Claim This Little-Known Benefit From the U.S. Government

Veterans were always my favorite patients...

In all of my medical experiences, my favorite moments were doctoring to active and retired servicemen and women at the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. There was something humbling and beautiful about knowing I might help people who had served to keep me safe. There was also a wonderful culture of deep respect I rarely saw in other hospitals.

Today, my hat's off to our veterans, and I hope today's issue helps you or someone you know... because I want to highlight some benefits that not all veterans realize they're eligible to receive.

The VA formed back in 1930 when Herbert Hoover signed a bill creating the federal department. The bill combined several existing programs that offered relief for veterans of World War I, including medical care and financial pensions. Today, the VA also provides education benefits, free burials and headstones, life insurance, home loans, and support for families.

The VA's hospital system is one of the largest in the world, including 152 hospitals and 800 community-based outpatient clinics. But although its hospitals treat many veterans every day, countless vets do not take advantage of the other services provided, particularly financial help. Estimates say only 28% of eligible veterans collect their pension.

The VA pension is offered to any vet who served at least 90 days on active duty – one day of which must have been during a time of war. If the active duty happened after September 7, 1980, the time of service must be at least 24 months.

According to the VA's website, you can start collecting if you meet the service requirements above and are:

•        Age 65 or older with limited or no income,
•        Totally and permanently disabled,
•        A patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care,
•        Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or
•        Receiving Supplemental Security Income.

Most veterans miss out on their pensions because they are not disabled or in need of care, so they think they don't qualify. But if they are over 65, they still qualify regardless of health.

The pension is a tax-free monthly payment. It's calculated by taking an income limit – a number generated by Congress – and subtracting your household income. The amount left, if there is one, is your pension.

Right now, the full amount is $12,868 for a single veteran. It raises to $16,851 with a single dependent. The VA calculates your payment by taking this upper limit and subtracting your annual income.

But the VA also allows you to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses. Say you have hospital bills of $10,000 and your insurance covers $8,500. You can deduct the remaining $1,500 that you pay out of pocket from your household income.

But what if you need assistance or make more than the cutoff? An additional pension program – Aid and Attendance – may help. If you need assistance – meaning you need nursing care, have limited vision, or are dependent on a caregiver ‒ you qualify for this program.

For example, a single veteran needing aid and assistance would increase his limit from $12,868 to $21,107. With a dependent, that goes up to $25,022.

Taking advantage of both pensions helps ease the burden of rising medical costs. If you qualify or aren't sure if you qualify, contact your local VA regional office today. You can find the closest one here.