VA “shall pay to each veteran of a period of war who meets the service requirements of this section . . . and who is permanently and totally disabled from non-service-connected disability not the result of the veteran’s willful misconduct, pension at the rate prescribed by [statute].” 38 U.S.C. § 1521(a). The maximum annual rates for improved pension must be reduced by the amount of the veteran’s countable annual income. 38 U.S.C. § 1521; 38 C.F.R. § 3.23(b); Springer v. West, 11 Vet. App. 38, 40 (1998). “Payments of any kind from any source shall be counted as income during the 12-month annualization period in which received unless specifically excluded under [section] 3.272.” 38 C.F.R. § 3.271(a); 38 U.S.C. § 1503; see Martin v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 196, 199 (1994) (stating “statute and VA regulations provide that ‘annual income,’ as defined by statute and applicable regulation, includes payments of any kind from any source, unless explicitly exempted by statute or regulation”); but see 38 C.F.R. § 3.272 (enumerating categories to “be excluded from countable income for the purpose of determining entitlement to improved pension”).
Certain countable income is specifically excluded from this rule and as a result, a veteran’s pension will not be reduced. 38 C.F.R. § 3.272. Social Security Administration (SSA) old age and survivor’s insurance and disability insurance payments are considered income and must, therefore, be included. 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.262; 3.271(g); Burch v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 512, 513 (1994). Benefits under noncontributory programs, such as old age assistance, aid to dependent children, and supplemental security income are treated as charitable donations. See 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.262(d), (f). Unreimbursed medical expenses paid within the 12-month annualization period are excluded from income to the extent that they are in excess of 5% of the maximum annual pension rate. 38 C.F.R. § 3.272(g)(1)(iii). Whether a claimant is entitled to VA pension benefits is a question of fact.
Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 1505, pension benefits administered by the Secretary shall not be paid to or for an individual who has been imprisoned in a Federal, State, or local penal institution as a result of conviction of a felony or misdemeanor for any part of the period beginning 61 days after such individual’s imprisonment begins and ending when such individual’s imprisonment ends. 38 U.S.C. § 1505(a); 38 C.F.R. § 3.666; see also Latham v. Brown, 4 Vet. App. 265 (1993).
VA Non-Service Connected Pension or Wartime Pension
Many people confuse VA Pension with VA disability compensation. The two are different.
- VA pension is based on wartime service, having a non-service connected disability and the Veteran must be of low income.
- VA disability compensation is based on a service connected disability rating for the Veteran. The focus of this article is to provide the facts on the VA Pension since recently there has been misleading TV and internet advertisements promoting Veteran’s and Spouses to apply for the Pension.
Over the years the VA improved pension has been known as a Non-service connected Pension, a VA low-income Pension, live VA pension and most recently on TV and the internet advertised as a VA Wartime Pension for Veterans or Surviving Widows of Wartime Veterans. The current improved pension became effective January 1, 1979 and was preceded by Section 306 Pension and Old-Law Pension Program. All three non-service connected programs are disability and needs based. Today, the only available program for applicants is the improved pension program or non-service connected pension.
Eligibility for Non-Service Connected Pension
The improved pension program is for Veterans who served during wartime and meet specific requirements. It is for the requirement reason that TV advertisements refer to this pension as a wartime pension. The following program qualifying requirements must apply for the Veteran to receive this pension:
The Veteran must have an have a discharge “under other than dishonorable conditions” also known as a “honorable discharge”,
- actively served a minimum of one day during wartime,
- meet specific service time requirements,
- 90 days or more of active duty
- Veterans with active duty enlistment after September 7, 1980 must serve at least 24 months of active duty or complete the full period for which they were called to active duty.
- be of limited income (determined by the Maximum Annual Pension Rate or MARP) and net-worth, which are discussed later in this article and
- the Veteran must have one or more of the following :
- age 65 or older, or
- have a permanent and total non-service connected disability that will continue throughout the Veteran’s lifetime and prevents the Veteran from sustaining employment, or
- be a reside in a nursing home for long-term care , or
- be a recipient of Social Security disability benefits.
