Representative John Hall (D–New York), who chairs the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs for the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, says the VA has a new attitude regarding disabilities. Under previous administrations, he explains, VA evaluators were encouraged to reject all but the most serious cases involving service-related disabilities. Today, led by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (a Purple Heart recipient with a prosthetic foot), the department is reaching out to vets with disabilities. This means, says Hall, that World War II–, Korea-, and Vietnam-era veterans who may have been turned down by the VA in the past should reapply—especially because the department is now much more aware of (and sympathetic to) service-connected illnesses such as PTSD and ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Pensions for war veterans
Although pensions were designed to help low-income veterans, the big surprise here is how much vets are allowed to deduct from income to determine if they meet the qualifying threshold. The Veterans Benefits Administration allows veterans to subtract all care-related costs, including the costs of assistance with activities of daily living, nursing home care, and Medicare premiums. If the net income at that point is below $11,830 for a single vet (or $15,493 for a married one), the VA will provide a pension to bring the veteran's income up to that level.
Another common misconception is that pensions go only to people who served in wars overseas. In fact, the pensions are available to anyone (other than those dishonorably discharged) who served even a single day during wartime, even if that service was stateside. What's more, wartime periods extend beyond the end of hostilities (for a definition of wartime periods, visit U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Periods of War page). Widowed spouses of war veterans may also be entitled to pensions, even if they later remarried.
Eligibility to receive health care at any of the VA's 1,400 hospitals, clinics, and care centers is based on an income test (except in the case of veterans who have service-connected disabilities) and is not limited to veterans who served during wartime. The current national health-care income cap is $32,342 for a single veteran, $38,812 for a married vet. But this figure is adjusted for higher-cost regions, using the geographic means test (GMT) established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The GMT can push those limits much higher; in San Francisco, for instance, the income limit for eligibility is $69,685 for a single veteran.
Again, all family medical expenses, including Medicare premiums, are deducted in calculating income. Veterans with disability ratings of 50 percent or higher receive free care at the VA. In today's VA system each veteran is assigned a specific primary care doctor who tracks that patient's treatment—a big improvement over the old days, when vets were assigned whichever doctor was available when they came to the clinic.
Another surprise. Limited homemaking services and assistance with basic health needs, provided by private companies contracted by the VA, are available to all veterans who need in-home care and who meet the income test (subject to availability in the area where they live). Unless there is a hardship finding, single veterans with an income above $29,402 ($35,285 if married) may be assessed a $15 copay if medical services are provided. Also available: respite care to provide a break for a spouse or family members who are caring for an eligible veteran. Depending on income, copays range from $0 to $90 per day.