I would like to find out what kinds of veterans benefits are available to older vets and their spouses? My dad served four years in the Army during the Korean War, and I’m curious to see if there are any VA benefits that he or my mom may qualify for. What can you tell me?
That’s a great question. There are actually millions of older veterans and their families who don’t take advantage of the VA benefits they’re entitled to because they either don’t know they exist or they don’t think they would qualify for them. Here’s what you and your parents should know.
While the VA provides a wide range of commonly-known benefits and services for its veterans – like health care, education support through the GI Bill and home loans – they also provide a bevy of lesser-known benefits that were specifically created to help senior veterans and their family members, as well as their survivors.
To be eligible, however, your parent’s income and assets in most cases will need to be below certain limits, and your dad’s discharge from the military must have been under conditions other than dishonorable. Here’s a breakdown of four benefits that are often overlooked by older vets and their families.
Veterans pension: This is available to limited-income veterans that are age 65 and older or are totally disabled, who served at least 90 days of active military service with at least one day of service during a period of war (stateside or overseas). To be eligible, your parent’s assets will generally need to be under $80,000 not counting their house and vehicle, and their annual “countable income” must be under $15,493 or $11,830 for a single veteran. Countable income includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and net income from business or farming, minus medical expenses if they exceed at least 5 percent of their total income.
Death pension: This is available to low-income surviving spouses and dependents of wartime veterans whose death was not related to military service. To receive this benefit, a surviving spouse’s annual income must be under $7,933, or under $9,696 if she is housebound (minus medical expenses), with cash assets under $80,000.
Aid and attendance: This little known benefit can help elderly veterans and their spouses pay for in-home care, an assisted living facility or nursing home care. It pays up to $1,949 per month, in addition to the monthly pension benefits. To qualify, the veteran must be 65 or older (or permanently disabled), have served during wartime and meet certain financial and medical requirements.
To qualify medically, one of your parents would need assistance with basic everyday living tasks like eating, bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom. Being blind or in a nursing home or assisted living facility for mental incapacity also qualifies.
And to qualify financially, your parent’s annual income as a couple (minus medical and long-term care expenses) cannot exceed $23,396; $19,736 for a single veteran; or $12,681 for a surviving spouse. And their assets must be less that $80,000, excluding their home and car.
Burial benefits: Regardless of income and assets, this benefit provides all veterans, spouses and dependents a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave marker. Unfortunately, funeral or cremation costs are not covered. However, some veterans may qualify for a $300 funeral allowance and $300 for a plot if they choose to be buried in a private cemetery. To learn more see www.cem.va.gov.
A good place to learn about all types of veterans benefits is at the online at www.ebenefits.va.gov or www.vba.va.gov. Or, contact your regional VA office or local veterans service organization, where you can get personalized help and assistance in filing claims. See www.va.gov/statedva.htm for contact information or call the VA benefits helpline at 800-827-1000.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.