What Is the Veterans Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit?

Understanding VA Pension and VA Pension with Aid and Attendance

"Aid and attendance" is a commonly used term for a little-known veterans' disability income. The official title of this benefit is "Pension." The reason for using "aid and attendance" to refer to Pension is that many veterans or their single surviving spouses can become eligible if they have a regular need for the aid and attendance of a caregiver or if they are housebound. Evidence of this need for care must be certified by VA as a "rating." With a rating, certain veterans or their surviving spouses can now qualify for Pension. Pension is also available to low income veteran households without a rating, but it is a lesser dollar amount.

Pension Is One of Two Disability Income Benefits from VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers two disability income benefits for veterans who served on active duty.

The first of these benefits -- Pension -- is the subject of a number of articles on this website. The purpose of this benefit is to provide supplemental income to disabled or older veterans who have a low income. Pension is for war veterans who have disabilities that are not connected to their active-duty service. If the veteran's income exceeds the Pension amount, then there is no award. However, income can be adjusted for future and recurring unreimbursed medical expenses, and this allows veterans with household incomes larger than the Pension amount to qualify for a monthly benefit. There is also an asset test to qualify for Pension.

The second disability income benefit is called "Compensation" and it is designed to award the veteran a certain amount of monthly income to compensate for potential loss of income in the private sector due to a disability or injury or illness incurred in the service. In order to receive Compensation, a veteran has to have evidence of a service-connected disability. Most veterans who are receiving this benefit were awarded an amount based on a percentage of disability shortly after they left the service. There is generally no income or asset test for most forms of Compensation, and the benefit is nontaxable.  We discuss compensation in more detail on other articles in this website.

Most elderly veterans who never applied for compensation, may not realize they can apply many years after leaving the service. In fact, VA recognizes this issue and in 2006 conducted an outreach program to these veterans in five selected states with low elderly Compensation enrollment and ended up adding an additional 8,000 beneficiaries to the roles.

Some veterans may be receiving Compensation but their condition has worsened. They can reapply and get a larger amount based on a higher disability rating. In fact, in 2007, VA expects twice as many cases of existing compensation to be reopened for new consideration as new first-time claims. In 2007, VA anticipates 216,000 new claims for Compensation but will receive 448,000 claims for reconsideration of existing Compensation benefits.

Compensation and Pension claims are submitted on the same form and VA will consider paying either benefit. If a claimant is awarded both benefits, the claimant can only receive one of them. Generally, for applications associated with the cost of home care, assisted living or nursing home care, the Pension benefit results in more income.

Of the two benefits, Compensation provides 10 times more total income to all veterans and covers 6 times more beneficiaries than Pension. In 2016, the Compensation, DIC, Pension, and Survivor Pension programs served approximately 5,247,100 beneficiaries and paid out $85,000,000,000 for the year. This represents almost half of VA's fiscal year budget. For the last quarter of 2016 (September - December), there were over 360,000 new Compensation and DIC claims under review, 299,000 appeals under review, and approximately 21,219 new Pension and Survivor Pension Claims under review.

Compensation is a rapidly growing program and VA estimates that approximately 35% of all veterans currently leaving the service will eventually submit a claim for Compensation benefits.

Compensation is already a major government entitlement program and currently chews up 45% of the entire VA budget. In years to come, it will continue to become a larger proportion of the Veterans Affairs and federal budget.

There are also several death benefit variations of the two disability incomes for single surviving spouses or dependent minor children or adult dependent children. We will not discuss the death benefits related to service-connected disability but instead will discuss on this site only the Death Pension benefit.

Pension for Veterans with Low Income, Little Savings and Few Investments

Although the Veterans Administration does not differentiate between various Pension applicants, there are, in practice, two kinds of Pension applications. The first type of application or claim, as it's called by VA, deals with veteran households that do not generally require the rating mentioned above in order to receive a benefit or as VA calls it, an award. These applicants will have household income less than the monthly allowable Pension rate. In addition, they will have very little in savings or investments. And, with no ratings, the size of their Pension awards will be much smaller.

It is our opinion that most veterans or their surviving spouses, receiving Pension, are in this category. We believe this is true for several reasons.

  1. One reason is that Veterans Service Representatives in the local regional office, who deal with the public, will tell callers that Pension is only available to veteran households with low income. VSR's turn away a lot of potential applicants. This is probably because these employees are not trained sufficiently to understand the special case of veterans with higher income and high long term care costs.
  2. A second reason is that callers will be told -- if they have significant savings or investments -- they will not qualify as well. It is possible to rearrange assets in order to qualify for Pension. Naturally, Veterans Service Representatives will not mention this as an option.
  3. A third reason is that veterans with higher income and significant assets generally don't know they can qualify for Pension under certain conditions. No one has ever told them. As a result, they never apply.
  4. A compelling fourth reason is that most people don't know the aid and attendance Pension benefit (includes A&A allowance) can help cover home care costs paid to any person or professional providers. Most people don't attempt to apply until they have become single and enter a nursing home where VA will only pay a $90 a month benefit if the single claimant is eligible for Medicaid.

