VA Aid and Attendance Program and other Pension Benefits for Aging Veterans

Page Reviewed / Updated - Jun. 2015

Definition: Veterans Pensions

There are three levels of VA's Improved Pensions, of which the Aid and Attendance Benefit is the most well-known and provides the greatest amount of assistance. The levels and their target beneficiaries are as follows:

  • Aid & Attendance – for veterans that require assistance with their activities of daily living
  • Housebound – for veterans with a disability that prevents them from leaving home
  • Basic Pension / Improved Income – for healthy veterans with low incomes

 

Veterans Pensions Overview

 In 2015, VA pensions can provide veterans and their spouses with over $2,000 / month for elder care.

The Aid and Attendance Benefit program and the other VA Pensions are a great source of funds for financially constrained, wartime Veterans and/or their surviving spouses to use for their long term care costs such as assisted living, home care, adult day and skilled nursing. Unfortunately, there are many misperceptions and potential conflicts associated with this program, beginning with the program's name. One might hear this pension benefit referred to as the VA Assisted Living Benefit or Veterans Elder Care Benefits. Readers should know these are not different programs, simply different names for the same benefit.

Benefit Conflicts

 Receiving a VA pension may disqualify a veteran for Medicaid or VA disability compensation.

Veterans and their families should be aware of potential eligibility conflicts between pensions and other assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs and / or other government programs. 

  • Veterans cannot receive both VA Disability compensation and VA Aid and Attendance Pension.  However, they can receive the higher benefit of the two programs.
  • If a Surviving Spouse is receiving Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and needs assistance with his or her activities of daily living, she or he can qualify for additional assistance, approximately $300 / month. However, a surviving spouse cannot receive both DIC and a death pension on the same veteran.
  • Receiving a VA pension may disqualify a veteran from receiving Medicaid benefits.  Often times the level of income assistance received from the Aid & Attendance benefit will exceed the maximum allowable amount of monthly income to receive Medicaid assistance.  Read more on when to pursue Medicaid vs. Aid & Attendance.

A final note of good news is that veterans can receive both Aid and Attendance and Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services.

 

Eligibility Requirements

Non-Financial Qualifications

Before a discussion of the complicated financial eligibility requirements, we list the more straight-forward requirements for Aid and Attendance and the other VA Pensions.

1) Age - Veterans or their surviving spouses must be at least 65 or officially disabled if younger.

2) Period of Service - Veterans must be considered “wartime veterans” meaning they served at least 90 days and served at least 1 day during the wartime dates below, but not necessarily in combat.

  • World War II: Dec 7, 1941 – Dec 31, 1946
  • Korean War: Jun 27, 1950 - Jan 31, 1955
  • Vietnam War: Aug 5, 1964 - May 7, 1975
  • Gulf War: Aug 2, 1990 - Undetermined

3) Discharge Status - Veterans cannot have been dishonorably discharged.

4) Disability Status - Veterans are eligible without a disability, but a higher benefit is available to those who are disabled.

  • Aid & Attendance Eligibility – must require help with the Activities of Daily Living at home, in nursing homes or assisted living, but does not have to be related to their military service.
  • Housebound Eligibility –Disability rating of 100% that prevents them from leaving their home, but does not have to be related to their military service.
  • Basic Pension / Improved Income Eligibility – No disability requirement.

 

Financial Requirements

The VA has both income limits and asset limits for the Aid & Attendance, Housebound and the Basic Pensions.

Income Limits

A veteran’s and their spouse’s joint, countable income must be less than the pension amount for which they are eligible. For example, a married veteran in 2015 is eligible for $25,448 in pension; if their countable income is $10,000, then they are eligible to receive an additional $15,448 / year in pension.

However, because the VA allows applicants to deduct certain expenses and forms of income from their "countable income", the applicants' actual incomes can be considerably higher than their countable incomes.

Veterans should deduct all of their medical-related expenses for themselves and their spouses, including the cost of care in skilled nursing, assisted living, adult day centers and at home. Medicare and other insurance premiums should also be deducted.  Income from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and welfare benefits should not be included.  A detailed explanation how the VA calculates income is available here.  Assistance is available to help veterans determine their countable income which will enable them to receive their maximum benefit amount.  Read more.


