Understanding Survivors Benefits for Veteran Widows

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The men and women who served in the United States military deserve our thanks and our support throughout their lives. That is why the U.S. government created the Veterans Administration in 1930 and gave it the mission “to serve America’s veterans and their families as their principal advocate in ensuring that they receive the care, support, and recognition they have earned in service of this nation.”

If your husband was a veteran, then he was entitled to a monthly pension if he met certain service requirements (which many veterans do meet), and if his monthly income was low enough to qualify for pension assistance. Additionally, if your husband was disabled, he may have qualified for an even bigger pension depending on the severity of his disability.

As a veteran spouse, you are not entitled to a pension while your husband is alive, but once he passes away, then you can apply for something called a Survivors’ Pension. The VA does a very poor job of actively promoting these pension programs, so it is up to you learn about them and apply.

What Is a Survivor’s Pension?

A Survivor’s Pension provides you with a certain amount of monthly income to help elevate your income to a minimum rate set by the VA. If you meet certain other requirements and your monthly income is below the minimum amount, you could qualify for these payments. Let’s use an example to help clear this up.

In 2015, the MAPR (Maximum Annual Pension Rate) for a widow without a dependent child was $8,630. That breaks down to about $719 a month. That means that if you make less than $719 a month in income, you could qualify for a pension, which will bring you up to that amount.

<< See the full MAPR Table for the year 2015 >>

Let’s say that Joan is the widow of a veteran. She receives a Social Security check of $500 a month, and that is her only income. Joan would qualify for a Survivors Pension from the VA (assuming she met the other qualifications). That means she would receive a check for $219 a month from the VA to bring her income up to the MAPR of $719 per month.

Increasing Your Survivor’s Pension Through Deductions

You may already be thinking that you can’t possibly qualify for a VA Survivor’s Pension, because you make more than $719 in income a month. Not so fast! It is easier to qualify than you may think. That’s because the VA allows you to deduct non-recurring, non-reimbursed medical expenses from your gross income. This can be anything from the co-pay for a doctor’s appointment to the deductible for your medicine.

Let’s look at Joan’s situation again. In this scenario, let’s say that Joan earns $500 from Social Security and also $500 a month from her retirement savings. Now she earns a total of $1,000 in monthly income, which would seem to disqualify her from a Survivor’s Pension (since she needs to earn less than $719 to qualify).

However, every month Joan spends $250 out-of-pocket for her medicine and $600 for the services of a part-time home health aide. These expenses are not covered by insurance. In effect, Joan’s true gross income after deducting these medical expenses is $150 ($1,000 – $850). Using these deductions, Joan can qualify for a Survivor’s Pension of $569 a month ($719 – $150).

Increasing Your Survivor’s Pension by Increased Disability or Dependent Child Benefits

The VA’s MAPR increases if you can prove that you meet a certain level of disability or if you have a dependent child in your care (including a grandchild if you are a legal guardian). The two levels of disability are called, “Housebound” and “Aid and Attendance.” Even though Housebound is the lower level of disability, it is oftentimes easier to prove Aid and Attendance status. In effect, you must prove that you are unable to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), like bathing, toileting, or dressing. (Learn more about ADLs).

The MAPR for a widow without a dependent who meets the standards of Aid and Attendance is $13,794 a year, or $1,149.50 per month.

Joan is going to help us explain one more time. Let’s say that Joan has severe arthritis. She can no longer prepare food for herself and has difficulty dressing, which is why she needs to hire a home health aide. If Joan can prove that she meets the standards of Aid and Attendance, she will be bumped up to the higher MAPR.

We know that with all of her deductions, Joan only earns a gross income of $150 a month. That means, with the Aid and Attendance bump, she can receive a Survivor’s Pension of $999.50 per month.

That extra income is incredibly useful to Joan to help pay her everyday living expenses.

Other Qualifying Factors

In order for a widow to qualify for a Survivor’s Pension benefit, they must also be able to demonstrate that they do not have a significant amount of assets (the exact number isn’t carved in stone, but is usually around $80,000), and that their late husband met these service requirements:

  • If he served before Sept. 7, 1980, he must have served at least 90 days of active military service during a war time period. You can find the list of war time periods HERE. Note that your late husband didn’t have to serve on the front lines or see any actual combat. He just had to be on active duty in the military during this time.
  • If he served after Sept. 7th, 1980, he must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty.
  • He must not have been dishonorably discharged.

If you think you meet these standards, then you should definitely seek a Survivor’s Pension. Even if you only qualify for a few hundred dollars of pension money a month, that’s still money you can use to finance your care, buy groceries, see your grandkids, etc.

Your husband served his country, and you deserve to take advantage of all the programs offered to him and to you as a result of his sacrifice. You can apply for a Survivor’s Pension HERE.

If you are not sure whether you qualify for a Survivor’s Pension, consider contacting a VA-certified attorney in your area to help you understand all the VA benefits you may be eligible for.

Don’t forget to read more great articles from our archive just for widows.

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