(I recently presented a program on Veterans Benefits and Social Security Disability Benefits at the Elder Law College, a seminar on Elder Law and Special Needs Law presented each year by the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education. A summary of the seminar material is presented below.)
Veterans and their families should be aware of the various benefits that may be available to them through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”).
Among other benefits, monetary benefit programs are available through the Benefits Administration branch of the VA. These monetary benefit programs are separated into benefits for (1) service-connected disabilities and (2) non-service-connected disabilities. The primary benefit for service-connected disabilities is the VA “compensation” benefit; the primary benefit for non-service- connected disabilities is the VA “pension” benefit.
1. Compensation for Service-Connected Disabilities.
VA “compensation” is a disability benefits program that provides monthly monetary payments to compensate veterans for service-connected disabilities.
The general eligibility requirements for VA disability compensation are: (1) that the veteran’s injury or disease was suffered or aggravated in the line of duty; (2) that the veteran was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable; and (3) that the disability did not result from the veteran’s own willful misconduct, or abuse of alcohol or drugs.
If the veteran is found eligible, basic benefits are paid based upon how severely the veteran is disabled, and on whether the veteran has a spouse, children or dependent parents. The VA assigns a disability “rating” to the disabled veteran, using a statutory ratings schedule, based on what it calculates is the impairment of a veteran’s civilian earning capacity resulting from the disability.
2. Pension for Non-Service Connected Disabilities.
The VA Pension is a disability benefits program available to compensate veterans for non-service-connected disabilities. Like the VA compensation program, the pension program is based upon disability. However, unlike the VA compensation program, the pension program is also based on income and need, and the veteran’s disability must be total and permanent (but need not be “service-connected”).
There are three (3) types of benefits available through the VA pension program: (1) the basic pension, (2) “Housebound” benefits and (3) “Aid and Attendance” benefits.
A. The Pension Program.
Pension “is a benefit paid to wartime veterans who have limited or no income, and who are age 65 or older, or, if under 65, who are permanently and totally disabled.”
To qualify, the veteran must be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions; must have wartime service (in general, for those entering military service before September 7, 1980, consisting of at least 90 days of active service, one day of which was during a war-time period); must have limited or no income; and must be age 65 or older, or be permanently and totally disabled.
With respect to income eligibility, the person’s countable family income must be below a yearly limit set by Congress. The veteran’s net worth, or the net value of the assets of the veteran and his/her dependents, is also considered by the VA and, although there is no specified resource limit, net worth cannot be “excessive.”
In addition to the basic pension, more severely disabled veterans may also qualify for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits.
B. Housebound Benefits.
Housebound benefits are paid in addition to the monthly pension for a veteran (or eligible surviving spouse) who qualifies for the pension and who:
- has a total permanent disability and, as a result, is permanently and substantially confined to his/her premises; or,
- has a total permanent disability plus another disability or disabilities that are 60% or more disabling.
C. Aid and Attendance Benefits.
Aid and Attendance (“A&A”) is a benefit that is paid in addition to the monthly pension. A&A is available to a veteran (or eligible surviving spouse) who qualifies for the pension and who:
- is bedridden, or
- requires the aid of another person to perform activities of daily living, or
- is a nursing home resident, as a result of mental or physical incapacity, or
- is blind or nearly blind in both eyes.
SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS
Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income are two programs available from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) that may play an important role in an elder law practice.
Social Security Disability (“SSD”) Benefits:
Available to a blind or disabled worker who:
- applies for benefits;
- has not reached full retirement age;
- has sufficient social security earnings to be deemed insured for disability;
- is disabled;
- has been disabled for a 5-month waiting period within the last 17 months prior to the month of application.
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) Benefits:
Available to an aged (65 or older), blind or disabled individual who:
- applies for SSI and all other benefits for which he/she may be entitled;
- is a U.S. resident or qualified alien;
- is not a resident of a public institution;
- meets the income and resource requirements; and
- is not fleeing to avoid prosecution for a felony or violating probation or parole.
Major differences between the SSD and SSI programs:
- SSD benefits are available only to those with sufficient social security earnings to be deemed “insured” for disability. SSI benefits are not based on insured status or the individual’s earnings. SSI benefits are paid to blind or disabled persons based upon that person’s income and resources.
- Unlike SSD, which is available to those who have not reached the age of retirement, SSI is available not only to the blind and disabled, but also to individuals over age 65.
- In New Jersey, individuals who receive SSI are also automatically entitled to Medicaid benefits.
- After 24 months of SSD eligibility, individuals who receive SSD are entitled to Medicare Part A, and are eligible for Medicare Part B subject to payment of a premium.
Interplay between the SSD and SSI programs:
- An individual may receive benefits under both SSI and SSD, if he/she qualifies for both.
- The standards for the medical determination of disability are the same for the SSI and SSD programs for adults.
- Although an SSI recipient may receive up to $20 per month of unearned income without penalty, any unearned income in excess of $20 per month will be deducted from the SSI benefit on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Benefits received under SSD are considered “unearned income,” and those monthly benefits decrease the amount of SSI benefits to which the individual is entitled, on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Conceivably, a recipient’s social security benefit could reduce his or her SSI benefit to zero, resulting in a loss of Medicaid benefits.
The PowerPoint slide presentation I prepared for the program are attached here – 12-12 VA and SS Elder Law College