There are many types of VA benefits available to veterans through the Veterans Administration for such things as education, life insurance, health care, home loans and burial benefits. Two major categories of benefits include compensation and pension. This report addresses the often overlooked benefits available to senior citizens and the disabled.

 

Service Connected Disability – Compensation:

A veteran who suffered an injury or contracted a disease while on active duty and the injury or disease was the result of his service or was exacerbated by the veterans service, may be entitled to a monthly income from the VA called disability compensation. Veterans are entitled to disability compensation if they meet the following three criteria:

1. They were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.
2. Their disease or injury was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty
3. The disability is not a result of their own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

Entitlement to service connected compensation is not barred by the veteran’s employment. Moreover, VA compensation benefit are not affected by earned or unearned income or the value of the Veteran’s net worth. VA disability compensation is income tax free.

The veteran must have a service connected disability rating in order to receive income compensation. Under the statute, the VA assigns disability evaluation of 0% through 100%, in 10% increments. The level of the rating will determine the amount of monthly income the veteran receives. The higher the rating, the higher the monthly compensation. A veteran can apply for an increase in the disability rating if the condition worsens. A veteran who is rated 100% disabled is considered totally disabled.

In order to receive service connected disability compensation, the veteran must prove the following three essential requirements:

1. A medical diagnosis of “current” disability.
2. A medical, or lay evidence, of in-service occurrence of aggravation of a disease or injury.
3. A nexus between the in service occurrence of aggravation of a disease or injury and the current disability.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is paid to survivors of deceased veterans if the death was due to a service related injury or illness. Eligible survivors include spouses who have not remarried surviving children and dependent surviving parents.

 

Non-Service Connected Disability – Pension:

There is one type of financial benefit that most veterans know nothing about. Yet, it is the primary source of income that I, Benjamin Eckman, an elder care attorney, can assist you in receiving.

Veterans or dependents of veterans (usually widows and widowers) are entitled to an Improved Pension which will provide a Special Monthly Pension (SMP) benefit to offset the cost of necessary health care. The three types of Special Monthly Pension available are:

1. Low Income Pension
2. Household benefits
3. Aid and Attendance benefits

 

Basic Eligibility Criteria for Improved Pension, Housebound Aid and Attendance:

All of the following criteria must be met before a veteran or dependent of a veteran can receive Improved Pension Benefits.

1. The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty service with at least one day during a “wartime period”. Official periods of war include: Mexican Border, 5/9/1916-4/5/1917; World War I, 4/6/1917-11/11/1918; World War II, 12/7/1941-12/31/1946; Korean War, 6/27/1950-1/31/1955; Vietnam War, 8/5/1964-5/7/1975 or 2/28/1961-5/7/1975 in Vietnam; Persian Gulf War, 8/2/1990-date to be set by law by Presidential Proclamation.
2. The veteran must have received a discharge other than dishonorable;
3. Claimant must have limited income and assets available;
4. The claimant must have a permanent and total disability at the time of the application;
5. The disability was caused without willful misconduct of the claimant;
6. The veteran or widow must sign an application and provide the application to the VA.

 

Pension Types

1. Low Income Pension
Low income pension is the VA’s equivalent to SSI. The claimant must meet all the criteria set forth above. A veteran must be over 65; a widow need not be.

2. Housebound Benefits Pension
Household benefits are available to a veteran or widow(er) of a veteran who is determined to be disabled and is essentially confined to the home. The two ways to prove entitlement include:

  • 1. A single permanent disability rated as 100% disabling under the VA schedule and confined to the dwelling or
  • 2. A 100% disability with another 60% disability, regardless of whether or not the person is confined to the dwelling.

3. Aid and Attendance Pension

Aid and Attendance benefits are available to a veteran or widow(er) of a veteran who meets one of the following conditions:

1. Claimant is blind;
2. Claimant is living in a nursing home; OR
3. Claimant is unable to act independently;
        a. dress / undress or keep self clean and presentable;
        b. unable to attend to the wants of nature OR
        c. claimant has a physical or mental incapacity that requires assistance on a regular basis to protect claimant from environmental hazards.

An applicant is presumed to need Aid and Attendance benefits if living in an assisted living facility.

