The Veteran's Pension Program is one of two pension programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is distinct from the Veteran's Disability Compensation Program in that the benefits are restricted to wartime veterans. It is also means-tested, meaning that you cannot qualify for the program unless you have a very low income.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is notoriously slow to process applications for its programs, and the Veteran's Pension Program is no exception. Expect a six- to eight-month lead time from the time you apply, to the time you begin receiving any benefits -- assuming that you qualify.
To qualify for a veteran's pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs, you must first be a wartime veteran. Second, you must either be 65 years of age or older, or, if you are less than 65 years old, you must be totally disabled and therefore unable to pursue gainful employment. You must have been honorably discharged, or discharged under honorable conditions.
There are two tiers of service requirements to qualify for the veteran's pension, depending on when you entered the military. For those who entered the military prior to September 7th, 1980, you must have served at least 90 days on active duty, one day of which must have been during wartime. For those who entered service on September 7th, 1980 or later, you must generally have served at least 24 months on active duty. For the veteran's pension, your disability, if any, does not need to have been service-related.
Income and Eligibility
To collect the veteran's pension, you must have a total household income below a certain threshold; Congress sets this threshold each year and periodically adjusts it for inflation. As of 2011, a single veteran with no dependents must show an income of less than $11,830 for the year to qualify for benefits. However, if you have significant medical expenses and they are in excess of $531 for the year, you may be able to deduct this amount from your income for the purposes of calculating veteran's pension eligibility. Veterans with dependents can show a higher income and still maintain eligibility.
Although the Veterans Administration typically requires six to eight months to process a new application, there are some things you can do to help speed the process: Gather your needed documents at the beginning of the process. For veterans pensions, you will not only need your DD-214, but also birth certificates and marriage certificates to document your dependents.
Moving Things Along
Make sure you follow directions from the outset. Your case will move through the system a lot faster if you turn in your application fully filled out, with all required documents, all at once. Otherwise, your case can get bogged down in back-and-forth requests for additional information. Watch your mailbox carefully during this time, so you can respond promptly to any requests.
Leslie McClintock has been writing professionally since 2001. She has been published in "Wealth and Retirement Planner," "Senior Market Advisor," "The Annuity Selling Guide," and many other outlets. A licensed life and health insurance agent, McClintock holds a B.A. from the University of Southern California.