The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is probably most well-known for providing veterans with health care coverage and medical services, but the VA also offers a wide array of other benefits to servicemembers and their families. One such program provides qualifying vets with a monthly monetary benefit to supplement their income. This benefit is known as the basic veterans pension.
Eligibility Requirements for the Veterans Pension
There are several eligibility requirements that veterans must meet in order to qualify for the VA pension program. The first and simplest requirement is that a veteran must have received a discharge other than dishonorable. All other requirements are described in detail below.
Wartime Service Requirements
The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military, naval or air service, with at least one day taking place during a recognized period of war. The VA recognizes the following wartime periods:
- Mexican Border Period: May 9, 1916 – April 5, 1917, for veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders or adjacent waters
- World War I: April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918
- World War II: December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946
- Korean Conflict: June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955
- Vietnam Era: February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975, for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975
- Gulf War: August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation
(Veterans who entered active duty after September 7, 1980, must have either served 24 months or the full period for which they were called into active duty with at least one day during a wartime period defined above.)
Because this pension is intended to supplement the income of financially needy vets, it makes sense that the VA requires applicants to demonstrate their financial need. There are both income and net worth limitations that must be met to qualify.
For 2018, a veteran’s annual income must not exceed the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) of $13,166. For a veteran with a spouse, their household income must not exceed the MAPR of $17,241. Income sources include earnings, disability and retirement payments, payments from annuities, and net income. However, a veteran’s countable income can be reduced by unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed five percent of their appropriate MAPR. For a single veteran this threshold is $659, and for a married veteran, it is $863.
For example, if a married veteran’s annual income is $18,000, they would not financially qualify for this pension. However, let’s say that this couple also incurs $1,700 worth of unreimbursed medical costs over the course of the year. Their countable income is actually reduced by $837 (1,700 – 863 = 837) to equal $17,163, which is below the MAPR limit. This couple meets the income qualifications for the veterans pension.
When it comes to net worth limits, the VA’s method for determining eligibility is much more complex and a bit of a mystery. Applicants are expected to provide detailed information regarding all the bank accounts, property (except one primary residence) and investments they own. Based on the applicant’s age and life expectancy, the VA will determine whether these assets could reasonably sustain the veteran throughout the rest of their life. Those found to have “excessive net worth” are considered ineligible.
The VA enforces certain functional requirements for recipients of this pension as well to ensure that vets who are unable to work, whether due to disability or age, receive the financial assistance they deserve. An eligible applicant must meet at least ONE of the following criteria:
- At least 65 years old.
- Permanently and totally disabled (non-service-connected).
- Living in a nursing home.
- Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
- Receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Pension Amounts and Uses
Veterans pensions are paid out on a monthly basis, considered tax-free income and can be used however the recipient sees fit. For example, pension funds can help cover the costs of housing, food, medical expenses, clothing, bills, home repairs, transportation, etc.
As mentioned above, the VA sets Maximum Annual Pension Rates (MAPRs) and adjusts them each year to account for changes in the cost of living. The amount that a veteran receives is calculated by subtracting his or her net countable income from their appropriate MAPR. For example, if a single eligible vet’s net income totals $9,000, then he or she is able to receive $4,166 in pension funds (13,166 – 9,000 = 4,166). This amount is then split up into 12 equal monthly payments of approximately $347.
How to Apply for VA Pension
Although many veterans are eligible for pensions, navigating the filing process is often overwhelming and frustrating. If you think you or a veteran you know may qualify for a veterans pension, the first step is to locate discharge papers (also known as DD Form 214.)
Many veterans have misplaced their discharge records, but there are a couple of options for tracking them down. The first place to look is at the county courthouse where many vets filed their discharge records upon returning home. If you still cannot find this document, it is also possible to submit an online request through the National Archives eVetRecs site or submit a request via mail or fax using a SF-180 form. Certain fees may apply for requesting replacement documents. Emergency requests can be made, but regular turn-around times can be as long as 90 days.
Those filing for the veterans pension will also need to complete and gather the following:
- VA Form 21-527EZ (Application for Pension)
- Additional personal and household evidence including proof of income, net worth information, and all relevant medical records or where to find them (specifics are outlined in the beginning pages of the above form).
Where to Find Help Applying for VA Benefits
Including specific and comprehensive information in a VA application is crucial for timely processing and determination of benefits, but many families need help locating and compiling the necessary paperwork. Veteran service organizations (VSOs) like regional offices of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) can provide this assistance free of charge.
Once an application is submitted, there is a waiting period before a veteran will receive an approval or denial. The amount of time varies according to the backlog of claims the VA is processing, but the average wait time is usually a few months. However, longer waits are to be expected if a vet files an incomplete or incorrect application.