APRIL 30, 2012 VOLUME 19 NUMBER 17
We were reminded recently of the existence of a resource for elderly veterans and their surviving spouses — one that is too often overlooked, as it happens. We had yet another client who was unaware that she might qualify to receive a Veterans Administration pension benefit. We have written about veterans benefits before, but it always surprises us to note how often potential applicants are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to receive.
To qualify, the veteran must have served 90 days or more of active duty, including a single day during a war time period. War time periods include the second World War, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and really any service in Afghanistan or Iraq from August, 1990 onward. The Department of Veterans Affairs helpfully maintains a list of the actual dates of “Periods of War” online.
The veteran must also have been honorably discharged (or at least, not dishonorably discharged) from his or her military service. Unlike other VA programs, there is no “service-connected” requirement for this particular benefit.
The benefit is available to veterans and their surviving spouse. If you are the surviving spouse, you must have been married to the veteran at the time of his or her death and can not have remarried since. There is an asset test; to qualify, you may have family net worth of no more than $60,000 to $80,000, not counting the value of your home, car, and certain other items.
In calculating the amount of your pension benefit, the VA assesses your “countable monthly income.” Under this formula, any money you receive from Social Security reduces the amount of money you will receive from the VA. Note, however, that you can reduce your “countable monthly income” by monthly unreimbursed medical expenses. These include such things as your Medicare premium, a dental insurance premium, a long term care insurance premium, prescription drugs, hearing aid costs, vision care costs, and expenses related to transportation to your doctor’s office.
Application forms are available at the Veterans Administration website, http://www.va.gov, or by calling 1-800-827-1000. The veteran’s application is form 21-256, widows use form 21-534, and the medical expense form is 8416.
The state of Arizona has created a department of Veterans Services to assist state residents in obtaining federal veterans benefits to which they may be entitled. A counselor will assist you in making the application. The Tucson office is located at 1661 N. Swan Road, Suite 128, Tucson, AZ 85712 and their telephone number is (520) 207-4960. You can also call the Phoenix office toll-free at 1-800-852-8387.
Wondering why no one has invited you to a free lunch to hear about this exciting benefit? VA rules state that anyone who assists you in completing this application can charge you no more than $10.00 for the service. That makes it hard to make a living explaining the benefit, unless your salary is paid by the federal or state government.