With Veteran’s Day coming up next week, now is a good time to talk about the lesser-known benefits available to veterans. I learned about a few recently that may help veterans and their spouses access music therapy and other home-based services.
First, to be crystal clear, please know that I am not a lawyer or a VA benefits counselor. I am just a music therapist trying to help our veterans access the benefits they earned by their service to our country. Please contact your lawyer or the Veterans Administration for guidance on your own personal situation.
Okay, with the disclaimer out of the way, here is what I learned:
You may be entitled to pension benefits if you meet three conditions:
- You are a veteran who served on active duty with at least one day during a period of war, or his/her surviving spouse. Note: You did not have to serve “in theater” or in a combat zone.
- You are over the age of 65 OR permanently and totally disabled. Note: No matter how healthy you are, being age 65+ means you’ve met this criterion. Also, your disability does not have to be service-connected. (Benefits rekated to service-connected disabilities fall under a whole different category.)
- Your income and assets do not exceed certain limits. You can find the official numbers on the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
That third section is where things get trickier. There are tables to help you calculate “countable income,” but if you’re close to the limit, that’s when you might want to get a lawyer involved, to make sure that everything is appropriately accounted for.
There are three levels to the VA Improved Pension.
- Basic. If you meet the criteria above, you qualify for this level, even if you ran a marathon last weekend. The income limits are lower than for the other tiers.
- Housebound. If you or your spouse requires regular assistance for activities of daily living like bathing and dressing, then you may qualify for this level of benefits. You will need a physician’s statement and accurate, detailed records of your expenses.
- Aid and Attendance. This is the highest tier, for veterans or spouses who need an even higher level of assistance. As of this writing, the A&A pension can provide up to $1,704 per month to a veteran, $1,094 per month to a surviving spouse, or $2,020 per month to a couple. That can make quite a difference!
* Please note that the veteran OR the spouse can be the person in need of assistance to qualify for these higher levels. This is very helpful for aging couples trying to stay in their own home where the veteran is healthy, but the spouse needs extra support.
So can these benefits pay for music therapy?
That’s how I started this article, right?
Yes, these benefits can pay for music therapy indirectly. This pension is cash on hand, and it can be used to pay for anything.
What’s more important is that music therapy is an unreimbursed medical expense that can be used in that calculation to get you below the income limits to qualify you for this benefit. If music therapy is clinically appropriate, by paying out of pocket for this care, you may end up with more money in your bank account. Of course, the music therapy offers mental and physical benefits of its own.
As the wife of an Army veteran who helps lots of active duty soldiers access the benefits they deserve, I am very surprised that I hadn’t heard of this veterans’ benefit before. Are you already accessing these benefits? How have they helped your family?