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AL Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Monday, July 8, 2019

Understanding the Changes to the VA Pension Rules

Did you know the rules governing the VA Pension program changed toward the end of this past year? On October 18, 2018, there were several substantial changes to the operation of the program and how eligibility would be determined in the future for potentially eligible veterans and their dependents. As we look to the future of Alabama residents who need long-term care, we need to consider all of the possible benefits available to them,  and this includes the VA Pension.

What is the VA Pension program? At its core, the VA Pension program is a monthly, tax-free income benefit available to servicemen and women who have a qualifying service record.  It is a benefit that is substantially different from other monies available to veterans and their dependents. In contrast with the disability program where there must be a service connected injury that was caused by or made worse by service, there is no injury associated with this benefit. Instead, this benefit is tied to the veteran’s dates of service. 

In order for the veteran to be eligible, his or her dates of service must be partially during a period of war. The VA has its own dates of Eligible Wartime Periods which you may learn more about here. The veteran who is seeking to qualify for the VA Pension program must have served on active duty for a period of at least ninety days and one of those days must be during a wartime period.  In addition to the dates requirement, the veteran must be discharged from his or her service under conditions that were other than dishonorable.

Through the VA Pension program, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides eligible veterans and their dependents a monthly, tax-free pension. Another standard that needs to be met in order for the veteran to qualify is the health standard. The veteran must be disabled. Interestingly enough, a veteran is determined to be “disabled” for VA Pension purposes simply by being age 65 or older. One of the reasons why this pension can be important to senior veterans is because the money can be used on any long-term care costs, such as home care or to help pay for an assisted living facility bill. 

The program changed toward the end of last year by establishing guidelines and rules for eligibility that previously did not exist. For example, prior to October 18, 2018:

  • There was no established asset limit. Now, the veteran may not have more than $126,240, less excluded assets. It is anticipated that this amount will change annually to reflect a cost of living adjustment similar to the Social Security program.

  • A “look back” period did not exist. This is a time period during which the claimant’s assets may be reviewed to determine if monies were given away for less than fair market value that could be used to pay for care. The new “look back” period is thirty-six months.

  • There was no penalty for transfers of money made for less than fair market value. Now there could be a penalty period that is assessed and commiserate with the gift that was made. 

These are just a few of the ways the VA Pension program changed at the end of last year. We encourage you to learn all about the potential public benefits available to you as you plan forward for a future that may need long-term care. Remember, when you choose to learn more about the VA and its programs, it is always important to work with an attorney who is familiar with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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