In a recent report from WUSF News in Tampa Bay, Gene Popiolek details the great lengths and mountains of paperwork he went through in the nearly two year process of obtaining a pension payment for his 95-year-old father, Bernie, a World War II veteran. And Gene’s experience is not uncommon.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers non-service-connected pension benefits for veterans or surviving spouses to help pay for certain medical expenses. The pension most people recognize is Aid & Attendance (A&A). Although information about this pension benefit is readily available, the process of applying and being approved may require the assistance of a VA-accredited Veterans Benefits attorney.
Find additional information and eligibility criteria for Aid & Attendance below.
What is the Aid & Attendance Pension?
The Aid & Attendance pension helps pay for unreimbursed out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred by a veteran or spouse, or surviving spouse, who meets certain age and disability requirements (among other criteria). The pension provides a monthly benefit that can assist with expenses including, but not limited to, long-term care in a private residence or in community-based living.
Eligibility for the A&A benefit is based on specific guidelines, including:
- Financial criteria;
- Medical criteria; and,
- Veteran’s service record.
The VA provides a Benefits Rate Table to show the maximum pension available to veterans based on their dependent status. It is important to note that the actual pension amount awarded is dependent on a claimant’s unique situation. The maximum amount is not always awarded — applicants often receive a lesser amount.
Continue reading for an overview of the financial and medical criteria that a veteran, known as the “claimant,” must meet in order to qualify for A&A.
Aid & Attendance Financial Criteria
Eligibility is determined by a claimant’s net worth, or the sum of all countable assets plus their annual gross income, less annual unreimbursed medical expenses. As of 2020, the claimant may be eligible for the A&A benefit if their net worth is less than or equal to $129,094. If net worth exceeds this amount, the claimant is ineligible.
The VA will consider the annual gross income of a claimant (and spouse, if applicable) from all sources, which can include, but is not limited to: Social Security benefits, pensions, interest and long-term care payments. Another significant change as of October 2018 is that the VA has implemented a three-year lookback on any gifts or transfers of countable assets. Transfers may or may not affect a claimant’s eligibility.
In calculating annual gross income, certain recurring unreimbursed medical expenses are subtracted, including:
- Medicare premiums
- Health, dental, vision and/or long-term care insurance premiums
- Home health care or facility expenses
- Exceptions: On the initial application, the VA does not consider medical expenses which only occur periodically or are not what they consider “predictable.”
Schedule a free consultation with our VA-accredited attorneys to learn more about financial criteria for the A&A pension.
Medical Criteria for Aid & Attendance
There are three benefit rating levels that the VA may consider, including: base pension, housebound, and Aid & Attendance. In order to be rated at the highest level, Aid & Attendance, medical documentation provided by the claimant’s doctor must show that the claimant requires another person to assist with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).
The VA recognizes ADLs to be:
- Dressing and undressing;
- Bathing; and
- Transfers to and from a bed, chair or toilet.
The VA also now recognizes cognitive disorders as a disability that may qualify someone for A&A pension benefits, if the person is unsafe to be left alone.
A claimant does not need to be in a nursing home to receive the A&A benefit. The VA permits the needed assistance to be provided by a spouse, child or private worker. The child or private worker can be paid for their services; the spouse cannot. The veteran can also reside in an independent or assisted living community as long as they are receiving assistance with ADLs by the community, or by a spouse, child or private worker.
If you need help understanding the medical criteria for Aid & Attendance, schedule a free consultation with one of our VA-accredited attorneys.
Veteran Service Record Requirements
In order to meet military service requirements of the VA pension, the veteran must have served at least 90 days on active duty with one or more day during a Qualified War Period*, including:
- World War I: April 16, 1917 – November 11, 1918
- World War II: December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946
- The Korean War: June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955
- The Vietnam War: August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975**
- The Gulf/Iraq War: August 2, 1990 – Present
*Veterans who served from September 7, 1980 onward must have served at least 24 months on active duty to be considered eligible.
**Start date for those in-country is February 28, 1961.
Please note the veteran cannot have received a Dishonorable Discharge for their service record to be considered eligible under the VA pension program.
Find Help for Veterans at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law
As a former 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, our firm’s founding attorney, Rudy Beck, is determined to assist as many veterans and surviving spouses as possible with applying for the Aid & Attendance pension. In the past 11 years alone, the VA-accredited attorneys at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law in St. Charles have successfully submitted more than 2,000 applications for Aid & Attendance.
Local veterans and their families can be confident that our firm has the expertise you need to navigate the VA’s complex guidelines for pension benefits. There is no need to go through this process alone!
If you or a loved one are struggling to afford the cost of long-term care or are facing a long-term care crisis, please contact our office immediately to schedule a free consultation. We can be reached at (636) 946-7899 or by submitting a request online.