2015 Basic / Housebound / Aid and Attendance Income Limits

Veteran Family Status

Basic Pension

Income Limit

Housebound

Income Limit

Aid & Attendance

Income Limit

Veteran with no dependents

$12,868

$15,725

$21,446

Veteran with a spouse or child*

$16,851

$19,710

$25,448

Surviving spouse / death pension

$8,630*

$10,548

$13,794

*Add $2,198 for each additional child

 

Net Worth / Assets Limits for Aid and Attendance and other Pensions

When calculating assets, the VA allows veterans to deduct their value of their home and vehicles.
As a general rule, to qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit and other pensions, a family's assets cannot exceed $80,000. The primary home and vehicles can be excluded when determining net worth. It is worth noting that $80,000 is not a hard limit. The final determination also considers a veteran's age, care expenses and life expectancy. Veterans with less than that amount have been denied and veterans who assets exceed that limit have been accepted.

A veteran’s net worth, according to the VA, includes assets in bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and property other than the veteran's primary residence and vehicle. It is also worth noting that veterans' pension eligibility differs from Medicaid's asset test; Medicaid "looks-back" at an applicant's past asset transfers for up to 5 years preceding their application. At present, the VA does not have a look-back period although legislation has been introduced proposing a 3 year look-back period.

If one's assets are near the eligibility limit, it is strongly recommended they consult with a veterans' pension plannerprior to application to ensure the greatest possibility of acceptance.

 

VA Pension Benefit Amounts and Limits for 2015

There are no restrictions on how VA pension benefits can be used provided it is for the benefit of the veteran or their surviving spouse. It can be applied toward skilled nursing, assisted living, in home or adult day care or to modify the home to accommodate for a disability. VA Pensions are paid out monthly by check or by direct deposit. Payments are made to the veteran or their surviving spouse, they are not made to their care or service providers.  The table below provides the VA's Maximum Annual Pension Rates (MAPR) for each level.

Basic Pension / Housebound / Aid and Attendance MAPR for 2015

Veteran Family Status

Basic Pension

Benefits

Housebound

Benefits

Aid & Attendance

Benefits

Veteran with no dependents

$12,868

$15,725

$21,446

Veteran with a spouse or child*

$16,851

$19,710

$25,448

Surviving spouse / death pension

$8,630*

$10,548

$13,794

*Add $2,198 for each additional child

 
 

Paying Family Members as Caregivers

VA Pensions can be used to pay any family member as a caregiver with the exception of spouses.  The VA allows beneficiaries to deduct their care expenses from their income and payments made to family members are considered deductible care expenses.  Beneficiaries then receive an increased pension benefit equal to the amount they have paid to their family member for care.

Unfortunately, this method does not work for spouses, since income is calculated as household income.  If one were to pay a spouse for care, the income the spouse received would still be considered part of their household income and the beneficiary would receive no increase in the pension amount.

 

Application Process

What to Expect

Applicants should be prepared to wait 9 - 12 months to begin receiving their benefits.

The application process is long and complicated. To apply it is best to get help from a professional benefits advisor / planner.  Working with an advisor can reduce the time to receive benefits by many months, increase the benefit amount and provide other value. However, even in the very best cases, applicants will wait 6 months to begin receiving their benefits.  Read more about working with an advisor.

There are loans available to help pay for care while waiting for claims to be processed. 

Once approved, benefits are paid retroactively in a lump sum to the claim effective date. As a result of this, it is fairly easy to be approved for a loan that can pay for care during the application processing wait time ("determination period"). Re-payment of the loan can be made from the lump sum. For families with an immediate financial need and who are seeking home care or assisted living, there is an organization that can both help with the application process and provide a loan while the application is being processed. Learn more here.

Having mentioned the pension claim backlog, it should be said that the VA has undertaken a major initiative to reduce it and is experiencing some success in doing so. They are also increasing transparency about their processing backlog by providing regular (though somewhat cryptic) reports which are available to the public.

 

Costs

There are no charges to apply for or to enroll in a VA Pension. Veterans benefits advisors are prohibited by law from charging their clients for their assistance with the application. However, they may charge clients from assistance in the structuring of their financial assets in preparation for the application.

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How to Apply for Aid and Attendance / Veterans Pensions

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Veterans Confident of Eligibility - If a veteran is highly confident they meet ALL eligibility requirements, they can use the following application methods.  Little or no human assistance will be available.

1. Apply online using VONAPP.  Do not use VONAPP if you:

  • already receive compensation or a pension
  • are applying for an increase in benefits
  • have a pending application
  • want to notify the VA about dependency or income changes.

2. Download and fill out the documents and send to the regional VA office.

3. Contact a Veterans Service Officer at a regional VA office or call toll free 1-800-827-1000

Veterans Uncertain of Eligibility - If a veteran or their family members are uncertain about their eligibility or which type of compensation is most beneficial to their situation, it is strongly advised that they seek the consul of a veterans benefits planner prior to application.  Learn more or find a benefits planner.  


Check the status of an existing claim by contacting the VA Pension Maintenance Center at 877-294-6380.