Maximum Annual Pension Rate for VA NSC Pension
Date of Cost-of-Living Increase: 12-01-2017
Increase Factor: 2.0%
Standard Medicare Deduction: Actual amount will be determined by SSA based on individual income.
Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) Category
|If you are a veteran…||Your yearly income must be less than…|
|Without Spouse or Child||$13,166|
|To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed 5% of MAPR, or, $ 659|
|With One Dependent||$17,241|
|To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed 5% of MAPR, or, $ 863|
|Housebound Without Dependents||$16,089|
|Housebound With One Dependent||$20,166|
|A&A Without Dependents||$21,962|
|A&A With One Dependent||$26,036|
|Two Vets Married to Each Other||$17,241|
|Two Vets Married to Each Other One H/B||$20,166|
|Two Vets Married to Each Other Both H/B||$23,087|
|Two Vets Married to Each Other One A/A||$26,036|
|Two Vets Married to Each Other One A/A One H/B||$28,953|
|Two Vets Married to Each Other Both A/A||$34,837|
|Add for Early War Veteran (Mexican Border Period or WW1) to any category above||$2,991|
|Add for Each Additional Child to any category above||$2,250|
|Child Earned Income Exclusion effective:||01-01-2000||$7,200|
|(38 CFR §3.272 (j)(1))
This link takes you to the full regulation;
scroll down to get the specific citation.
*Child dependents are: (1) under the age of 18, (2) between the ages of 18 and 23 who are attending college, or (3) declared a “helpless child” due to an infirmity before the age of 18. Veterans with additional dependent children should add $2,205 to the MAPR limit for each child.
Countable Income for Non-Service Connected Pension
To determine the income limit requirement for eligibility, the VA will require the Veteran to report all “countable income” for the Veteran’s household.
Countable income” refers to all household income:
- the Veteran’s,
- Veteran’s spouse (if living with the Veteran), and
The Veteran’s “countable income” must be below the maximum annual pension rate, MAPR, and the Veteran’s “net worth” must not provide adequate maintenance of the Veteran.
The need for pension is determined by “countable income” minus allowable deductions. The calculated reduced income is then subtracted from MAPR limit and the result is the annualized pension divided by 12 months.
As an example:
- The MAPR for a Veteran who needs aid and attendance with no dependents is $21,531 income per year.
- The Veteran’s countable income is $32,000 per year.
- After subtracting the allowable deductions, the countable income of the Veteran is reduced to $15,000/year.
- The MAPR of $21,531 minus $15,000 of countable income equals $6,531 per year of VA Pension.
- The $6,531 yearly VA Pension is divided by 12 months to determine the monthly amount.
- The Veteran receives a VA pension for $544.25 monthly for this example.
Allowable Deductions from Countable Income for VA Pension
The Veterans “countable income” is reduced by specific expenses. However, often Veterans believe that they are not eligible for pension because they make too much or are denied because they do not know the complete list of income exclusions and deductible expenses that would reduce their “countable income”.
The complete list of income exclusions is provided in 3.272 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations. This knowledge is important because most Veterans mistakenly think that the only income deduction is unreimbursed medical expenses over 5% of the Veteran’s household income. When in fact there are many deductions and when the Veteran uses all of the deductions that apply to their situation, the outcome is greater.
Another mistake that Veterans make is reporting income that is excluded from income reporting on the pension application. Not knowing the rules or what information to supply can cause a VA denial!
