Last Updated: June 27, 2014
U.S. Veteran's Benefits 101
Veteran's benefits provide those who have served their country,
as well as their spouses, financial assistance during their
retirement years. Veterans who are at least 65 years-old* and who
served during war time (though not necessarily in actual combat)
may be eligible for financial assistance through the Department of
Veteran Affairs (VA) that can be used to help pay for care. Spouses
and surviving spouses of wartime veterans are also often eligible.
Veteran's benefits can make all the difference for families who
struggling to pay for care.
*Veterans who are under 65 but rated 100% disabled may
qualify for the VA Pension described in the article.
Have more questions?
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The Service Requirement
The foremost eligibility requirement is the service requirement.
The veteran must have served at least 1 day during wartime.
The dates that the VA considers wartime are below:
World War II:12/7/1941 through 12/31/1946
Korean Conflict:6/27/1950 through 1/31/1955
Vietnam War: 8/5/1964 through 5/7/1975,
although veterans who served in Vietnam itself ("in country") as
early as 2/28/1961 may also qualify.
Gulf War: 8/2/1990 to date to be determined by
Dates of service can be established from
discharge papers. Copies of lost discharge papers can be requested
from the National Archives, or by calling
Three Tiers of the VA's Improved Pension
There are three tiers of VA benefits for older wartime veterans
and their dependents. Basic Pension can be considered the first
tier, Housebound the second tier, and Aid and Attendance the third
tier. Award amounts increase as the tier increases, and the tiers
are based on the needs of the applicant:
- Basic Pension: Basic Pension is designed to
function as cash assistance for low income veterans and their
dependents, so applicants may be healthy, but must have a very low
- Housebound Benefit: For the second tier,
Housebound, assistance with day to day activities must be needed
- Aid and Attendance: Assistance must be
required on a "daily basis."
Assistance from the VA is "means tested," which means that only
people who seem to genuinely need these benefits will receive an
award. It also means that benefits are determined based on the
applicant's income, assets, and needs.
Applicants whose countable incomes are over maximum thresholds,
including their homes, may still qualify, depending on their age
and the amount of their monthly allowable medical benefit. In
situations that are borderline, it can't hurt to apply, as
decisions are largely made on a case-by-case basis:
This countable income formula can help you determine
what is an allowable medical deduction, and how to arrive at what
the VA is determining as "countable income."
How to Apply
To apply for VA health care or determine eligibility, call the
VA's Health Benefits Service Center at (877) 222-VETS, or contact a
Veterans Benefits Office or VA health care facility (find the
nearest location at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs).
VA benefits can be extraordinarily complex, so consider speaking
with a Veteran Services Officer (VSO). Veteran Services Officers
volunteer throughout the United States, frequently at hubs for
veterans like American Legion halls Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW)
lodges. You can locate a VA accredited attorney or VSO/Benefits
representative here: http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/
You can also visit our
Veteran's Benefit Expert Question and Answer to see
answers to common VA benefit questions.
A Place for Mom Senior Living
Advisors, who work throughout the country, can answer basic
questions about VA benefits, and refer local veteran aid experts
for more intensive assistance. They can also help you identify
senior communities where Veteran's Aid and Attendance can be