Those who qualify for VA pension benefits are paid an amount based on the difference between your countable income and a limit that Congress sets called the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR).
What is defined as countable income? This is basically how much money you bring in each month including retirement funds, investment dividends, Social Security benefits, plus any spouse income. But it’s not all addition–the amount of your countable income decreases with certain costs you pay out such as non-reimbursable medical expenses that your insurance does not pay for.
What determines the MAPR amount? It is based on the number of your dependents, whether or not you are married to another veteran who received or qualifies for a military pension, and whether your medical issues qualify for certain VA benefits created to help those with disabilities function independently.
MAPR amounts are subject to an annual cost-of-living increase and are calculated using different math depending on how many dependents you have and other information.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers VA pension benefits to qualifying wartime veterans and certain surviving spouses of military members. The VA official site has an application process for these pensions including the establishment of the Maximum Annual Pension Rate for the veteran or surviving spouse.
Earning a Veterans Pension from the VA requires the applicant to meet age and disability requirements. There are income caps and net worth limits which must also be observed. Determining eligibility is the first step toward getting the MAPR established.
Who Is Eligible For The Veterans Pension Benefit From The VA?
The Veterans Pension program requires a military discharge characterized as anything other than Dishonorable. You are also required to provide net worth and income details including:
- All personal property you own minus your home, its furnishings, and vehicle
- The net worth of your spouse where applicable
- The amount of your debts are subtracted from the totals derived from this information
Those who apply for a VA pension successfully meet at least one of the following requirements:
- The applicant entered active duty before Sept. 8, 1980, and you served at least 90 days on active duty with at least 1 day during wartime, OR
- The applicant enlisted and began active duty after Sept. 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months OR the full period of active duty (with some exceptions) with at least one day of service during wartime, OR
- Were an officer and started on active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, with no active duty service for at least 24 months.
In addition to the above requirements, applicants must be at least 65 years old, or have a permanent and total disability. Others who qualify include patients in nursing homes for long-term care, and those who receive Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.
What Counts As Wartime Service For Calculated VA Pensions
The VA lists all qualifying wartime service on the official site, including the following dates. All such dates of service, qualifying eras, and other details are subject to change and revision by federal law, program guideline rewrites, new legislation, etc.
- Mexican Border period listed as between May 9, 1916, to April 5, 1917
- World War I (April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918)
- World War II (Dec. 7, 1941, to Dec. 31, 1946)
- Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to Jan. 31, 1955)
- Vietnam War era (Feb. 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period
- Vietnam War Era (Aug. 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975) for veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam
- Gulf War (Aug. 2, 1990–end date not yet established)
The Net Worth Limit
The VA advises applicants that your total net worth is based on both your income and assets as well as that of your spouse where applicable. “You should report all your net worth” according to VA.gov, which adds that in 2019 the net worth limit was reported (as a reference) at $129,094. In future calculations (2020 and beyond) the net worth limit increases are determined by using the same percentages used by the Social Security Administration for its own COLA increases.
What About Asset Transfers?
VA rules require the review of all assets the veteran “may have transferred in the three years” leading up to the pension claim.
Those who have traded assets for less than the fair market value of those assets, “and those assets would have pushed your net worth above the limit for a VA pension” you could still qualify for a VA pension but you may be subject to a five-year penalty where you receive no benefits until the expiration of that penalty period.
Applying For VA Pension Benefits
You can determine if you are eligible to apply for VA pension benefits and begin the application process at the VA official site. Before starting an online application, remember to gather the following paperwork and other information. You will need electronic scans or copies (never originals) to upload to the VA site including the following:
- Social Security number
- VA file number
- Military records
- Work history
- Bank account direct deposit information
- Medical information
- Financial details for yourself, dependents/spouse
Apply online, by mail or in person by filling out VA Form 21P-527EZ, Application for Pension. Submit in person to any VA Regional Office near you, or by mail to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Pension Intake Center
PO Box 5365
Janesville, WI 53547-5365
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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