The Best Kept Secret: Improved Pension Benefits for Veterans and Surviving Spouses

For most veterans, the idea of collecting a pension benefit from the military does not seem like a real possibility, unless the veteran suffered a service connected disability. However, there is a veterans pension benefit program available to all veterans, and their families, which is available to pay for home health and assisted living care. The pension benefit program is referred as the “Aid and Attendance Program” (“AA”).

Eligibility for the AA Program
In order to be eligible for the AA Program, a veteran must have served 90 days on active duty (the requirement is longer for more recent veterans), with at least one day during a wartime, and must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Additionally, the veteran must be “permanently and totally disabled” because of a non-service connected condition.

Periods of Wartime Service
WWI: April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918
WWII: December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946
Korean Conflict: June 27, 1950 to January 31, 1955
Vietnam Era: August 5, 1964 (February 28, 1961, for veterans who served “in country” before August 4, 1964) to May 7, 1975
Gulf War: August 2, 1990 – TBA
Permanently and Totally Disabled
The term “permanently and totally disabled” means that a veteran must require “care or assistance on a regular basis,” which protects him or her from dangers of a daily living environment. The term can be established by showing one, or more, of the following conditions:
The veteran is blind or has a visual impairment of 5/200 or less in both eyes or concentric contraction of the visual field to five degrees or less
The veteran is a patient in a nursing home or hospice facility because of mental or physical incapacity
The veteran is unable to dress or undress or keep himself or herself clean and presentable
The veteran needs adjustments to any special prosthetic, orthopedic appliance, or is not able to attend to the wants or nature of the prosthetic, or appliance
The veteran has a physical or mental incapacity that requires assistance on a regular basis to protect the veteran from the hazards of his or her environment
Furthermore, it is generally presumed that a veteran who is residing in an assisted living facility does meet one, or more, of the aforementioned conditions. However, a letter from the veteran’s personal physician substantiating the veteran’s disability will greatly enhance the benefits process.

Current AA Monthly Pension Benefits
The current maximum monthly AA pension benefits are as follows:
Veteran & Spouse: $1,742.00
Veteran: $1,470.00
Surviving Spouse: $944.00
However, the actual AA monthly pension benefit amount to be received by the veteran, and/or his or her spouse, is as follows:
The maximum monthly AA pension benefit which is applicable to the case is reduced dollar for dollar by the following formula
The total monthly income of the veteran and/or the veteran’s spouse, less the total monthly cost of un-reimbursed medical expenses.
Un-Reimbursed Medical Expenses
Un-reimbursed medical expenses are generally defined to include the costs associated to health and Medicare insurance premiums, prescriptions drugs, dental and vision care, and expenses related to an assisted living facility, and in-home care aid, and/or adult day care.

Net Worth Valuation
Finally, assuming a veteran, and/or his or her spouse, has tentatively qualified for the AA monthly pension benefit, the final test to fulfill the qualification process related to the net worth of the applicant. With the exception of the applicant’s home, an automobile, traditional household furnishings and personal property, which are treated as non-countable, attorneys who advise clients on veterans benefits are allowing the applicants to maintain no more than one of the following cash asset levels without jeopardizing his or her opportunity to collect the maximum monthly AA pension benefit:
Couple: $80,000.00
Individual: $50,000.00
AA Pre-Planning
Lastly, with the Veterans Administration only looking at the applicant’s net worth at the time of the actual AA application, and with there being no penalty period for the transfer of assets prior to the time of the application, it is fair to conclude that with proper planning, just about any veteran, and/or his or her spouse, can qualify for a monthly AA pension benefit.

Medicaid Benefits
With the Medicaid program having stricter rules and regulations regarding asset transfers than the Veterans AA Program, it is very important that clients engage a qualified elder law attorney when developing a Long-Term Care Plan. For instance, transferring assets to qualify for AA Benefits could result in a 5 year ineligibility for Medicaid benefits.

To learn more about the AA Program, and its applicability to the Medicaid Program, please contact The Center for Elder Law at 248.641.PLAN (7526) or visit our website.

A special thanks to Dale Krause, a Wisconsin Elder Law Attorney, for providing this article.