The Department of Veterans Affairs, still commonly referred to as the VA, manages a number of benefits for veterans, including a wide range of healthcare benefits, disability compensation and pensions, home loans, educational benefits, burial benefits, and more.  Elderly and disabled veterans should be aware of the benefits available to them and their families, especially Disability Compensation and Pensions.

Disability Compensation
Disability compensation is a benefit paid to veterans who have a "service-connected" disability.  To qualify as a service-connected disability, the injury or disease must have developed or been aggravated during a period of active military service.  Unlike worker's compensation, where the disability must arise during the course of performing job-related duties, a service-connected disability does not have to be linked to the performance of military duties.  Some diseases, even if they are not diagnosed until decades after the veteran's active military service, may be presumed to have been caused by their military service, e.g. conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure, and Gulf War Syndrome.

The amount of disability compensation varies based on the disability rating (a percentage ranging from 10% to 100%), and the number of veteran's dependents (if the disability rating is 30% or more).  Disability compensation is paid monthly, and the benefit is not subject to federal or state income tax.  To be eligible, the veteran must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) may be available to surviving spouses and children if the veteran's death resulted from the service-connected disability, or if the veteran was continuously rated permanently disabled for a certain period of time prior to death.  Surviving spouses generally must not have remarried in order to remain eligible for the benefit, although a surviving spouse who remarries on or after December 16, 2003, and on or after attaining age 57, will remain eligible.  A surviving child will be eligible if he or she is not included in the surviving spouse's DIC, is unmarried, is under age 18, or is between the ages of 18 and 23 and attending school.  A surviving child who is disabled will be eligible, regardless of age, if the disability arose before he or she turned 18.  Certain low-income surviving parents may also be eligible.

Disability Pension
Disability pension is a benefit paid to wartime veterans with low incomes, who are 65 or older, or who are permanently and totally disabled.  The disability does not have to be service connected.  The VA often refers to the disability pension as a Special Monthly Pension, or an Improved Pension.  Most veterans and civilians refer to the benefit simply as Aid and Attendance.

In order to be eligible, the veteran must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.  The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, 1 day of which was during a period of war (veterans who entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally must have served at least 24 months, or the full period for which they were called to active duty).

The veteran must have countable annual income below a certain level set by Congress.  Countable income includes income received by the veteran's spouse and other dependents.  Countable income is reduced by unreimbursed medical expenses.  Unreimbursed medical expenses include doctor's fees, Medicare and other health insurance premiums and co-pays, prescriptions, transportation to physicians' offices, and the costs of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and in-home aides.

Finally, the veteran must have a limited net worth.  Unfortunately, neither the VA nor Congress has defined "limited net worth," and it is up to each eligibility worker to determine whether or not the veteran's net worth is too high.  Relevant factors include the veteran's age, diagnosis, and amount of unreimbursed medical expenses.  Although there are no specific asset limits, there are some generally accepted guidelines: in order to be eligible, a veteran must have a net worth lower than $50,000 if single, or $80,000 if married.  The veteran's home and car are not included in the calculation of net worth.

The amount of the pension is increased if the veteran is housebound, or in need of regular aid and attendance.  The amount of the pension is also increased based on the number of dependents the veteran has.

A Death Pension is available for surviving spouses and dependent children, under the same general eligibility criteria as used for DIC.

More information regarding these, and other veterans benefits, is available online at Department of Veterans Affairswebsite.

The 2009 Edition of Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents, published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, provides a comprehensive explanation of the various VA benefits, and is available for download online.