Honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military dates back to shortly after the Civil War. During this time, various towns and cities paid spring tributes to fallen soldiers. In 1968, General John A. Logan called for Decoration Day which would be a nationwide day of remembrance for those who had fallen during the Civil War. Decoration Day evolved to include honoring those who had served during all of our wars. In 1971, it became an official federal holiday and was renamed Memorial Day. Our Memorial Day traditions vary from visiting the resting place of our heroes, parades, picnics and a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00pm local time.
Many of our veterans now struggle from either service-connected disabilities or nonservice connected disabilities. Although most of them are aware that they could be entitled to compensation for service-connected disabilities, many are not aware of the nonservice connected pension they (or their dependents and surviving spouses) may qualify for. This basic pension is called the Improved Pension, with additional benefits for those who are homebound or who qualify for aid and attendance benefits.
The Improved Pension rates vary depending on a variety of factors, but generally a veteran without any dependents may qualify for over $18,000 per year. If that same veteran also qualified for the aid and attendance benefit, they may qualify for over $23,000 per year. While the amounts for an un-remarried surviving spouse are less, they are still significant. For the basic pension an un-remarried surviving spouse may qualify for over $9,000 per year and with the Aid and Attendance Benefit, they may qualify for over $14,000 per year.
Sometimes veterans and their spouses are hesitant to apply for this pension because they “are not in the VA system” or they have previously been denied other benefits, but many veterans who have never qualified for other VA benefits qualify for this benefit. Although the qualifications for this pension can be confusing, generally a veteran should qualify if they served active duty during wartime, did not have a dishonorable discharge, is either permanently and totally disabled or is at least 65 years old, and meets certain financial requirements. For a surviving spouse to qualify, that spouse must have been married to the wartime veteran at the time of the veteran’s death and not have remarried.
For those applicants who plan ahead, the financial requirements may be an easy obstacle to surmount. This type of planning is typically done with the assistance of your estate or elder law attorney. Fortunately, this type of planning dovetails with the typical planning a person should consider as they age to protect assets from the high costs of long-term care. For example, all adults, especially those having health issues, should have updated estate planning documents including a financial power of attorney. Powers of attorney are valuable tools when a person has mental or physical issues and needs assistance with paying bills and managing assets. For some, a trust may be used to move assets out of the applicant’s estate in preparation for a future VA or Medicaid application.
An eligible beneficiary may apply by calling the VA, completing VA Form 21-526 (which may be found on the VA website), through their local veterans’ organization, or by working with an accredited VA attorney.
This Memorial Day, thank the veterans in your life and make sure they are aware of this valuable benefit, it may provide the additional income to allow that veteran to pay for additional care in their home or applied towards the cost of a facility.