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Know the Rules When Applying for VA Pension Benefits

The Veterans Administration provides many benefits for our veterans. While many of us are familiar with health care benefits, the VA also provides home loan guaranties, education assistance, and employment assistance programs, to name a few. One important benefit for low income veterans and their survivors is the pension program.

The Veterans Administration (VA) pension program is needs-based, and is designed to provide supplemental income to veterans and their survivors when the veteran:

  • Was honorably discharged
  • Served during a period of war
  • Has low income and few assets
  • Meets age and/or disability requirements

When veterans and their survivors qualify, their VA pension be supplemented with additional funds under the Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits. These benefits assist people who are housebound due to disability, have limited vision, are confined to nursing homes, and/or need the help of another person to perform personal functions.

When applying for benefits, you can submit an application yourself or seek assistance.

When seeking assistance, you will want to know the VA’s rules.

Authorized claim preparers

An individual helping to prepare your claim must be accredited by the VA. This ensures applicants for VA benefits receive qualified assistance in preparing and presenting their claims.

The VA accredits three types of individuals:

  • Veterans Service Officers who are affiliated with VA-recognized veterans service organizations (VSOs)
  • Independent Claims Agents
  • Attorneys

Claim preparation fees

Fees can be charged only in certain instances.

  • Veterans’ service organizations provide free assistance with filing a VA pension claim.
    • VSOs include The American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
  • Accredited attorneys and claims agents may not charge a fee for preparing and presenting a claim.
    • Preparing and presenting a VA claim includes gathering the necessary information, completing the application, submitting the claim to the VA, and communication with the VA on behalf of the claimant.
  • Accredited attorneys and claims agents may charge a pre-application consultation fee. The rules around this are tricky.
  • If you go for a consultation and say you intend to file for VA pension benefits, the accredited consultant may not charge you.
  • If you say you are exploring the possibility without expressing an intent to file, they may charge a fee for general advice about possible eligibility for benefits.
  • If the VA denies your claim, attorneys and claims agents may charge for work done after you file a “Notice of Disagreement.”

Sales of financial products

If an attorney or a claims agent is also a financial planner, he or she may not use the VA accreditation to sell or promote financial products.

Reducing your assets to qualify

Some organizations sell financial and estate planning services, such as annuities and trusts, to help veterans lower their assets to qualify for the pension program. The VA frowns on this practice.

The VA is well aware some people abuse the intent of the pension program by reducing their assets before submitting an application. In response, to “maintain the integrity of the pension program” the VA has proposed a 36 month “look back” period for calculating benefits. If implemented, the VA would scrutinize and question any asset transfers (including the establishment of trusts and the buying of annuities) in the 36 months preceding the claimant’s application for benefits. Disallowed transfers could lead to penalties not to exceed ten years. In the meantime, an attorney familiar with the VA’s rules should be consulted before transferring any assets to qualify for pension benefits.

If you or your loved one is considering applying for VA pension benefits, you want to be aware of the VA’s rules around the application process. You do not want to make any unnecessary payments for application preparation, and you do not want to make any mistakes that could jeopardize your application.

The VA pension benefit program has many details, rules and nuances. This blog is a general overview only. Please use the following links for more information and to locate resources in your community:

General overview of Veterans Administration benefits: https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/

Detail and eligibility on Veterans pension benefits: https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/vetpen.asp

Detail and eligibility on Aid & Attendance and Homebound benefits: https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/aid_attendance_housebound.asp

Information on how to apply for pension benefits: https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/index.asp

Searchable list of accredited VSO representatives, agents and attorneys: https://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp

VA Publication, What Veterans And Their Families Should Know When Applying For Department Of Veterans Affairs (VA) Pension Benefitshttps://www.benefits.va.gov/PENSION/Pensionprograminfo.pdf

 

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.