Benefits for Low Income Older Veterans 

July 18, 2018

Hi all, 

Prior to joining Volunteers of Legal Service as the Elderly Project Director, I spent the last seven years providing free legal services to New York City’s low income veterans, active duty service members and their families. One of the things I discovered in working with that community is that there are so many people who served our nation that may be eligible for benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but they don’t know it.

A surprising statistic about New York State’s veterans is how many of them are over the age of 60. According to 2016 US Census numbers, there are 838,129 veterans residing in New York State. Of those veterans, 509,413 of them are over the age of 60! This is a huge population of aging veterans who served our country during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. As these senior veteran age, we want to ensure they get every benefit they earned from their service.

When it comes to low income seniors who served, the benefit that many are likely to be eligible for is the Veterans Pension. The Veterans Pension is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income wartime Veterans who are either elderly or disabled. In order to determine whether a senior veteran you are working with is eligible for a Veterans Pension you want to look at a few factors.

First, does their service qualify?

Generally, a veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day of service during a wartime period. For those who entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally they must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty, with at least one day of service during a wartime period.

The VA recognizes the following wartime periods to determine eligibility for VA Pension benefits:

World War II (December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946)

Korean conflict (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955)

Vietnam era (February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975)

Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – through a future date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation)

This does not mean that the veteran must have seen combat or have been in a war-zone in order to be eligible. It only means that the veterans must have served at least one day during any of the period of time above.

Second, do they have the proper military discharge status?

In order to be eligible for a VA Pension, the veteran must have been discharged from the  military with either an Honorable discharge, a general under honorable conditions discharge, a general discharge or the proper character of discharge determination from the VA.  Many senior veterans might not remember their discharge status or might not have records of their military service. You can assist them in obtaining their military discharge papers, also known as the DD-214 Form, which will have all the information needed in order to determine eligibility for the Veterans Pension and other benefits as well. A senior veteran get their DD214 Form from the National Archives. Here is more information about how to obtain these crucial documents: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

 Third, are they considered elderly or disabled by the VA?

 In addition to meeting minimum service requirements, the Veteran must be: 

• Age 65 or older, OR

• Totally and permanently disabled, OR

• A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, OR

• Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, OR

• Receiving Supplemental Security Income

 Lastly, are they financially eligible for a Veterans Pension?

 The Veterans Pension is reserved for low income veterans. The VA looks at a veteran’s annual income in determining if they are low enough income to qualify. For a single veteran the maximum income they are allowed is $13,166 per year and that number is $17,241 per year if the veteran has one dependent. In other words, so long as a qualified veteran has less than $1,097 per month in income they would be financially eligible for a Veterans Pension.

 To give  a common example, if you have a qualified veteran who is receiving SSI and SSP benefits (which total $837 per month) they would be eligible for a Veterans Pension and they could see their income increase from $837 per month to $1097 per month. The benefit can increase to up to $1,830 per month if the veteran is in need of the aid and attendance of another person.

These benefits can make a huge difference for a low income New Yorker. 

Veterans can apply for the Veteran Pension by filling out and submitting  the VA’s  “Application for Pension” Form (VA Form 21P-527EZ ) available here: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21P-527EZ-ARE.pdf or by applying online: https://www.vets.gov/pension/application/527EZ/introduction

 I know that the qualification criteria for this and other VA benefits can seem daunting, but the first step in determining whether your client may be eligible for benefits is asking them whether they served in the military. If the answer is yes, I would be more than happy to explore with you what benefits your client might be eligible for stemming from their military service.

 All the best,

Pete

Peter Kempner
Elderly Project Director
Volunteers of Legal Service
40 Worth Street, Suite 820
New York, NY 10013
Tel.: 347-521-5704
Fax: 347-521-5738
pkempner@volsprobono.org
www.volsprobono.org