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Hon. Shelley Berkley: Many Elderly and Disabled Veterans Who Served in Wartime Eligible for VA Pension Benefits
Hon. Shelley Berkley: Many Elderly and Disabled Veterans Who Served in Wartime Eligible for VA Pension Benefits

 

About the Author

As a member of the Veterans Affairs' Committee, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) is working to honor America's commitment to those who served our nation in the military and to plan for the future needs of our brave men and women in uniform today.

Congresswoman Berkley serves as Ranking Member on the Disability and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.  The panel has a wide range of jurisdiction over issues important to veterans of all ages.  Areas under Berkley's jurisdiction include: compensation paid to veterans, pensions, burial benefits, life insurance, VA claims and veterans' cemeteries in the U.S. and around the globe.

Now serving in her fourth term, Berkley represents fast-growing Las Vegas, home to more than  150,000 veterans.  The Congresswoman recently won approval for a new $295 million dollar VA medical complex for Southern Nevada which will include a state-of-the-art hospital, outpatient clinic and long-term care facility.

Since first being elected to office in 1998, Congresswoman Berkley has represented southern Nevada at a time of continued record growth and her work in Congress reflects the dynamic needs of the nation's fastest growing communities.

Berkley is a graduate of the University of Nevada - Las Vegas and holds a law degree from the University of San Diego.  She is a former attorney, gaming executive, Nevada State Assembly Member and Nevada University and Community College System Board of Regents member from 1990 until her election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998.

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June 21, 2005

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America promised its veterans who served our nation during time of war that they would not have to live in poverty should they become disabled or when they reach retirement age. Sadly, that promise has not been kept, in large part because many veterans are unaware of the assistance available to them through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A recent evaluation of the VA's Non-service Connected Pension Program found that only about one in four eligible veterans are estimated to be receiving the pension benefits they are owed.

In my home State of Nevada, which boasts a veteran population of more than 240,000, only about 3,000 veterans and survivors now receive non-service connected pension benefits that average about $7,000 per year. Unfortunately, far too many veterans still do not know that this VA pension program exists.

Current recipients surveyed by the VA in 2004 reported that they had been eligible for many years before actually applying for benefits. As increasing numbers of World War II and Korean War veterans reach the point when medical expenses take a large amount of their income, we must do more to inform these American heroes of their eligibility for a VA pension. The cash assistance provided by this program can help veterans with modest incomes pay for prescription drugs, nursing home or in home care, and other out of pocket medical expenses.

In order to qualify for the VA non-service connected pension program, veterans are required to have served during a specific “period of war,” such as World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. The location of the service, stateside or overseas, does not matter as long as the veteran was discharged under honorable conditions and generally served for at least 90 days.

Veterans may receive a non-service-connected pension based on reaching age 65. Veterans who are under age 65 qualify if they are permanently and totally disabled. For disabled veterans, the disability does not have to have any relationship to the veteran's military service.

Eligibility for the program is based upon need. A veteran is generally eligible if he or she has less than $80,000 in net assets. The home and one motor vehicle are not counted in determining assets. The annual income of the veteran and dependent family member must be below certain limits.

For 2005, the maximum benefit for a single veteran is $846 per month. If the veteran has a spouse or other dependent, the maximum amount is $1,109 per month. In determining eligibility and the amount of the benefit paid, the VA will subtract any income, such as Social Security or retirement benefits, the veteran and his dependents receive from the maximum amount.

Additional amounts are payable to a disabled veteran of any age who is housebound or in need of “aid and attendance.” For example, a single veteran who is considered housebound is eligible for up to $1,034 per month. A single veteran who is paying privately for nursing home care may receive up to $1,412 per month. A single veteran who is blind or needs the aid of another person for daily activities and who receives care at home, can also receive up to $1,412 per month. If this veteran has a spouse, the amount is $1,674 per month. Single veterans whose nursing home care is being paid by Medicaid have their benefit reduced to $90.00 per month, but the $90.00 must be given to the veteran and may not be used for the cost of medical or nursing home care.

In determining income, the VA will count all of the income received by the veteran and his or her dependents. VA will subtract from a veteran's income, out of pocket medical expenses above a minimal amount ($508 per year for a single veteran and $665 per year for a veteran with a spouse or other dependent) paid by the veteran or dependents. Even if the veteran is depleting savings to pay medical expenses, the expenses are still deducted from income to increase the pension benefit.



For example, under VA rules, a single veteran who is housebound because of disabilities, who has $1,400 per month in gross income, and who is paying $562 per month for medical expenses, would be eligible for $157 per month in VA pension benefits. Medical expenses include Part B Medicare premiums, Medi-gap insurance, prescription drugs, nursing home care or other medical care and dental care. Only expenses actually paid by the veteran or dependent may be deducted.

Wartime veterans who believe that they qualify for a pension can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs (1-800-827-1000) for an application and further information. A simple letter requesting the pension benefits (including a request for housebound or aid and attendance if applicable) can serve as an “informal claim” for a pension, allowing benefits to be paid from that date forward, if the claim is approved. Applications can also be completed online or can be printed out and mailed directly to the VA.

Laws passed by Congress cannot achieve their desired result unless those who are intended to benefit from them are made aware of their existence. The VA pension program for non-service connected veterans provides valuable assistance to veterans with limited income and those who are depleting their savings to pay for medical care. Without information concerning the existence of this program, too many of our wartime veterans will continue to live in poverty.

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© 2005 Hon. Shelley Berkley. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.


 



 



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