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Introduction To Veteran’s Benefits

Over the past decade, Veteran’s benefits have become a very hot topic for elder law attorneys.     Most of the attention has focused on the Improved Pension (commonly referred to as Aid and Attendance) program.   This attention has led to a significant overhaul of the program effective October 18, 2018[1].  However, there are actually many different types of veteran’s benefits, and a skilled elder law attorney needs to be informed as to all of these programs, and how they interact with each other, and how they may or may not interact with Medicaid benefits (or any other type of asset based public benefit program).

Before discussing specific benefit programs, it is important to discuss who is a veteran, and how does one figure out if they are eligible for any benefits?   This question may seem overly basic, but there are actually many veterans who will not be eligible for some or all programs for various reasons.   As a basic rule, in order to be eligible for any Veteran’s benefits, the individual must be a veteran who received a any discharge other than dishonorable.[2]  So a veteran could receive a general discharge (as opposed to honorable), and still qualify for benefits.   If you are advising a veteran who has a dishonorable discharge, then you should try to ascertain whether this discharge was inappropriate and whether it might be changed.      If you have a veteran, it will next be important to understand if this is a wartime veteran or non-wartime veteran.    A wartime veteran is any veteran who served at least 90 days of active duty, at least one of which was during a period of war.   For veterans who were on active duty after September 8, 1980, it must be 24 months of consecutive active duty, unless the reason for not completing the 24 months was because of the completion of the full period that the veteran was called to active duty.[3]   There is no requirement that the veteran was actually engaged in the war, just that they be on active duty during the wartime.   The Veterans’ Administration has a listing of dates that will count as war-time service, and they are generally more expansive then most people would associate the wars beginning and conclusion.   These dates are as follows:

World War II:  12/7/1941-12/31/1946

Korean War: 6/27/1950-1/31/1955    

Vietnam War: 2/28/1961- 5/7/75, if served in the country of Vietnam, otherwise 8/5/1964-5/7/1975

Persian Gulf: 8/2/90- Date to be announced later[4]

The reason that it is important to differentiate if you have a wartime veteran is that certain benefit programs are only available to wartime veterans (such as Improved Pension benefits).   Frequently, clients will question on whether time in the reserves count towards being considered a wartime veteran.  Generally, the answer is no, reserve service is not active duty, unless claiming an injury suffered during training or other periods while actually actively participating in military activities, or if the unit was activated for a period (such as many reserve units have been called into duty for service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past ten years).