By Dori Wiggen

Guest blogger Dori J. Wiggen is a partner with Wiggen Law Group PLLC in Durham, North Carolina. 

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Jimmy and his wife, Alice. Jimmy, a veteran of World War II, had a recent illness that caused him to need around the clock care. Alice had been caring for Jimmy with some help from the couple’s oldest daughter, Kathy. However, it had reached the point where Alice could no longer handle Jimmy’s care by herself. Although Kathy was helping, her work schedule only permitted Kathy to help at night and on weekends.

My husband and I sat for hours in the couple’s living room while they talked about their children, Jimmy’s passion for golf, and each and every dog the couple had ever loved. We laughed and exchanged stories about our “fur-babies”. While we talked, Jimmy told me how worried he was about Alice. He could see how tired she was and wished they could find a way to pay for home health care. He didn’t want to use all of their savings on his care because he wanted to make sure Alice was taken care of if anything should happen to him. That’s when I told Jimmy and Alice about a benefit offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs that could pay Jimmy as much as $2,019 per month, so the couple could hire a caregiver for Jimmy.

The benefit is called Improved Pension, and it provides financial assistance to qualified veterans and their surviving spouses. This pension is a benefit that veterans earn due to their service to our country, but few have ever heard about it. It helps cover the cost of qualified un-reimbursed medical expenses, including in-home care, assisted living facility care, and nursing home care.

In order to qualify for this benefit, the veteran or the veteran’s surviving spouse must meet certain basic requirements.

Basic Criteria to Qualify

• Veteran must have served at least 1 day during a qualified war period

• Veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty

• Veteran received a better than dishonorable discharge

• Claimant (Veteran or Surviving Spouse) is over the age of 65 OR permanently or totally disabled

• Claimant (if not the Veteran) is a surviving spouse of a qualified veteran and did not remarry

• Claimant needs assistance with daily living requirements

• Claimant’s monthly medical expenses equals or exceeds their monthly income

The VA pension can significantly improve the quality of life for veterans and their surviving spouses. The current maximum pension amounts are shown below:

Maximum VA Pension Amounts

Single Qualified Veteran:

  • Basic Improved Pension $1,021/month
  • Pension with Housebound $1,248/month
  • Pension with Aid and Attendance $1,703/month


Qualified Veteran with Spouse:

  • Basic Improved Pension $1,337/month
  • Pension with Housebound $1,564/month
  • Pension with Aid and Attendance $2,019 /month


Surviving Spouse (Death Pension):

  • Basic Improved Pension $684/month
  • Pension with Housebound $837/month
  • Pension with Aid and Attendance $1,094/month

Where to Get Assistance

The VA requires that anyone who assists a veteran or family member with the preparation of a claim for benefits be accredited by and through the VA before they can legally provide assistance. To check a person’s VA accreditation, go to this link and type in the person’s name for confirmation.

There are many financial services professionals, attorneys and other individuals who are accredited with the VA. Some organizations offer free presentations about VA benefits and will prepare your claim at no charge. However, I recommend veterans and their spouses use caution. Often, prior to the claim for benefits, veterans or their spouses may be sold financial products that are inappropriate for seniors. In some cases, the purchase of these products can have disastrous consequences if the senior later needs Medicaid to pay for his or her nursing home care.

By law, no one can charge for the preparation of a claim for benefits. Attorneys and accountants charge for advice on the legal and tax consequences of various long-term care planning strategies. Financial professionals either charge a fee for investment advice or receive a commission related to the sale of financial products. It is recommended that before any course of action is chosen, the senior seek the advice of a VA Accredited Elder Law Attorney. An accredited VA planning attorney takes a comprehensive approach, ensuring the client is protected from potential financial hardships, including unintended tax consequences or Medicaid penalties. In many instances, the senior’s financial planner, accountant and attorney work together as a team to ensure the senior’s interests are protected.

About Dori Wiggen

Dori J. Wiggen is a partner with Wiggen Law Group PLLC in Durham, North Carolina. A trusted advisor to clients of the Forrest Firm, Ms. Wiggen focuses her practice in the areas of Estate Planning, Probate, Elder Law, Medicaid, Veterans Benefits, and Special Needs Planning. An accredited attorney with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Dori currently serves on the Executive Council for the Elder Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association and as a Director on the Board of the NC Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.