The table below, labeled "Exhibit 3.3," is from a study conducted for VA to determine how many veterans might apply for Pension in coming years. The subjects of this report are most likely veterans with low household income and few assets. This group would be included because it is easy to research their demographics in government statistical reports. Those veteran households with higher income and high long term care costs would not show up in this report because it is difficult to predict how many veteran households will actually need long term care and what those costs might be.

The table below does not reflect the number of surviving spouses of eligible veterans or their dependent children who are also eligible for a lesser Pension benefit called "Death Pension." In 2005, approximately 207,000 of these eligible beneficiaries were also receiving Death Pension payments from VA, in addition to the 331,000 estimated living veteran beneficiaries. Since the 2005 numbers are now available, the actual number of living veteran beneficiaries in 2005, receiving Pension, was 336,000.

The following was taken from a survey by ORC Macro Economic Systems Inc., Hay Group, December 22, 2004 called "VA Pension Program Final Report" http://www1.va.gov/op3/docs/Pension.pdf 

It is apparent from the report that only about 28% of the eligible veteran households will actually apply for and receive Pension over the next seven years. It also appears from the study, that even for those households where Pension naturally fits, VA is not doing a good job of educating potential beneficiaries about this benefit or more would be applying.

In fact, all recent federal operating budgets projected by Veterans Affairs show a decline in the number of people applying for Pension; whereas, based on the number of eligible individuals, the program should be serving more than 3 1/2 times as many people as it does now.

Pension for Veterans Who Require a Rating for "Aid And Attendance" or "Housebound" in Order to Receive an Award

This is the second type of VA application generally submitted for a claim. Claimants in this category often have income above the maximum Pension rate and they may also have significant savings or investments. Typically, this category of application requires a potential beneficiary to be paying for ongoing and expensive long term care or other medical costs.

For veteran households receiving expensive long term care services and whose incomes exceed maximum Pension rates, a rating is almost always necessary in order to receive a benefit. In most cases, without a rating, there is no benefit.

Because we believe the study cited above does not include an estimate for individuals requiring future VA disability ratings, we offer evidence that there is a significantly larger category of potential Pension beneficiaries. This group of eligible veterans or their survivors is about 10 times larger than the one million or so anticipated eligible beneficiaries covered by the study and expected to be awarded over the next 4 years. On the other hand, this larger group of roughly 10 million Pension beneficiaries can only receive an award under certain special conditions and typically only if they receive a rating.

Here are our estimates.  The number of war veterans are derived from the most recent VA census and total US population age 65 and older are derived from current Census Bureau estimates .  The number of surviving spouse eligibles are extrapolated from the percentage of death pension claims out of the total currently being paid.  Estimates are as of 2010.

Vietnam Veterans Age 65 and Older


 Korean Veterans Age 65 and Older


 World War II Veterans


 Surviving Spouses of War Veterans


 Total War Veterans and Surviving Spouses


 Total US Population Age 65 and Older


Pension Eligibles as a Percent of Age 65 and Older US Population



Receipt of a Pension benefit for this larger group is generally dependent upon whether these people have a need for long term care services. But, based on the incidence of long term care in an older population, at least 60% to 80% of this larger group might have a good chance of qualifying for Pension sometime during their remaining years.

What is surprising about these numbers is that one-quarter of all people -- 25% -- in this country, age 65 and older, have a potential for receiving a Pension benefit. That's how many war veterans or their survivors there are in the US.

The potential for receiving a benefit is huge. But, in actuality, only a small fraction of this large population of potential beneficiaries was actually receiving a benefit in 2010. This is truly astounding and appalling! Someone needs to do a much better job of getting the word out.

Pension -- Maximum Annual Pension Rates (MAPR) 2018-19

These amounts increased by 2.8% on 12 / 01 / 2018

For a Living Veteran




Without Spouse or Child




Medical Deduction




With One Dependent




Medical Deduction




Housebound Without Dependents




Housebound With One Dependent




Aid and Attendance Without Dependents




Aid and Attendance With One Dependent




Add for Each Additional Child





Death Pension -- Maximum Annual Pension Rates (MAPR) 2018-19

For a Surviving Spouse




Without Dependent Child




Medical Deduction




With One Dependent Child




Medical Deduction




Housebound Without Dependents




Housebound With One Dependent




Aid and Attendance Without Dependents




Aid and Attendance With One Dependent




Add for Each Additional Child