What Veterans and Families Should Know
Important Benefit Information Concerning Veterans and Surviving Spouses
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a pension program that provides monthly benefits to wartime veterans and their surviving spouses in financial need. Applications to the VA are encouraged for these benefits, however there is certain information about the program and the application process that VA would like to share.
What Pension Benefits Are
Non-Service Connected Disability Pensions are monthly needs-based benefit payments that are paid to veterans of the United States military and their surviving family members. A veteran may qualify for pension benefits if he or she:
- has been honorably discharged from service.
- has served at least 90 days of active duty in the military, naval or air service with at least one day served during a period of declared conflict.
- has a countable income that is below the maximum annual pension rate and meets net worth limitations
- is aged 65 or older or has a permanent disability not related to military service or is in a nursing home or is receiving Social Security disability benefit payments.
All veterans who entered active duty service after September 7, 1980 must have served a minimum of 24 months of active duty service. Those who have completed less than 24 months of service must have completed their entire tour of active duty.In addition to basic pension benefits, some veterans and their families may qualify for Aid and Attendance, or A&A. This is an increased monthly payment for a veteran or his or her spouse. To qualify for A&A, applicants must need some assistance of another person with two of five activities of daily living, or ADLs, such as bathing, dressing, eating, mobility, and personal hygiene. Additionally, an applicant may qualify by being a patient in a nursing home due to a mental or physical incapacity or have a corrected visual acuity of 5/200 or less.
Veterans and their spouses may also qualify for Housebound pension benefits if they qualify for the basic pension and have a disability that has been evaluated as 100 percent disabling and leaves them confined to their homes. Veterans may also qualify if they have a 100% disabling disability and a second disability that is at least 60% disabling even if they aren’t confined to their immediate premises.
What You Need to Know about Organizations Offering Assistance with Claims of Pension Benefits
The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has found that certain organizations are misrepresenting themselves while helping veterans and their families apply for VA pension. In a 2012 hearing, the Committee addressed concerns over financial products and services that enable veterans and their families to qualify for pension benefits even if their assets exceed the pension program’s eligibility thresholds. A report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that over 200 organizations have been marketing such products and services to veterans. As helpful as some of these products seem to be, in many cases they come with charged fees that can cost clients as much as $10,000. Furthermore, many of these services may cause veterans to become ineligible for Medicaid for a period of time.
Where to Go for Assistance in Filing Claims for VA Pension
A person must be accredited by VA to be able to legally assist a claimant in the preparation and prosecution of a claim for pension benefits. Accredited attorneys, accredited agents, and members of veteran’s service organizations are typically the ones who assist individuals with the filing process. You can find a searchable list of accredited agents and attorneys at http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp. The VA may authorize an individual to prepare one claim without prior accreditation as long as it is without cost to the claimant and is subject to laws regarding representation. Representatives who are also financial planners may assist claimants with A&A claims, but they may not use their VA accreditation for the purpose of selling financial products and services.
VA accredited representatives may not charge claimants a fee until after a decision is made on a claim, a notice of disagreement has been filed and the agent or attorney has filed a power of attorney claim with VA. An accredited attorney or accredited representative may receive a fee from a disinterested third party, however. A disinterested third party is defined as any individual or organization other than the spouse of a veteran, who would not benefit financially from the outcome of the claim.
It is important to note that at no time can a claimant be guaranteed that they will qualify for A&A or housebound pension benefits, nor can their claims be expedited. Such promises are misleading since VA is ultimately responsible for all decisions that are made. War Veterans never makes a guarantee. However, we are very good at making sure every detail is seen to in order for the VA to make a favorable decision.
For more information on VA pension benefits or about filing a claim, call toll free 1-888-775-7743. Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs at http://www.va.gov or War Veterans Association at http://war-vets.org.