veterans benefits book

The world of Veteran’s benefits is bogged down by forms and convoluted rules. That doesn’t mean they have to be completely incomprehensible. After all, veterans and their families earned these benefits. What follows is a brief description of the 3 primary benefits programs. 

Non-Service-Connected Pension

The first, non-service-connected pension, is sometimes erroneously called “aid and attendance.” It provides financial assistance to veterans whose unreimbursed medical expenses are more than their income. It is subject to a resource test (assets owned by the veteran) and an income test. Veteran resources, excluding a home on a lot less than 2 acres, cannot exceed $150,538. The income is determined by looking at gross income of the veteran, and spouse, minus their unreimbursed expenses, and then that number is compared to a table of rates.  

In addition to meeting the financial requirements, the veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty, or 24 months if he or she began service after September 8, 1980, and served under conditions other than “dishonorable.” The veteran must also have served at least 1 day during a designated wartime period. Those dates are December 7, 1941-December 31, 1946; June 27, 1950 -January 31, 1955; November 1, 1955 – May 7, 1975 for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam for that period; August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975 for veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam; and August 2, 1990 through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation. 

A surviving spouse of a veteran may claim a survivor’s pension, using the same tests. The survivor’s pension is much smaller. 

Service-Connected Compensation

The second program is service-connected compensation. It is only available for veterans who suffer from a medical condition that is connected to an injury or toxic exposure from their time in the service. The connection can be difficult to prove but, for certain situations, the VA will give a presumption that the two are tied. The most well- known presumption is Agent Orange, which was just expanded through the Honoring Our PACT Act. 

The service-connected compensation program does not have a financial means test, so the benefit is available regardless of the veteran’s income and assets. 

An offshoot of this program is the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This is a claim that can be made by the veteran’s surviving spouse and dependents if the veteran died on duty, died from a service-connected condition, or had a service-connected disability rating of 100% for 10 years prior to death. This, too, does not have a financial means test.  

Veterans Health Administration Health Care

The last program is health care through the Veterans Health Administration. This requires active military service without a dishonorable discharge. For veterans whose service began after September 7, 1980, the veteran must have served for at least 24 continuous months or for the full period for which they were called to duty, unless discharged for disability or hardship. An eligible veteran will be placed in 1 of 8 priority groups. The priority group classification determines how quickly the veteran is enrolled and how much the veteran will be required to pay. The benefit, which is not means- tested, comes with prescription drug coverage. 

Information about these, and other veterans’ programs, is available at Most counties have Veterans Service Officers to assist local citizens with their claims. You can also use a VA-accredited agent or attorney. They cannot charge you for helping file an initial claim but can charge for an appeal once the VA has issued its decision.

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Attorney Virginia Hammerle has practiced litigation and estate planning for 40 years. She is founder and managing attorney for Hammerle Finley Law Firm.