Pension Benefits for Texas Veterans
Many families struggle to provide necessary care for aging or disabled Veterans or their surviving spouses. Unfortunately, many of these families may be unaware of the pension benefit program available through the Department of Veterans Affairs to which their loved ones may be entitled.
For qualifying veterans or their surviving spouses, the pension benefit program is a needs-based program which provides a monthly benefit to the claimant. In addition to the basic pension rate, certain claimants may also qualify for supplemental benefits, such as the housebound or aid and attendance award.
Some key things to know about pension benefits:
- Pension benefits are not dependent upon service-related injuries.
- Wartime veterans and their surviving spouses may be eligible.
- Certain medical and financial requirements must be met.
- Pension benefits can help offset the cost of in-home care, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility.
Application for pension benefits is a complex and lengthy process. For these reasons, many people seek assistance in completing the application. Note: It is illegal for anyone to charge you a fee to help complete the application or file for benefits.
Our office can assist you with this process – at no cost to you. We do not charge for this service.Recent Changes to the Regulations
The Department of Veterans Affairs proposed changes to certain regulations in January of 2015 to address perceived issues regarding the adjudication of VA Pension claims and to implement recent statutory changes. After receiving public comments, the amendments to the regulations have been finalized and were officially published on September 18, 2018. The 2018 amendments impact both the financial and medical aspects of eligibility determination for needs-based benefit programs.
The recent regulation changes regarding eligibility requirements for needs-based benefits included:
- A new formula for calculating a claimant’s net worth and a bright-line net worth limit.
- A thirty-six month look-back period in which certain transfers or gifts could be penalized.
- Restrictions on the amount of acreage of a claimant’s primary residence which can be excluded in net worth calculations.
- Clarification on certain medical definitions and allowable medical deductions.
With four VA-accredited attorneys on staff, our office continues to keep up-to-date on the legislation changes so that we are knowledgeable and effective for our veteran clients.Pension Benefits – How Much Could You Receive?
The cost of assisted living, nursing home or home health care can be substantial. In fact, a 2017 survey conducted by Genworth Financial found that the national median monthly rate for a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility runs $3,750, the national median daily rate for a semi-private nursing home room is $235, and the national median hourly rate for a licensed home health aide is $22. Pension benefits could help defray these types of costs for qualified veterans and their surviving spouses.
There are three aspects of eligibility – Service, Medical, and Financial.
Service. The basic service qualification is that the veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military duty, with at least one of those days during wartime (as defined by the Veteran’s Administration). Additionally, the veteran must have received a discharge that was other than dishonorable.
Medical. In order to qualify for the base pension award, the veteran or surviving spouse must be over the age of 65 or disabled. In order to receive the additional housebound or aid and attendance benefit, the veteran or surviving spouse must show that they are “housebound” or require the “aid and attendance” of another person to perform the basic activities of daily living. In other words, they need the assistance of another person.
Financial. Net worth, which is one aspect of the financial eligibility calculation, is evaluated against a fixed limit of $123,600. This limit is based on the Medicaid maximum community spouse resource allowance and will rise slightly over time due to cost-of-living increases. Net worth includes the sum of a claimant’s (and their spouses if applicable) total non-exempt assets and annual income minus medical expenses. This calculated net worth amount must be under the limit in order to qualify. Exempt assets include a home (2 acres or less) and a car.
The recently implemented thirty-six month look-back period also penalizes a claimant who makes an uncompensated transfer after October 18, 2018 and within 36 months prior to their date of application. An uncompensated transfer could include a gift, the purchase of a financial instrument, or an investment that reduces net worth (such as a trust or annuity). If a gift or transfer during the look-back period would not have caused the total net worth to exceed the asset limit of $123,600, then no penalty period will be imposed. The penalty period is calculated by dividing the portion of assets transferred which would have caused the net worth to exceed the limit by the current maximum monthly pension rate for a veteran with a dependent (currently $2,169). Transfers made within the 36-month look-back period can be cured in whole or part as long as they are completed and proof submitted to the VA within a certain time period following the VA’s denial of the claim.
While there is no specified income limit, the VA considers what it refers to as IVAP – Income for VA Purposes. IVAP is equal to your gross income from all sources, less a portion of unreimbursed medical expenses. If your IVAP is not less than the annual benefit amount, you will not be eligible for benefits.How Can I Qualify for Pension Benefits?
VA Pre-planning. Because of the thirty-six month look period implemented in October of 2018, VA pre-planning is a recommended and valuable option for service eligible veterans who wish to protect certain assets and establish a plan for future VA benefits once they become medically eligible. Planning may involve re-titling or giving away assets or establishing a trust. VA pre-planning is perfectly legal, but doing so properly can be complicated, which is why we recommend always working with a VA-accredited attorney. Beware that some actions taken to qualify for VA benefits could create a penalty period and may also impact future Medicaid benefits should they be needed.
VA Crisis Planning. If you are a veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran who currently meets the basic service and medical requirements but may not also be financially qualified, our office can still help you analyze your options for obtaining VA pension benefits. Contact us today to set up a free consultation to determine your eligibility status and planning opportunities.