According to Department of Veterans Affairs census estimates, there are approximately 13 million veterans and their single surviving spouses age 65 and older. Comparing this to a total of 41 million Americans 65 and older, veterans and their single surviving spouses represent about 1/3 of the senior population. According to VA about 42% of all veterans are 65 and older. This percentage will continue to grow as the bulk of the Vietnam veterans – the largest cohort – are still younger than age 65. www.seniorvets.org
Putting Things in Perspective
Senior veterans are typically in receipt of four cash income programs from VA. Two of these programs – Pension and Death Pension – are paid to veterans and their surviving spouses who are non-service-connected disabled. The other two of these programs – Compensation and DIC – are paid to veterans or surviving spouses due to disability or death from service connection. These programs are covered in detail in this book. For now let’s look at some statistics.
The table below represents the number of beneficiaries of these four benefit types of income that VA intends on paying in 2013. We had to interpolate the information to determine the numbers in the two age brackets in the table. This was based on how many cases are expected in different “periods of war” age groups. The numbers in each age bracket may not be totally accurate but they represent a good guess. From the table, VA estimates handling about 4,501,200 cases in 2013, and of those about 38% or 1,693,200 beneficiaries are age 65 and older.
It is important to note that of those 1.7 million beneficiaries 65 and older, only about 28% or 517,900 beneficiaries will be receiving Pension or Death Pension. Also note that the number of surviving spouses receiving DIC is about 20% more than those receiving Death Pension.
Why are these observations important? Because those practitioners who focus on educating seniors about veterans benefits almost always direct their attention exclusively to Pension or Death Pension – only about 28% of all VA beneficiaries. In contrast, seniors receiving service-connected payments represent 72% of those beneficiaries age 65 and over. Those seniors who could benefit from knowing more about Compensation and DIC and the aid and attendance assistance available from those benefits are often completely ignored.
Estimates of the Average Number of Cases for 2013 Younger than 65 Age 65 and Older
Total all Ages % of All Age 65 and Older Age 65 and Older % of All
Compensation Total 2,621,500 1,005,000 3,626,500 59.4% 22.3%
Pension Total 5,500 308,700 314,200 18.2% 6.9%
DIC Total 148,300 208,500 356,800 12.3% 4.6%
Death Pension Total 32,700 171,000 203,700 10.1% 3.8%
Total Cases Each Age Bracket 2,808,000 1,693,200 4,501,200 100.0% 37.6%
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs 2013 Budget
Understanding Benefits for Senior Veterans and Their Dependents
Pension and Death Pension
Commonly called “aid and attendance,” these twin benefits provide cash payments to veterans who served during a period of war or to their single surviving spouses. Pension helps to cover the cost of home care, assisted living and nursing home services. Pension is also available to veterans or surviving spouses with very low income who do not have long-term care costs. Cash income payments from Pension range from about $700 a month to a little over $2,000 a month depending on the type of claim and the medical rating involved. Most people don’t even know of the existence of this benefit. VA does not advertise it and as such many eligible people never apply.
It is unfortunate that Pension has been misnamed “aid and attendance.” “Aid and attendance” and “housebound” are actually additional monetary allowances provided with Pension if the recipient of Pension monies needs the regular aid and attendance of another person or is considered housebound. The misnomer creates confusion because aid and attendance assistance allowances are also available for service-connected disabilities (Disability Compensation) and to a spouse of a service connected disabled veteran and also an aid and attendance allowance is available to a surviving spouse of a veteran if the surviving spouse is receiving DIC (Dependents Indemnity Compensation). There are about 16 different monetary levels of aid and attendance or housebound allowances available with non-service-connected and service-connected disability programs for veterans or their surviving spouses. Approximately 308,700 senior veterans will receive Pension in 2013 and 171,000 of senior veteran survivors will receive Death Pension in 2013.
Disability Compensation is a tax-free benefit paid to a veteran for a service-connected disability that happened as a result of active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty training or injury from VA healthcare. Cash income payments for Compensation range from a low of about $130 a month to a high of about $8,000 a month. Special benefits like grants for new automobiles or modifying existing automobiles, grants for constructing or modifying homes, clothing allowances and so on are payable for severe service-connected disabilities. A veteran cannot receive Pension and Compensation at the same time and a surviving spouse cannot receive Death Pension and DIC at the same time. A choice must be made which benefit the beneficiary wants to receive.
An aid and attendance or housebound assistance allowance in the form of Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is available to the veteran who is 100% disabled. A veteran rated for 100% disability will receive a check for about $2,816 a month in 2013 and if the veteran has a spouse the amount is $2,974 a month. A 100% disabled veteran meeting the SMC Schedule (l) aid and attendance criteria can receive $3,505 a month and if that veteran has a spouse, the amount can be $3,662 a month. Higher amounts are possible if the aid and attendance involves certain severe disabilities. Additional disabilities also add $100 per month per disability to SMC under Schedule (j).
