Veterans of the U.S. armed services are eligible for a variety of medical and caregiving benefits as they grow older. This article offers an overview of the programs that are currently available, with links to the best official resources for more information about them.
- Older veterans are eligible for medical and other services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Veterans must sign up for medical coverage and, in some instances, make co-payments based on their income.
- In addition to medical care, veterans can be eligible for nursing home, assisted living, and home-care services.
- Older veterans with certain health issues also may be eligible for higher pension benefits.
- Surviving spouses of veterans are eligible for some benefits as well.
Medical Benefits for Older Veterans
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers health benefits to veterans of all ages through its Standard Medical Benefits Package. That includes both inpatient and outpatient services, from basic preventive care to more advanced medical and surgical services, as well as prescription drugs.
To be eligible, the veteran must have separated from the service in a circumstance other than dishonorably. There are also minimum length-of-duty requirements, which vary depending on when the veteran entered the service and other factors.
Veterans must enroll in this program to participate, which they can do at any time. They must also provide information on their income, which is used to determine their co-payments, if any, for medical services and medications. At one time, the VA also required net-worth information for this purpose, but it stopped doing that in 2015.
Veterans who enroll in the VA healthcare program can use it as their sole source of care or combine it with private health insurance or Medicare.
As part of its basic medical benefits package, the VA offers geriatric evaluation services for older veterans. A geriatric evaluation looks at veterans’ physical health, social environment, and ability to take care of themselves. Using that information, the evaluators prepare a plan of care, which may include medical treatment, rehabilitation, and social services, as needed.
More information on these VA healthcare services, as well as an online application, are available on the VA website.
Long-Term Care Services for Older Veterans
Veterans who have signed up for VA healthcare are also eligible for nursing home, assisted living, and home-care services. As with basic medical benefits, there may be co-pays, depending on the veteran’s income and the level of service involved.
For example, a veteran in a nursing home may have to pay up to $97 a day, while one receiving domiciliary (in-home) care could have a co-pay of $5.
Covered services include 24/7 medical and nursing care, help with activities of daily living, physical therapy, pain management, and respite care for the veteran’s regular caregivers, who are often a spouse or other family members.
The setting can be the vet’s own home, a group home, an assisted living facility, an adult daycare center, or a nursing home. The VA runs some of the facilities itself and contracts with others in the community. In addition to the federal VA, some states have VA-approved nursing homes for veterans and, in certain cases, their spouses.
The VA also has programs to provide veterans with palliative care and hospice care. Hospice care is free of charge.
More information on the VA’s long-term care services and how to apply for them is available on the VA website.
Increased VA Pension Benefits for Older Veterans
In addition to VA-provided healthcare services, veterans may be eligible for two programs that can mean a larger pension: Age and Attendance Benefits, and Housebound Benefits.
Age and Attendance Benefits
To qualify for Age and Attendance Benefits, veterans must meet at least one of these requirements:
- They need help with the activities of daily living.
- They are confined to their bed, or spend much of the day in bed, because of illness.
- They are in a nursing home because of a physical or mental disability.
- Their eyesight is severely limited, such as 5/200 or worse vision even with corrective eyeglasses.
These benefits are available to veterans who are confined to their homes most of the time due to a permanent disability.
Veterans can apply for either Age and Attendance Benefits or Housebound Benefits but cannot collect both at the same time.
As with other VA pension programs, veterans must meet certain income and asset limits to qualify. The amount that they can receive will depend on how many dependents they have and other factors. It is also adjusted annually to account for inflation.
For example, in 2021, a veteran with one dependent spouse or child who only qualified for normal benefits would be eligible for a maximum of $18,243. If they were eligible for Housebound Benefits, they could receive up to $21,337 in total, while if they were eligible for Age and Attendance Benefits, they could receive up to $27,549.
These programs also have income and asset limits for eligibility. More information and application forms are available on the VA website.
Benefits for Surviving Spouses
Surviving spouses of wartime veterans, as well as their unmarried dependent children, may be eligible for a VA Survivors Pension.
They may also be eligible for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits, as described above.
As an example, in 2021, an eligible surviving spouse with no eligible dependent children who only qualified for normal survivor pension benefits would be eligible for a maximum of $9,344. If they were eligible for Housebound Benefits, they could receive up to $14,300 in total, while if they were eligible for Age and Attendance Benefits, they could receive up to $17,815.
This program also has income and asset limits for eligibility. Information on these and other benefits for spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers is available on the Family Member Benefits section of the VA website.
End-of-Life Benefits for Veterans
Finally, the VA also provides funeral and burial benefits for veterans. Currently, the maximum for non-service-related deaths is $796 for burial and funeral expenses if the veteran was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death. For those who were not VA-hospitalized, the maximum is $300 for burial and funeral expenses. The VA also provides a $796 plot interment allowance if the veteran is not buried in a VA national cemetery.
More information on eligibility and applying for these benefits is available on the VA website.