All income received from the following exclusions are not considered countable income by the VA. Veterans should make sure that when applying for pension, all deductions are applied and only income not excluded is counted. The list includes 22 income sources that are excluded from reporting and are found in Title 38 CFR 3.272:
- Maintenance in an institution or facility due to age or impaired health,
- VA pension benefits ( Payments under Chapter 15 of Title 38 and including accrued pension benefits payable under 38 U.S.C. 5121),
- Reimbursement for casualty loss,
- Profit from the sale of property,
- Joint accounts,
- Unreimbursed medical expenses that are 5% of the MARP,
- Veteran’s final expenses,
- Educational expenses for Veteran or Spouse,
- Domestic Volunteer Service Act Programs,
- Distribution of funds under 38. U.S.C 1718,
- DOD survivor benefit annuity,
- Agent Orange settlement payments,
- Restitution to individuals of Japanese ancestry,
- Cash surrender value of life insurance,
- Income received by American Indian beneficiaries from trust or restricted lands,
- Payments from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act,
- Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,
- Monetary allowance under 38 U.S.C. chapter 18, Victims of Crime Act,
- Healthcare premiums to include Medicare, (make sure to include all insurance premiums paid for all 4 Parts of Medicare-A,B,C,D and Supplemental plans),
- Medicare prescription drug discount card and transitional assistance program, and
- Lump-sum life insurance proceeds on a veteran.
Net Worth requirement for Non-Service Connected Pension
The other financial consideration for pension is “net worth.” “Net Worth” limitations are based on the net worth of a Veteran. The test is whether or not the Veteran’s “net worth” is able to provide adequate maintenance of the Veteran.
“Net worth” determination is also sometimes referred to as the “needs test”. “Net worth or Needs test” is determined on a case-by-case basis. The VA uses the Veteran’s and the Spouse’s Social Security numbers to verify income and net worth information from all government sources. The VA’s main source for financial information on Veterans is the IRS Income Tax Return(s).
The VA defines “net worth” or “corpus of estate” as the market value of the Veteran’s home minus the mortgages or other legal liabilities on the property or personal property owned by the Veteran and/or Spouse.
The Veteran’s single-family dwelling and reasonable personal effects are excluded. Unsecured debts are not a factor in determining VA “net worth”.
It is to the advantage of the Veteran to be prepared to document the market value of their home by submitting to the VA either: a real estate broker statement, appraisal, or bank loan officer statement. The Veterans should also be able to document their mortgage balance and any encumbrances on the property.
The following example will illustrate how the VA determines “net worth.”
- The Veteran owns a home with a market value of $200,000. The mortgage on the property is $150,000 and there is a $5,000 lien on the property.
- The Veteran’s personal effects values are: Clothing $2,000, car worth $10,000, furniture $2,000 and other belongings $800.
- The VA reduces the Real Property value to $45,000 ($200,000 market value reduced by the outstanding mortgage balance of $150,000 and the $5,000 property lien).
- The values of the personal effects are excluded.
- Thus, the Veteran’s net worth is $45,000 (Real Property Value) for this illustration.
The VA is known not deny “net worth” under $80,000. If the Veterans “net worth” is over $80,000, due to the high cost of living where the Veteran resides, the Veteran and/or Spouse should explain:
- why their claim “should be approved by the VA” despite a net worth over $80,000
- They should also detail the cost of living for the area,
- They should document that if their net-worth assets were liquidated, given the area cost of living, the liquidated resources would be rapidly exhausted and the proceeds of the liquidated assets would be unable to sustain the Veteran for any period of time.
NSC Pension Reporting: Eligibility Verification Report for Non-Service Connected Pension
Pension recipients are required to file annual reports detailing their income status. The reports are called Eligibility Verification Reports (EVRs).
If the VA has requested an “EVR report” it must be completed, returned, and received by the VA within 60 days. Failure to return the EVR within the 60 days will result in the VA will suspending the pension benefit and denying the claim for the upcoming year.
It is important not to leave any blanks on the report. Instead of leaving a blank, enter either zero “0” or, the word “none” or, “N/A” on all answers that do not apply. If you leave a blank on the EVR report the VA will reject the report and suspend all benefits.
Another issue with the “EVR report” is with Social Security benefit reporting. The SSI, (Supplemental Security Income), benefit is not considered “countable income”. SSDI, (Social Security Disability Income), and Social Security Old Age Pension must be reported accurately to the VA. Any discrepancy in reporting SSDI or SS Old Age Pension can cause VA pension over payments and negative adjustments to the your pension benefit.
