Over 1.5 million wartime service veterans and their surviving spouses are eligible for billions of dollars a year in VA pensions to help pay for long-term care such as assisted living, nursing home and home care. The pensions are called "Aid and Attendance" and "Housebound." Many are not getting the benefits they are eligible for, because they lack the knowledge of what programs are available and don't know how to file for pension benefits.
Although many veterans are eligible for pensions, filling out the necessary forms and understanding the filing process can often be overwhelming and frustrating.
In an interview with AgingCare, Joseph Scott McCarthy, a veteran advocate answers some common questions about veteran pension and financial assistance.
Can Caregivers Get Financial Assistance for Caring for a Veteran?
Yes, spouses or family members of veterans may get tax-free money for caring for veterans or surviving spouses. The VA program is called Aid and Attendance or Housebound Pension and requires the claimant to meet eligibility requirements to receive the money. A veteran with a dependent, for example, may receive as much as $25,525 per year to pay for un-reimbursed long-term care.
Do VA Benefits Cover Nursing Homes or Assisted Living?
Yes, VA pension benefits can cover a portion of nursing home care if the veteran or surviving spouse is paying for the care out-of-pocket. Since with some exceptions, assisted living is un-reimbursed by insurance, the money from the VA pension can be the difference that allows the veteran or surviving spouse to afford the cost of assisted living.
When you add the social security income sources to the VA pension, many veterans can afford the monthly bill for assisted living. For example, if a veteran has $1,400 per month in social security and pensions and receives the maximum pension (approximately $1,794 per month, with no dependent) the total money available is $3,194 per month and should cover most of the monthly bill for assisted living.
Does Long-Term Care Have to Be Provided at a VA Facility, or Can They Choose any Nursing Home?
The vet can choose any assisted living, home care provider or nursing home they want. It does not have to be a VA facility. The provider does not have to be VA certified and any physician can document the care needs of the claimant.
Do any VA Programs Cover the Cost of Home Health Care?
Yes, the Aid and Attendance and Housebound Pensions can cover care provided in the home as long as all eligibility criteria are met. The pension can pay for the care in the home, and in assisted living, independent living, and nursing facilities.
What Is the Difference Between Aid and Attendance and Housebound Pensions?
The care needs and the rates of payment are the main difference. For an Aid and Attendance pension, the veteran must need activities of daily living such as dressing or bathing. For the Housebound pension, the veteran must be substantially confined to his or her immediate premises because of a permanent disability.
For example, your sister, a veteran of the Korean War, is a widow, is confined to her home due to a permanent disability, but is able to provide her own activities of daily living care. Because of her disability, she requires oxygen therapy, has difficulty walking for which she uses a wheeled walker, and her physician ordered her driver's license taken away. She is paying out of pocket for transportation services in order to go food shopping and to keep doctors' appointments. Since her disability caused her to lose her driver's license, and she now needs transportation services to leave her home, she satisfies the care-needs qualification for Housebound benefits.
Who Is Eligible for the Aid and Attendance Pension?
The Aid and Attendance and Housebound pensions are non-service-connected pensions, which are for veterans whose disability or death was not caused by or aggravated in the line of duty in the active military. These pensions are not to be confused with VA service-connected disability compensation payments, which are for veterans whose disability was caused by an illness or combat-related injury while in the line of duty in the active military.
Wartime service veterans, may be entitled to receive an Aid and Attendance pension or a Housebound pension if they meet the following eligibility requirements.
Annual family net income (income minus expenses) is below a yearly limit set by law. Effective December 1, 2016, the annual net income limits are as follows:
Aid and Attendance Pension
- Wartime service veteran with no dependents: below $21,531
- Wartime service veteran with one dependent: below $25,525
- Wartime service veteran with no dependents: below $15,773
- Wartime service veteran with one dependent: below $19,770
Notes: A veteran with one dependent is usually a veteran living with a spouse. The VA reduces countable income by subtracting the medical expenses associated with out-of-pocket costs such as assisted living or home care. Many veterans and surviving spouses have negative net income and meet this income requirement.
No set limit has been established on how much net worth (assets minus debts) a wartime service veteran and his or her dependents can have, but net worth cannot be excessive. Generally, net worth must be less than $80,000. (Assets do not include one's primary home and first car.) The decision as to whether net worth is excessive depends on the facts of each individual case.
A wartime service veteran must be permanently and totally disabled. For VA pension purposes, permanent and total disability means that with reasonable certainty the veteran will not be able to maintain a substantially gainful job due to his or her disability. The disability must be non-service-connected and not due to willful misconduct. Nonservice-connected means that the disability must not have been caused or aggravated by military service.
The veteran must have care-needs requirements. To meet these requirements, a veteran typically receives care in an assisted living facility or receives non-medical home care services. A physician must document the need for these caregiver services.
The veteran must have had ninety days or more of active military service, at least one day of which was served during official wartime. To have served during wartime, the veteran did not need to see combat. For example, the veteran may have served in Alaska during World War II and still be eligible.
Note: Veterans who entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally must have served 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty. There are exceptions to this rule; check with a veteran service officer (VSO) for details.
The veteran's discharge must be honorable or general and not be due to willful misconduct.
Are Surviving Spouses Eligible for this Benefit?
If you are a surviving spouse of a wartime service veteran, you may be entitled to receive an Aid and Attendance pension or a Housebound pension if you meet the eligibility requirements mentioned above plus:
Annual family net income (income minus medical expenses) is below a yearly limit set by law. Effective December 1, 2016, the annual net income limits are as follows:
- Aid and Attendance pension for the surviving spouse of a wartime service vet with no dependents: below $13,836
- Housebound pension for the surviving spouse of a wartime service vet with no dependents: below $10,580
As with veterans, the surviving spouse's countable income is reduced by medical expenses related to his/her care.
Note: A surviving spouse does not usually have any dependents. The spouse must have been married to the wartime service veteran for at least one year before the veteran's death (unless they had a child). A person who has divorced a wartime service veteran is not considered a surviving spouse of a wartime service veteran and cannot claim benefits.
What if a Surviving Spouse Cannot Find their Loved One's Discharge Papers?
Many veterans have misplaced their discharge records, known as DD-214s. The first place to look is at the county courthouse where many vets recorded their discharge record when they came home. In the book we explain the procedure for eVetRecs, an electronic method of requesting discharge records if the vet or next-of-kin is requesting the records. We also talk about three other methods of obtaining discharge records.
How Does a Vet Find Information on VA Programs?
A great source for information is veteran service organizations, such as the regional offices of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
Joseph Scott McCarthy is a veteran advocate with more than 8 years of experience working with Aid and Attendance and Housebound pensions, and the author of "Checks for Vets." He has educated and guided thousands of veterans and their surviving spouses and adult children through the VA pension process.