V.A. Pension

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What is a V.A. pension?

A V.A. pension is a monthly benefit paid to a veteran who has very low income, served during a period of war, and is age 65 or older or is permanently and totally disabled.

The amount of the pension depends on the veteran's income and can be as much as $930 per month for a single veteran or $1,220 for a couple, but it's usually much less. Veterans who are more seriously disabled may also qualify for additional amounts called Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits.

A veteran cannot receive a V.A. pension if he or she is also receiving V.A. compensation for a service-connected disability. A veteran can apply for both, however, and the V.A. will pay whichever benefit is higher.

Who's eligible for a V.A. pension?

A V.A. pension is available to a veteran who meets all of the following criteria:

  • Was discharged from the service under conditions other than dishonorable

  • Served at least 90 days of active military service, at least one day of which was during an official period of war

  • For veterans who entered active duty after September 7, 1980, served at least 24 months or the full period for which the veteran was called or ordered to active duty

  • Has "countable" family income less than a yearly limit

  • Is age 65 or older, or is permanently and totally disabled (the disability does not need to be service-related)

Note: Assets. There's no specific limit on the amount of assets -- bank accounts, stocks, and other property (not counting the home the veteran lives in, which is exempt from consideration by the V.A.) -- that a veteran and spouse can have and still qualify for a V.A. pension. But if the total of those assets are enough for the veteran and dependents to live off, the V.A. may deny the pension (even if the veteran's income is very low) until the veteran has spent most of those assets.

What's considered "countable income" for a V.A. pension?

Most types of income received by a veteran and his or her spouse are counted by the V.A. when considering eligibility for a V.A. pension. This includes earnings, profits from a business, Social Security and other retirement and disability payments, and interest and dividends.

However, certain types of income aren't counted by the V.A. These are generally amounts paid to the veteran or veteran's spouse as part of a federal, state, or local public assistance program based on financial need, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), general assistance (welfare), and food stamps.

How is the amount of a V.A. pension calculated?

The V.A. sets a yearly pension limit amount, which depends on whether the veteran is single or has a spouse and/or minor dependents. This annual pension limit is currently $11,380 for a single veteran and $15,493 for a veteran with one dependent (a spouse or minor child). If a veteran qualifies for extra benefits because of being housebound, the amounts are $14,457 for a single veteran and $18,120 for a veteran with one dependent. If a veteran qualifies for extra benefits because of requiring the regular aid and attendance of another person, the amounts are $19,736 for a single veteran and $23,396 for a veteran with one dependent. These amounts go up by $2,020 for each additional dependent.

To calculate a qualifying veteran's pension, the V.A. starts with the set limit and deducts the veteran's annual countable income. The amount that's left is the veteran's V.A. pension, paid monthly.

Example: The annual income limit for a single veteran is $11,380. If a veteran (who otherwise qualifies for a V.A. pension) has a yearly countable income of $10,000, that veteran's V.A. pension would be $1,380 ($11,380 - $10,000 = $1,380), paid to the veteran in monthly amounts of $115.

Can out-of-pocket medical expenses add to a V.A. pension amount?

If a veteran has out-of-pocket medical expenses (amounts that neither Medicare, Medicaid, the V.A. health system, nor any other insurance pay) that add up to more than 5 percent of the veteran's annual pension limit, the V.A. will subtract the amount above 5 percent from the veteran's countable income. The result is a higher pension payment.

Example: For a single veteran, 5 percent of the annual pension limit is $569 (5 percent of $11,380 = $569). If a veteran has $1,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses, that amount is more than 5 percent minimum. So, the V.A. would deduct $431, which is the amount over the 5 percent limit ($1,000 - $569 = $431) from the veteran's countable income. If the veteran's countable income is $10,000, his standard pension of $1,380 per year would be increased by that $431, to $1,811 for that year.

How can I apply for a V.A. pension?

A veteran can begin the application process for a V.A. pension by downloading and completing the V.A.'s online Form 21-526, Veteran's Application for Compensation and/or Pension. A completed application should be sent to the V.A. regional office in the region where the veteran lives.

Note: Reapply if the veteran later has out-of-pocket medical expenses. If a veteran doesn't qualify for a V.A. pension because of slightly too much countable income, the veteran can reapply during the following 12 months if his or her out-of-pocket medical bills (not paid by Medicare, Medicaid, the V.A. health system, or other insurance) are more than 5 percent of the annual pension limit for that veteran's pension category and if subtracting the amount of those unpaid medical bills would bring the veteran's countable income below the yearly income limit.

What do I need to apply for a V.A. pension?

During the course of the application process, the V.A. will need to have information concerning the veteran's time of service, discharge, family income, assets, and (if claiming on the basis of disability) medical condition. The specific information needed, and the evidence the V.A. wants, is listed in a checklist the V.A. provides with the application form.

Note: The V.A. will help gather the information. The V.A. needs to have a lot of information to process a claim for a V.A. pension. But a veteran does not need to gather all this information before filing an application. And once the veteran applies, the V.A. will help gather this information by directly requesting it so that the veteran doesn't have to.

Where can I get help applying for a V.A. pension?

You can get free assistance with any V.A.-related question or problem by phone or in person through one of the V.A.'s Vet Centers, which are located in every state. You can also get assistance by contacting the V.A.'s Veterans Benefits Administration office nearest you. The V.A. also has a toll-free telephone help line at 800-827-1000.

Joseph L. Matthews

Joseph Matthews is an attorney and the author of numerous books, including Social Security, Medicare, and Government Pensions, Long-Term Care: How to Plan and Pay for It; How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim; and The Lawyer Who Blew up His Desk. See full bio