By Martin C. Womer, Esq.
Few seniors or their families are aware of remarkable financial benefits that are available to U.S. military veterans in the form of Veterans Administration low-income pension benefits. Of those Americans who are aware of veterans pensions, even fewer of the large numbers of veterans or their widows or widowers who are eligible, or who could become eligible with proper planning by an elder law attorney, have done the planning and application to receive their federal benefits. Veteran pensions are available to large numbers of seniors age 65 or older, or who have other non-service-connected disabilities, and are financially eligible. The rules consider seniors age 65 and older automatically “disabled” for purposes of pension benefit eligibility. Additional criteria can raise the veteran’s pension benefit above the basic independent pension if the veteran is “housebound” or in need of “aid and attendance” for certain activities of daily living.
Veterans who have service-connected disabilities may be eligible for benefits that are classified as Disability “Compensation”. However, many more veterans have non-service-connected disability needs, so this article is focused on the low-income pension benefits available to this much larger portion of America’s population of veterans and their widows or widowers.
The numbers below are maximum pension figures. They are the maximum one can receive after considering other income minus recurring medical-related costs. Deductible medical-related costs include a range of expenses too diverse to discuss in the space available in this article. They can include in-home caregiver costs or the costs of an assisted living facility, but the documentation must be presented properly in order for the costs to be deductible.
In 2008, the basic low-income pension benefit for an independent veteran with no dependents is $931.00 per month. The benefit for an independent veteran with one dependent is $1,220.00 per month. If the veteran with no dependent is “housebound”, the monthly benefit increases to $1,138.00, whereas the housebound pension benefit for a veteran with a dependent is $1,427.00 per month. If the veteran with no dependent needs “aid and attendance” for certain activities of daily living, the pension available is $1,554.00 per month. If the veteran has a dependent, the monthly benefit is $1,842.00 in 2008. For all of the above categories, each additional dependent child raises the monthly benefit by $159.00.
Pension benefits are also available for widows and widowers of veterans. In 2008, the basic low-income pension benefit for a widow or widower of a veteran without dependents is $624.00 per month, whereas the widow or widower with a dependent is $783.00 per month. If the widow or widower is housebound, the benefit is $763.00 per month, and if he or she is housebound and has a dependent, the monthly benefit is $922.00. Again, the aid and attendance benefit is the highest for the widow or widower of a veteran: Without a dependent, the benefit is $998.00 per month; and with a dependent the benefit is $1,157.00 per month. As for the veteran above, each additional dependent child raises the monthly benefit by $159.00.
These VA pension benefits can make a huge difference in the ability of the veteran, or widow or widower to afford basic costs of living, in-home caregivers in order to be able to stay at home, or to afford to live in an assisted living facility of his or her choice without MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program). Planning for eligibility for veteran’s pension benefits is somewhat similar to, but less complicated than the intricate planning often necessary for MaineCare eligibility. A very worrisome concern is, however, that the simpler rules for VA pension benefit eligibility may entice seniors or their agents under Powers of Attorney to carry out transactions that will cause later MaineCare ineligibility if either the veteran or the veteran’s spouse, widow or widower should require MaineCare benefits within five years.
It is crucial not to preclude later MaineCare eligibility. Because of this, VA pension eligibility planning needs be done with careful analysis of its implications for eventual MaineCare eligibility for the veteran or his or her spouse. Veteran Service Organizations exist to provide no-cost assistance in preparing and filing applications for veterans benefits, but they are not qualified to assist veterans or their families with eligibility planning. Furthermore, they are not qualified to counsel veterans or their families in regard to MaineCare eligibility and the someties-conflicting standards and techniques that apply to the two sets of eligibility rules. Such planning requires the careful guidance and assistance of an experienced elder law attorney.
© 2008, Martin C. Womer, Esq. Printed with permission.