Survivor’s Pension is a benefit that provides financial support to surviving spouses of wartime veterans who have limited countable income. Countable income is household income from all sources including, but not limited to, social security, salary, other pensions, interest, and dividends. Monthly payments are made to bring a surviving spouse’s total annual income to an established support level.
The annual basic pension rates are:
Surviving spouse: $9,224
Surviving spouse w/ 1 dependent: $12,072
Each additional dependent child or child alone: $2,351
Assets are also considered by the VA when determining whether or not a surviving spouse is eligible for this program. This does not include their primary home if they’re living in it but it may include some of the property on which their home is located. The total income plus assets cannot exceed $129,094.
In order to be eligible, the veteran had to have been discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions and had to have served 90 days or more on active duty with at least 1 day during a period of war. If the active duty occurred after September 7, 1980, the veteran must have served at least 24 months or the full period that they were called up for active duty (in the case of reservists or National Guard members). This does not mean the veteran has to be a combat veteran. It only means he/she had to have served during wartime.
The VA will pay a higher amount if a surviving spouse is deemed permanently housebound meaning he/she is substantially confined to his/her house or immediate premises due to a disability or disabilities, which it is reasonably certain will remain throughout the surviving spouse’s lifetime.
Annual housebound amounts are:
Surviving spouse: $11,273
Surviving spouse w/ 1 dependent: $14,116
Each additional dependent child: $2,351
Aid and Attendance
The VA will pay an even higher amount if a surviving spouse is deemed in need of regular aid and attendance meaning he/she is a patient in a nursing home or helpless or blind, or so nearly helpless or blind as to need or require the aid and attendance of another person.
Annual aid and attendance amounts are:
Surviving spouse: $14,742
Surviving spouse w/ 1 dependent: $17,586
Each additional dependent child: $2,351
If a surviving spouse is claiming housebound or aid and attendance, they will need their primary care provider to fill out a VA form 21-2680. Additionally, they will need a statement from their provider stating they require health care services or custodial care that the in-home provider or assisted living facility provides because of mental or physical disability. The mental or physical disability must be described in this statement. This form and statement do not need to be done if the surviving spouse is in a nursing home. They will need their nursing home to fill out a VA form 21-0779, though.
If a surviving spouse has no dependents, is in a nursing home, and is on Medicaid and not private pay, their VA pension amount will only be $90 per month. This amount cannot be counted as income for Medicaid purposes.
Countable income is gross income from all sources, as discussed in the first paragraph. The VA can reduce countable income by out-of-pocket medical expenses that can be presumed will be regular, recurring medical expenses for the next 12 months. As an example, if a surviving spouse is paying for Medicare, the VA will presume they will continue to pay for it for the next 12 months. In that case, the VA will adjust the surviving spouse’s monthly gross income by the amount they pay for Medicare (it’s not an exact dollar-for-dollar offset). If there is a supplemental health insurance policy, that premium can also be claimed. Technically, a surviving spouse can claim whatever medical expenses they want, but the VA is not likely to accept any medical expenses that can change from month-to-month such as doctor and medication co-pays. If an unusual medical expense is claimed, the surviving spouse must provide either a doctor’s prescription for it (such as a wheelchair, for example) or a personal statement as to why they feel the VA should count that as a medical expense. Medical expenses can be used to offset income only. They cannot be used to offset assets.
Only medical expenses that are regular and recurring can be claimed initially. On future claims, however, a surviving spouse can claim actual medical expenses paid, so it’s important they keep track of them. Once a surviving spouse is receiving a VA pension for a year, they can then claim the actual medical expenses paid over the past year and be reimbursed for the expenses the VA accepts. Examples of allowable medical expenses include, but are not limited to: doctor and medication co-pays, eye glasses, dental costs, hearing aids, and transportation (mileage) for medical purposes.
If there are income changes at any time, the surviving spouse should notify the VA immediately as this is an income-based program and pension will need to be adjusted in order to prevent an overpayment.