On October 18, 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will begin implementing new regulations published in the Federal Register (83 FR 47246) that determine eligibility for VA Pension benefits. The VA Pension is a needs-based benefit paid by the VA to low-income veterans and their families who served during wartime. For veterans who are housebound or require the aid and attendance of another person, an additional monetary amount may be provided each month. The aim of the VA Pension is to assist elderly or disabled wartime veterans who are struggling financially. Accordingly, the benefit functions as an important tool in eliminating veteran homelessness.

In order to qualify for VA Pension benefits, a veteran must have served active duty for at least 90 days or longer depending on dates of service and served at least one day during a wartime period established by Congress. Additionally, the veteran must be at least 65 years old or totally and permanently disabled. A veteran receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is automatically deemed totally and permanently disabled for VA Pension purposes. Unlike VA Compensation benefits, the disabling condition does not need to be service connected. The veteran must also meet the income requirements established for VA needs-based benefits. The 2018 annual income limit – also referred to as the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) – is $13,166 for a single veteran.

While many of the VA Pension eligibility requirements remain the same, the new regulations aim to clarify how the VA considers net worth, asset transfers, and income exclusions. Under the new regulations, a veteran eligible for VA Pension benefits must have a net worth – defined as annual income and assets – equal to or less than the maximum Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA) set by Congress for Medicaid. The 2018 CSRA amount is $123,600 and the amount will increase every year according to the cost-of-living adjustment determined by the Social Security Administration. When assessing assets, the VA will not consider personal effects or the primary residence of the veteran if the residential lot size does not exceed two acres.  However, the VA will now consider any asset transfers over the 36-month period prior to the date of the VA Pension application when determining net worth and may result in a penalty period.

An additional factor to calculate when determining whether a veteran falls within the net worth limit is unreimbursed medical expenses. Veterans are able to deduct certain medical expenses when calculating their annual income. As such, veterans over the MAPR amount with significant out-of-pocket medical expenses may be eligible for VA Pension benefits. The new regulations seek to clarify what the VA considers to be deductible medical expenses. Medical expenses – defined as payments for items or services that are medically necessary; improve a disabled individual’s ability to function; or prevent, slow, or ease an individual’s functional decline – include but are not limited to payments made to health care providers, payments for medications, health insurance premiums, assisted living facilities, and in-home care.

Ultimately, the new regulations provide much needed clarification on income eligibility requirements and help to ensure VA Pension benefits remain available to wartime veterans in financial need.  If you or someone you know is a veteran living in Philadelphia and experiencing homelessness with a benefits issue, you should contact the Homeless Advocacy Project at 215-523-9595 to discuss possible advice or representation.

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