The Veteran’s EVR documented Social Security or Social Disability income amount must match the amount documented by Social Security. It is easy for Veterans to have a reporting error. Veterans mistakenly report the actual amount of their Social Security check instead of reporting their full Social Security benefit which includes the Medicare monthly deductibles for Part B Premium at $104.90 and other premiums, if the Veteran selected Premiums for Parts C and D. Premium amounts for Part C and D vary by the plan. To avoid reporting errors, the Veteran and Spouse should refer to their annual report from the Social Security Administration and document the information correctly onto the EVR report.
If the Social Security Administration report is not available, the Veteran and/or Spouse can call and request the report from Social Security. Social Security can be contacted at 1-800-772-1213. Social Security representatives are available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you have hearing problems you can call 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Extra Benefits to add to the Non-Service Connected Pension
There are two extra benefits that can be claimed along with this pension. The two benefits are Aid and Attendance or Housebound Benefits. A Veteran can only receive one of the benefits. The Veteran’s housebound benefit is usually less than the Aid and Attendance benefit. Comparing the benefits, per the 12/01/2016 Table to determine pension of a Veteran with no dependents who might need either the housebound benefit or the aid and attendance benefit, the housebound benefit is about $238 per month and the Aid and Attendance benefits is about $716 per month.
To qualify for Aid and Attendance a Veteran must document one or more of the following:
- The Veteran requires the aid of another person for assistance with activities of daily living. (Activities of daily living include: bathing, feeding, dressing needs, toileting, adjusting prosthetic devices, or protecting yourself from the hazards of your daily environment.
- The Veteran is bedridden and the disability requires that the Veteran remain in bed apart from any prescribed course of convalescence or treatment. )
- The Veteran is in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacitating conditions.
- The Veteran is blind or so nearly blind as to have corrected visual acuity of 5/200 or less in both eyes and has contraction of the concentric visual field to 5 degrees or less.
Submitting a Claim for Non-Service Connected Pension
To submit a claim for the wartime or non-service connected pension, you will need:
- The proper VA application Form
- If the Veteran believes that he or she may qualify for both service connected disability compensation and/or a non-service connected pension, the Veteran should apply for both benefits. They should apply for compensation by submitting VA Form 21-526EZ Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. The fillable form can be obtained by going to: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526EZ-ARE.pdf
- If the Veteran believes that he or she is only eligible for non-service connected pension, then the Veteran should apply using VA Form 21-527EZ Application for pension. This fillable form can be obtained by going to: http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-527EZ-ARE.pdf
- All income and net worth information and supporting documents.
- Medical Evidence of the Claim: To support your claim, submit all medical treatment records and documents from private Practitioners, private facilities, testing centers and VA medical centers. For each source of medical information, complete VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veteran Affairs, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4142-ARE.pdf. VA medical centers do not need a VA Form 21-4142.
- Extra Benefit applications
- Application for Aid and Attendance or housebound benefits will require:
- If the Veteran resides at home, complete VA Form 21-2680, Examination for Housebound Status or Permanent Need for Regular Aid and Attendance, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-2680-ARE.pdf or
- If the Veteran is in a Nursing Home, complete VA Form 21-0779 Request for Nursing Home Information in Connection with Claim for Aid and Attendance, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-0779-ARE.pdf
- Claim application for a dependent child in school between 18 and 23 with the pension requires completing VA Form 21-674, Request for Approval of School Attendance http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-674-ARE.pdf
- Claim application for helpless (disabled) child benefits, will require you to declare the child a dependent, using VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-686c-ARE.pdf and submission of all relevant medical treatment records for the child’s disabilities using VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4138-ARE.pdf.
- Application for Aid and Attendance or housebound benefits will require:
For a brief overview of the pension, go to the VA Fact Sheet on Live Pension: http://benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/limitedincome/livepension.pdf.
Or, the VA Fact Sheet on Survivors Pension: http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/survivors/Survivorspension.pdf