Pension program for veterans

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By Donald Mustard

This is the first of four consecutive monthly articles scheduled for publication in this newspaper to address both compensation and pension benefits for veterans and eligible family members.

This, the first article in the series, will cover only pension benefits for the veteran. The article in April will address only service-connected compensation. In May, the third article will cover special programs to include Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits for veterans in receipt of either service connected compensation or non-service connected pension. The fourth and final article in this series will be ready for publication in June and will address the widow compensation and pension programs to include the special categories of Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits.

Pension eligibility for the veteran is the subject of this month‘s column. Pension is available for wartime veterans who are permanently and totally disabled from disabilities not related with service. The monthly rate is increased if the veteran is married or has dependent children.

Veterans with low incomes, who are permanently and totally disabled or, are age 65 and older, may be eligible for monetary support if they have 90 days or more of active military service, at least one day of which was during a period of war. (Veterans who entered active duty on or after Sept. 8, 1980, or officers who entered active duty on or after Oct. 16, 1981, may have to meet a longer minimum period of active duty). The veteran’s discharge must have been under conditions other than dishonorable and the disability must be for reasons other than the veteran’s own willful misconduct.

They must be permanently and totally disabled for reasons neither traceable to military service nor willful misconduct. In general, a veteran is considered permanently and totally disabled when such disabilities render it impossible for the average person to follow a substantial gainful occupation and it is reasonably certain that such condition will continue throughout the life of the disabled veteran. Medical documentation of the disability is required.

Payments are made by VA to qualified veterans to bring their total income, including other retirement or Social Security income, to an established level. Countable income may be reduced by unreimbursed medical expenses. Pension is not payable to those veterans who have sufficient assets to support a comfortable and safe life style.

Current claims are submitted under the Improved Pension Program, although some veterans are still enrolled in similar programs known by other names that were in effect in past years. Effective Dec. 1, 2007, the Improved Pension Program provides the following annual rates, which are payable monthly. The annual income received by the claimant from all sources will be considered by VA when adjudicating a claim for pension benefits.

- Veteran without dependent spouse or child, $11,181

- Veteran with one dependent (spouse or child), $14,643

- Veteran in need of regular aid and attendance, no dependents $18,654

- Veteran in need of regular aid and attendance, one dependent $22,113

- Veteran permanently housebound, no dependents $13,664

- Veteran permanently housebound, one dependent $17,126

The amount of pension is increased by $1,909 annually for each dependent child.

If you are in one of the above categories and your income is less than the amount listed for that category and, you are otherwise qualified, you may be eligible for benefits under the Improved Pension Program.

Congress establishes the maximum annual improved disability pension rates. Payments are reduced by the amount of countable income of the veteran, spouse or dependent children. When a veteran without a spouse or a child is furnished nursing home care by VA, the pension is reduced to an amount not to exceed $90 per month after three calendar months of care.

Next month, this column will address compensation available for veterans who have a compensable service connected disability.

This column provides only general information concerning eligibility for VA benefits. If you have a question about veteran’s benefits contact VA at 1-800-827-1000 or the Service Officer for DAV Chapter 8 and VFW Post 8184 at 434-316-0229 for assistance. The office, located at 2337 Lakeside Drive, Lynchburg, VA is open for walk-ins on Tuesday 10::00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. and Thursday by appointment.

The sources for this article were rate tables for 2008 and the VA booklet titled “Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents”, 2007 edition.