This aid and attendance allowance is not an automatic benefit and most veterans don’t even know about this special assistance and never apply for it. If the veteran receiving Compensation is not 100% disabled, the need for aid and attendance might possibly allow for that increase in rating and the additional assistance for aid and attendance on top of that. Most veterans receiving Compensation don’t have a clue as to their eligibility for this special benefit.
Also, an aid and attendance assistance allowance is available due to the need for services to a disabled spouse of a veteran where the veteran is 30% or more disabled. The amount goes up as the disability rating goes up. For example, a 30% disabled veteran can generate a $43 a month benefit as a result of his or her disabled spouse. A 100% disabled veteran can generate $143 a month. Again, it is not common knowledge these additional allowances are available and VA does not normally notify people of their existence.
Of particular note for Disability Compensation are Agent Orange claims for each and every veteran who was stationed in Vietnam and who has developed presumptive health conditions such as certain forms of cancer, type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease (lack of proper blood flow to the heart) and Parkinson’s disease. Veterans with service-connected hearing loss can also make claims and receive free hearing aids. This hearing disability rating will also get them into the health care system. Many veterans don’t know of the existence of Agent Orange claims or the fact that they might be eligible for service-connected disability for hearing loss. Approximately 3,626,500 beneficiaries will receive Compensation in 2013 and of those approximately 1,005,000 are age 65 and older. Of all beneficiaries, approximately 320,000 are 100% disabled.
Health Care Benefits
The VA health care system is the largest single provider of health care in the United States. It has also been recognized by numerous surveys as being one of the best providers of health care as well. Not all veterans can receive care in the system. Eligibility requires either service-connected disability, receipt of Pension, special service recognition such as prisoner of war or Purple Heart or low income and less than $80,000 in assets. For all beneficiaries – not to include those who are means tested – all services are free and medications are $8.00 per month per medication regardless of what it is. Means tested veterans must pay a co-pay for services. There are no other out-of-pocket costs such as health care premiums. Help can also be provided with disability-required home renovation grants of $2,000 or $6,800, orthotics, prosthetics and in certain cases hearing aids. VA outpatient clinics are available in most communities. Approximately 8,400,000 individuals are enrolled in the health care system.
Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) – also called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – is payable to eligible survivors of a military service member who died on active duty or whose death after service resulted from a service-connected injury or disease. It is also available due to improper treatment of the deceased veteran from VA healthcare or rehabilitation services. DIC is automatically granted to a surviving spouse for a veteran who was permanently and totally disabled for 10 years or more. DIC pays $1,215 a month in 2013 to a surviving spouse. Additional amounts are available if there are dependent children. A dependent child is one who is 18 years old or younger or 23 years old or younger and enrolled full-time in school or is an adult who became totally dependent prior to the age of 18.
If the surviving spouse needs the aid and attendance of another person such as home care, assisted living or nursing home care, an additional $301 a month assistance benefit will be paid. This DIC with aid and attendance benefit is about $400 more a month than a surviving spouse can receive from Death Pension. This additional benefit is not automatic and most individuals receiving DIC do not even know it is available. An additional monthly benefit for being housebound is also available. Approximately 356,800 spouse survivors will receive DIC in 2013 and of those approximately 208,500 are age 65 and older. The majority of these are surviving spouses of veterans from the Vietnam era.
Money is available for burial costs for veterans who were service disabled, receiving Pension or died under VA care. If the death was a result of service-connected disability, $2,000 is available. If the death was non-service related, and the veteran was receiving Pension or Compensation or was entitled to either of these, up to $700 is available for plot allowance and burial and funeral expenses. All veterans also receive free burial in State and Federal VA cemeteries. Under certain conditions, spouses and other family members can receive free burial in State and Federal VA cemeteries. All veterans are eligible for a grave marker (or equivalent monetary allowance), a flag for the coffin, a graveside honor guard and a letter from the President of the United States. Approximately 60,000 veterans will receive the burial allowance in 2013 and 33,000 will receive a burial plot. VA expects about 18,000 service-connected deaths in 2013 and claims for about 350,000 grave markers. About 500,000 flags will be given for burial.
State Veteran Benefits
All states offer various additional benefits to veterans to include special recognition, property tax reduction, free hunting and fishing and state parks admission as well as a whole host of other benefits. Some states are more generous than others and in some states veterans can receive a one-time cash stipend. All states have at least one or more veterans homes that are available to various classes of veterans depending on the rules of the home. Some homes require the veteran to have been a war veteran and others do not. Federal rules require that at least 25% of all beds in state veterans homes be reserved for the spouses of veterans if those beds are available.