Veterans Pensions for Retired Servicemembers

What is it?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pension program benefits former servicemembers who have limited incomes and, in some cases, health problems that aren't related to military service. The VA also administers a special pension program for Medal of Honor recipients. Currently, veterans are receiving four types of pensions: the Improved Pension, the Old-Law Pension, the Section 306 Pension, and the Medal of Honor Pension. 
Tip: Veterans with service-connected disabilities will not be entitled to receive a VA pension, but they may be eligible for disability compensation from the VA or for disability retirement pay.

Applying for benefits
To apply for pension benefits, veterans must:

  • Submit VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension.
  • Provide medical records to support any disability claim (if necessary).
  • Provide dependency documents (birth, marriage, and divorce/death records for both the veteran and spouse).
  • Provide military discharge papers (DD Form-214) if they have a copy. For further information, contact a local VA Regional Office by calling (800) 827-1000.

The Improved Pension

To be eligible for an Improved Pension, veterans who are age 65 or older must have limited income and assets (countable income must be under a certain annual limit and assets cannot be excessive), and they generally must have a period of service that includes at least one day on active duty during wartime and 90 days total active duty time. (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 or ordered to active duty.) Also, veterans must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Veterans under age 65 who meet the above requirements may also be eligible if they are permanently and totally disabled, meaning that they will likely be unable to permanently hold a substantially gainful job.

Tip: Veterans whose employment and health problems are caused by alcoholism and drug abuse will not be eligible for veterans pensions.

Monthly benefit
A veteran who qualifies for the Improved Pension will receive a monthly benefit check. The amount he or she receives depends upon the veteran's marital status, whether the veteran has dependent children, and whether the veteran is able to care for himself or herself. Pension benefits are designed not to be the sole source of support for the veteran but rather to supplement other types of income (such as other retirement and Social Security income) in order to bring income up to an established level. This means that if the veteran (or spouse or dependent children) earns income or has unearned income, it may reduce (dollar for dollar) the amount of pension benefit he or she receives.

Tip: Some income will not reduce a pension benefit. This income includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, welfare benefits, and some wages earned by dependent children.

Related benefits

  • Health care--Veterans receiving pensions have a high priority for inpatient and outpatient VA medical care.
  • Aid and Attendance--If a veteran enters a nursing home, requires the aid and attendance of another person, or is permanently housebound, he or she may receive an increase in benefits or may be permitted to have additional income that won't lessen his or her pension benefit.
  • Burial benefits--Survivors of veterans receiving VA pensions will usually receive a small burial allowance to offset the cost of the veteran's burial in a national or private cemetery.
  • Death pension--Available to qualified survivors of low-income veterans, the death pension provides a fixed monthly benefit that usually increases annually with inflation. The amount of monthly benefit a survivor receives depends upon the survivor's other income and whether other dependents reside with the survivor. Survivors who receive a death pension may also be eligible for Aid and Attendance, if they meet the requirements.
  • Vocational training--A veteran receiving a VA pension may be eligible to receive up to 24 months of vocational training and then 18 months of job-placement assistance.

Old-Law Pension

Veterans who receive the Old-Law Pension must have filed applications for benefits before June 30, 1960, and must be veterans of World War I, World War II, or the Korean War. Otherwise, eligibility rules are the same as the Improved Pension rules.

Monthly benefit
Beneficiaries receive monthly checks under the same rules as, and in an amount equal to, those received by veterans under the Improved Pension. However, benefits may be reduced if veterans receiving without dependents benefits or Aid and Attendance benefits enter a VA facility for care. For further information, contact a local VA Regional Office at (800) 827-1000 to find the office nearest you.

Section 306 Pension

Veterans who receive Section 306 Pension benefits must have filed an application between July 1, 1960, and December 31, 1978. Anyone currently receiving a Section 306 Pension can switch to the Improved Pension. Otherwise, eligibility rules are the same as those for the Improved Pension except that certain additional items may be excluded from income such as wages of family members under age 18 and dividends from commercial insurance. In addition, certain assets that are countable under the Improved Pension aren't countable under the Section 306 Pension.

Monthly benefits
Beneficiaries receive benefits under the same rules as, and in an amount equal to, the benefits received under the Improved Pension, with one exception. Some veterans (those without dependents or those who are receiving benefits at a without-dependents rate) will have their monthly benefits reduced three months after entering a VA facility.

Medal of Honor Pension 
A veteran who has been awarded a Medal of Honor can elect to receive a special monthly pension. This pension does not reduce any other government benefits the veteran may receive.

To discuss your unique retirement plan, schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable First Bank Wealth Management advisor.