including assets and income, and what to do if you have too much and how to plan for it.