Veteran’s disability benefits go back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. In 1636, Plymouth Colony ordered that any disabled soldier wounded while defending the colony would be maintained by the Colony for life. Other colonies followed this lead. In 1776, the Continental Congress established disability pensions (now called Disability Compensation) for veterans who became disabled during military service. In 1789, the first federal pension law was passed giving responsibility to the Congress to pay veterans benefits. This pension legislation continued the pension law passed by the Continental Congress.
In 1818, the Service Pension Law was introduced to provide pension benefits to veterans who have served in war on the basis of need. Under this law, veterans who had served in the War for Independence and who were financially needy were eligible to receive a fixed pension for life. In 1862, the General Pension Act allowed disability payments for union troops to be based on rank and degree of disability.
In 1873, the Consolidation Act revised pension policies, paying on the degree of disability rather than the service rank. The Dependent Pension Act of 1890 expanded benefits to eligible dependents under certain conditions.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses a rating schedule to evaluate the degree of disability. The schedule was created in 1919 and it has provided the foundation for the current VA compensation and pension programs for disabled veterans. In 1945, the VA rating schedule underwent major changes allowing the VA to reevaluate a veteran and change the disability rating. In 1978, the current version of the non-service-connected pension, the Improved Pension Benefit, became effective.
WHO ADMINISTERS THE PROGRAM
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) administers Veterans Pension benefits to low-income wartime veterans who have a non-service-connected disability or are age 65 or older.
The VA Pension program is federally funded.
Summary of the VA Pension
The VA Pension benefit is a monthly cash benefit paid to qualified veterans, who have a non-service-connected disability or are 65 or older and have limited income; in addition, if the entitled veteran has dependents, s/he may be entitled to a higher cash benefit.
To qualify for the VA Pension a veteran must be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions, have military service during a wartime period, have income below specified limits, have a net worth that does not provide adequate maintenance, and be permanently and totally disabled at the time of the application, if under age 65. Veterans who are age 65 or older do not have to be disabled to qualify for VA Pension. Refer to Cash Benefits, VA Disability Compensation for veterans disabled while on active duty.
Veterans file an application for the VA pension at a VA regional office either in person or via the Internet. A veteran who disagrees with a VA regional office’s decision regarding his/her eligibility for benefits can file an appeal.
The Department of Veterans Affairs administers several pension benefit programs for veterans, as well as their surviving spouses and dependent children. The most current pension programs available (for those meeting the eligibility criteria on or after January 1, 1979) are the Improved Pension for certain low-income veterans and the Improved Death Pension for certain low-income surviving spouses or children of veterans. This chapter describes these programs, including the eligibility criteria and current benefit levels. It does not include programs prior to January 1, 1979: the Old Law Death Pension and the Section 306 Death Pension.
Other Benefits under the VA Pension Program
IMPROVED DEATH PENSION BENEFIT
The surviving spouse or dependent child of a veteran may be eligible for the Improved Death Pension Benefit, commonly called the “Survivors’ Pension,” if eligibility requirements, with respect to the deceased veteran and surviving spouse and child, are met. See below, Additional Benefits, Improved Death Pension Benefit.
AID & ATTENDANCE AND HOUSEBOUND BENEFITS
Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits are extra monthly payments available to veterans and their surviving spouses who are in need of aid and attendance, or who are very limited in their ability to leave their home because of a disability, or who are patients in a nursing home. See below, Additional Benefits, Aid & Attendance and Housebound Benefits.