Veterans' benefits include a wide range of cash benefits and services for veterans and their dependents and survivors. Elderly persons are usually most interested in compensation for service-connected disability or death, pensions based on age and financial need, medical benefits, burial benefits and life insurance.

Administration of Benefits

Veterans' benefits are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (formerly the Veterans Administration and still known as the VA). The VA is a cabinet-level department of the federal executive branch whose sole purpose is to administer the laws providing benefits and other services to veterans, their dependents and beneficiaries.

Cash Benefit Programs for Veterans

Veterans receive monthly compensation benefits if they have incurred disabilities while in service to their country. To be eligible for compensation, the veteran must have been:

  • Disabled as a result of a service-connected injury, i.e., personal injury or disease incurred or aggravated while in active military service
  • Injured while in the line of duty
  • Discharged or released from service under conditions that were not dishonorable

To receive disability compensation, the veteran must have been rated as having at least a 10% disability.

Family members of the veteran may be eligible for compensation, pensions or survivorship benefits. The VA pays monthly dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) benefits to a surviving spouse, child or parent of a veteran who died as the result of a service-connected disability. For survivors to receive DIC, the veteran must have died either while in active service or after being discharged, which must not have been a dishonorable discharge.

Pensions

A veteran is eligible for a pension if:

  • The veteran served in active military service for at least 90 days during a period of war or the veteran was discharged while in service during a period of war for a proven disability
  • The discharge from active service was not dishonorable
  • The veteran is 65 years of age or older or is permanently and totally disabled from a nonservice-connected disability, that is, one that was not incurred or aggravated while in active service
  • The disability is not the result of the veteran's own misconduct
  • The veteran's net worth (or combined net worth with spouse) is too small to allow for payments of the veteran's maintenance needs
  • The veteran's countable income is less than the maximum applicable annual pension rate

The pension program guarantees a minimum income to needy veterans. Thus, a veteran with no countable income will receive the maximum annual pension amount, including additional amounts if the veteran has a spouse and dependents or is housebound or in need of aid and attendance.

Medical Benefits

Generally, veterans must enroll in order to receive medical benefits. There are three classes of veterans who, for a period of 12 months following discharge, must be provided medical services even if they have not enrolled. They are:

  • Veterans with a service-connected disability rated 50% or higher
  • Veterans who, within the past year, were discharged from military service on the basis of a compensable, but as yet unrated, disability
  • Veterans seeking care only for a service-connected disability

The VA provides ''all needed services'' to enrolled members. ''All needed services'' includes comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services, plus preventive care, drug and alcohol treatment, rehabilitation, mental health coverage, home health services and respite and hospice care. Congress has required the VA to provide, through the year 2008, necessary nursing home care to any veteran in need of such service for a service-connected disability and to any veteran who has any service-connected disability rated 70% or more.

Burial Benefits

Deceased veterans are entitled to special burial benefits. Claims for burial benefits must be filed within two years, except for claims related to service-connected benefits.

A retired veteran wishing burial in a national cemetery should contact the VA to determine the availability of a burial plot for himself and his family, and eligibility for the various other funeral benefits. To assure that the veteran's wishes are carried out, the veteran should inform close family members and also record the arrangements in a document to be kept with other valuable papers.

Life Insurance

Various plans of government life insurance for veterans have been in effect since 1919. Coverage in the amount of $400,000 and premium payments are automatic while the individual is on active duty. Upon discharge, the veteran may convert the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy into a five-year veterans' term policy (VGLI) either in the same or a reduced amount. Life insurance protection terminates 120 days after separation from service unless the policy is converted or the veteran is totally disabled. To reinstate a policy following its termination, the veteran must submit proof of insurability, and the application must be made within one year.

When are Benefits Denied?

Benefits are generally denied to veterans who received dishonorable discharges and to their survivors and dependents. Benefits are also denied to veterans and their survivors and dependents who are incarcerated or who are fugitive felons.

Where to Find the Law

The legislation concerning veterans' benefits is found in Title 38 of the United States Code. The accompanying regulations appear in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Additional information is available on the Internet at the US Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. Questions may be addressed to the VA by calling 1-800-827-1000. Rules of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims may be found at the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Web site.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I served in the military for more than 90 days during a period of war but my service was interrupted in the middle so that I did not serve for a continuous 90 day period, am I eligible for a pension?
  • What amount of net worth is considered too small to allow for payments of my maintenance needs?
  • If I enroll for medical benefits am I guaranteed medical coverage of "all needed services?"

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