Veterans and their families have put a lot on the line in service to their country. Now that they are home, they are entitled to a number of VA benefits. In many cases, it takes a VA benefits strategic plan to account for military and civilian retirement income and make the most of the benefits available.
In this blog post, I will explain how VA benefits interact with your financial and estate plan. I will review options available to veterans and their beneficiaries, and explain how a VA benefits strategic plan makes the most of their VA benefits, even after a service member has passed away.
If you served even one day of active military service during wartime, you may have VA benefits available to you in your retirement. Wartime includes:
Access to certain VA benefits start through qualification for a basic VA pension. To qualify for these benefits, a veteran or his or her dependent must meet requirements based on their
A disabled veteran may also qualify for a needs-based pension. A needs-based pension takes one of two forms:
Housebound benefits can be added to your VA basic pension if you are forced to remain in your home because of a permanent disability. Aid & Attendance benefits apply if you need help performing at least two of the regular activities of daily living:
They also apply if you are bedridden or require nursing home care due to your disability.
These benefits are also available to veterans whose disabilities are not service related. If you are a veteran or the surviving spouse of a veteran, you may be able to receive Aid & Attendance benefits if you are at least 65 years old and meet all the other requirements.
A VA accredited attorney, claims agent, or veterans services organization can help you file a claim for VA enhanced pension or A&A benefits. There are many scams that target veterans, so before committing, be certain the person you are working with has VA accreditation.
Many veterans leave the service without a good understanding of the VA benefits they are entitled to, or the limits placed on those benefits. For example, you may not know you can roll over funds invested in a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) into an IRA or other civilian retirement account. You may have heard that you can use a trust or annuity to get more out of your VA retirement benefits, but you may not realize that the qualified annuities within the TSP are not your only options. It is a good idea to speak with a financial planner and an elder law attorney familiar with VA benefits soon after you retire to make sure you make the right investment choices with your money.
If you had a successful civilian career in addition to your military service, you may find that you have difficulty meeting the income and means testing limits for VA benefits. Even with careful financial planning, it can be difficult to be certain you will qualify for VA pension benefits later in life.
Veterans applying for VA pension benefits cannot have countable income beyond the Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR) for that veteran's pension income category. If you do, you won't receive any VA benefits. However, unreimbursed medical expenses can bring down your countable income and qualify you for benefits. You may also be able to use certain trust or annuity structures to protect your assets and still qualify for benefits.
There is no concrete cut off for VA benefits. Whether you qualify will depend on your income, your health expenses, your life expectancy, and your needs. That's why a VA benefits strategic plan is so important. It can help you prepare for the future and protect your access to your VA pension, so you don't have to worry about qualifying when you need the money the most.
Rebecca J. Braun, J.D., is an estate planning and elder law attorney for Mobile Legal Services in Southeast Michigan. She is VA accredited to assist veterans aged 65 and over manage their estate planning needs. She will travel to clients, free of charge, in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Southern Macomb Counties.Contact us for an initial assessment.