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  • Posted July 8, 2016

Veterans and Survivors Pension (VA)

Not to long ago I helped my parents file a claim on behalf of my grandfather for Veterans pension; and it helped me realize how underutilized it is. I don’t think many veterans’ families are aware they, their family members or friends may qualify for it. In the hopes of helping raise awareness, I’m going to discuss what Veterans Pension is, how one qualifies and what Survivors Pension is. We as veterans need to make sure we’re asking for everything we’ve earned; it’s nobody else’s responsibility. We also need to be looking out for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. This fact sheet provides a good overview as well.

What are the Pension Benefits?

Veterans pension is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime veterans. There are income limits, with the income offsetting (reducing) the amount of pension received. The veteran’s income may be adjusted for medical expenses, including the costs of care in skilled nursing, assisted living, adult day centers and at home – as well as the premiums for Medicare and other insurance. If the veteran is collecting SSI or welfare, these benefits are NOT included in calculating income. Sources counted as income are gambling winnings, gifts of stock/property, inheritance, IRA & 401k withdrawals, social security and SSDI, VA compensation (VA disability), VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and wages. The 2016 pension amounts are below, each year these values are set by Congress:

Veteran with no dependents = $12,868

Veteran with a spouse or child = $16,851 (+ $2,198 for each additional child, adult disabled children may be included)

Surviving Spouse/death pension = $8,630 (+$2,198 for each additional child, adult disabled children may be included.

What is Survivor’s Pension? 

Survivors pension is a tax-free benefit payable to low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried children. It is also income limited, although the income may be adjusted the same way as the veteran’s – by reducing for costs of care and insurance premiums. There is no age limit for unmarried spouses, but the benefit for children will stop at 18 if they are not attending a VA approved school or permanently disabled before the age of 18. If they are attending a VA approved school the child’s benefit will continue until their 23rd birthday, and if disabled (permanently incapable of self-support) they will receive it for life.

What are the Eligibility Criteria? 

The following criteria are NOT mutually inclusive, the veteran only needs to meet one of these and have a yearly family income below the amount set by Congress (and shown above). Although the veteran must have served during war time (not in a war zone), given how long this country has been in conflicts it’s safe to say most will probably qualify. The veteran must be age 65 or older, OR totally and permanently disabled, OR a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), OR receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). I think it’s important to note – you can be in a nursing home, receiving care and paying for the care with your retiree pension and still potentially be eligible for this benefit – depending on the cost of care. Think about your friends and family who have parents or grandparents receiving care – they may be able to offset some of those additional costs through veteran or survivor pension. 

Are There Additional Benefits?

There are two additional benefits veterans should be aware of – Housebound and Aid & Attendance (A&A) . Housebound may be added to the monthly pension if the veteran or survivor are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of a permanent disability. A & A is an increase to the monthly pension if a veteran or survivor:

  • Requires the aid of another person in order to perform personal functions required in everyday living, such as bathing, feeding, dressing, attending to the wants of nature, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting yourself from the hazards of your daily environment
  • Are bedridden, in that your disability or disabilities requires that you remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment
  • Are a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity
  • Their eyesight is limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in both eyes; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less

How to Apply?

You can download the form from the VA’s website and submit the claim to the VA yourself, although I encourage you NOT to. Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s) like the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will submit the claim on your behalf and work as your representative to the VA, free of charge.