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Veterans’ Administration: Estate Planning and Elder Care Related Benefits

As the department’s name states, the Veterans’ Administration is responsible for administering services for Veterans. That mission carries back to President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The VA’s two most visible programs supporting this mission are its nationwide network of hospitals and the administration of the VA Loan Program.

While these are the two most visible programs, the VA oversees many other related and unrelated programs out there supporting veterans. Over the next few weeks, I will outline three of them relating to a Veteran’s or a Surviving Spouse’s elder care and estate planning needs. These are the Non-Service-Connected Disability Pension, a Surviving Spouse Pension, and the Aid and Attendance Benefit.

Today, I’ll outline the Veteran’s Non-Service-Connected Disability Pension (also known as The Improved Pension Program for Veterans) provides monthly payments to wartime Veterans who meet certain age or disability requirements and have an income and a net worth within certain limits. The full VA fact sheet can be found here.

I. Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible, the Veteran must:

a. Have been discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions, AND

b. Must have served:

i. 90 days of active duty with at least one day during a period of wartime[i] (for veterans entering service on or before September 7, 1980)

ii. 24-months of active duty with at least one day during a period of wartime (for veterans entering service after September 7, 1980); AND

c. Have an income that is below the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR); AND

d. Meet the statutory net worth limits; AND

e. Meet one or more of the following criteria:

i. Age 65 or older;

ii. Have a permanent and total nonservice-connected disability;

iii. Be a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity;

iv. Be receiving Social Security disability benefits.

II. Amount of Benefit Available

A veteran’s income and household size affect the size of the pension they are due. The monthly pension is the difference between your annual income and the MAPT amount divided by 12. A veteran with a $18,000 annual income and a $30,000 MAPR would receive $1,000 per month ($12,000/12).

For purposes of annual income, the department includes Social Security benefits, investment and retirement payments, and any income your dependents receive. You get to subtract certain expenses from your income, most importantly, non-reimbursable medical expenses for you (and your spouse if married). This is particularly relevant for veterans who receive in-home or nursing home care. A complete list of deductible expenses is found in 38 C.F.R. sections 3.261 - 3.262.

III. How to Apply

The VA makes applications fairly easy. They have an online portal to start the application process (link). If the Veteran prefers, they may complete a VA Form 21P-527EZ and submit it via mail or in person at a VA regional office. Generally, it takes the VA between three and six months to act on the pension request, but the Veteran will receive benefits starting on the day the application, and supporting documents were submitted.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will summarize the same information for the Survivor’s Pension and the Aid & Attendance benefit. If you have any questions about this benefit, you should seek an expert. The VA regional offices can offer help understanding your benefit availability, and many service organizations such as the American Legion, VFW, or DAV have benefit support representatives. Attorneys, such as myself, may be able to help guide you through the process and, if you are initially denied, may be invaluable in pursuing an appeal of that denial.

[i] Periods of wartime relevant to those reading this post are:

  1. World War II (December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946);

  2. Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955);

  3. Vietnam War era (November 1, 1955, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.); or

  4. Gulf War (August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation).

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