In order for medical expenses to be deducted from income, the claimant must need assistance with at least two activities of daily living which include walking, bathing, dressing, toileting and transferring.

 

Determining Eligibility based on Income and Assets:

Income Limits
With regard to income requirements, the applicant will be denied benefits if the veteran’s or widow(er)’s countable income exceeds the maximum permissible family income limits. Countable income is all gross income attributable to the applicant, the applicant’s spouse and the applicant’s dependent children.

The maximum permissible income limits for Low income Pension for 2014 are:

  •  Veteran with no dependents     =     $1,054/month;
     Veteran with one dependent     =     $1,380/month;
     Widow(er) with no dependents.     =     $707/month
     Healthy Veteran / Ill Spouse     =     $1,380/month

The maximum permissible income limits for Household Pension benefits for 2014 are:

  •  Housebound veteran with no dependents     =     $1,269/month;
     Housebound veteran with one dependent     =     $1,591/month;
     Housebound widow(er) with no dependents     =     $851/month

The maximum permissible income limits for Aid and Attendance benefits for 2014 are:

  •  Veteran with no dependents     =     $1,758/month;
     Veteran with one dependent     =     $2,085/month;
     Widow(er) with no dependents     =     $1130/month

Although most veterans have income that exceeds the permissible family income limits, unreimbursed medical expenses paid by the claimant may be used to reduce the claimant’s countable income. Unreimbursed medical expenses that may reduce income include: doctor’s fees, dentist’s fees, prescription glasses, Medicare premium deductions and co-payments, prescription medications, health insurance premiums, transportation to physician offices, therapy and funeral expenses. The most beneficial unreimbursed expenses that may reduce countable income are the costs of home health care, assisted living facilities, or skilled nursing homes.

 

Asset Limits:

The VA considers the net worth of the individual seeking benefits, excluding the value of the person’s home, furnishings and car. The standard as to whether a person will be eligible for benefits is whether the person has “sufficient means” to pay for their own care.

There is no specified limit on the amount of resources a person may or may not have; however, a commonly used measure and an amount listed in the VA adjudication manual is $80,000.00 or less in assets, whether married or single. Assets that count toward the “sufficient means” $80,000.00 limit include bank accounts, certificates of deposit, money market accounts, investments accounts, annuities, retirement accounts, life insurance cash surrender values, etc. Furthermore, the net worth of both the veteran and veteran’s spouse are considered when determining eligibility.

 

Coordination with Medicaid Planning:

Presently there is no “lookback” penalty for VA benefits, yet a bill in Congress seeks to create a three year lookback period. Thus if the applicant has assets that exceed the $80,000 limit, the assets may be gifted, spent or transferred to anyone without penalty. As long as the current financial statements show that the assets are below the assets limit, the VA will not inquire how the assets were spend down to below those levels. Applicants may consider gifting, funding education plans, securing pre-paid funeral arrangements or creating an irrevocable trust agreement. However with the Medicaid laws now imposing a five year lookback period, spending down to reach the asset limitation to qualify for VA must be done carefully and under the auspices of an Elder Law Attorney. If there is any anticipated need for Medicaid, gifting may only be done in accordance with the Medicaid divestment guidelines.

Sincerely yours,

Benjamin D. Eckman
Elder Law Attorney & VA Qualified Attorney

Benjamin D. Eckman, Esq. concentrates his practice on Elder Law & Estate Planning. Elder law is intended to broadly assist “extended living”. An elder law practitioner provides the legal information necessary for persons whose lives will extend or have already extended beyond the time when all children are usually out of the house and when regular employment ceases. After the elder law attorney and client complete their work, legal documents have been drafted, tax considerations have been analyzed, and a plan to protect the elder’s estate has been implemented.

Benjamin D. Eckman’s practice focuses on Estate Planning & Elder Law – legal issues facing senior citizens. Benjamin D. Eckman received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business/Accounting from Touro College and his law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Elder Law Section and Real Property, Probate and Trust Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the Union County Bar Association, Passaic County Bar Association and the Bergen County Bar Association. He can be reached at (973) 709-0909, (908) 206-1000 or (201) 263-9161.