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Veterans Law

VA Pension vs. VA Compensation

April Donahower

June 30, 2017

Updated: November 20, 2023

VA pension vs. VA compensation veterans

What is VA Pension? What are the eligibility requirements?

VA Pension, or Veterans Pension, is a tax-free monthly benefit for certain low-income, wartime veterans. Even though it’s called a pension, the benefit is has no relation to the number of years you served. Rather, it’s based on financial need, disability and/or age.

You may be eligible to receive VA Pension benefits if you were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable AND:

  • You started on active duty before September 8, 1980, and you served at least 90 days on active duty with at least 1 day during wartimeor
  • You started on active duty as an enlisted person after September 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions) with at least 1 day during wartime


AND at least one of these is true:

  • You’re at least 65 years old, or
  • You have a permanent and total (100%) disabilityor
  • You’re a patient in a nursing home for long-term care because of a disability, or
  • You’re getting Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income

There are also pension benefits available to certain survivors of deceased wartime veterans – check out VA’s website for more information on Survivors Pensions.

How is VA Pension different from VA Disability Compensation?

Income: VA Pension benefits are given only to veterans who can demonstrate financial need. Standard VA Disability Compensation does not take into account income when awarding benefits. Compensation rates are based on level of disability, whereas pension rates are based on income level.

Service connection: Though disability is a factor in eligibility for VA Pension benefits, your disability does not have to be service connected. For Disability Compensation, on the other hand, you must have a service-connected disability, meaning your disability is the result of an injury or disease that was incurred or aggravated during service.

Age: For VA Pension, if you meet the wartime active duty and income requirements, you can qualify based on age alone. If you are over the age of 65, you do not necessarily have to have a disability to be eligible. In standard Disability Compensation cases, age is not a factor considered by VA.

Payment rates: Monthly payment rates for pension benefits tend to be lower than rates for Disability Compensation. So, many veterans choose to take Disability Comp over Veterans Pension if they qualify for both. Note that you cannot receive a pension and Disability Compensation at the same time. You must choose one or the other.

What are the payment rates for Veterans Pensions?

If you are eligible for pension benefits, your month payment rates will be based on the difference between your countable income and the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR), a limit on pension rates set by Congress.

  • Your countable income is how much you earn, including your Social Security benefits, investment and retirement payments, and any income your dependents receive. Some expenses, like non-reimbursable medical expenses (medical expenses not covered by your insurance provider), may reduce your countable income if they make up more than 5% of your income.
  • Your MAPR amount is the maximum amount of pension payable. Your MAPR is based on how many dependents (spouses, children, etc.) you have, if you’re married to another Veteran who qualifies for a pension, and if your disabilities qualify you for Housebound or Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits. MAPRs are adjusted each year for cost-of-living increases. You can find your current MAPR amount using VA’s Pension Rate Table.

Here’s a simple example: You’re an eligible veteran with a spouse, but no children (that means you have one dependent). You are housebound. Your MAPR amount (from the Pension Rate Table) would be $19,770. Your yearly income is, say, $10,000. So your VA pension would be $9,770 per year (that’s $19,770 – $10,000). Your monthly pension check (i.e. your yearly pension amount divided by 12) would be $814.17.

What are Aid and Attendance or Housebound allowances?

If you qualify for (or already receive) a VA pension and you need help with your daily activities or you aren’t able leave the house, you may also qualify for Aid and Attendance (A&A) or Housebound allowances. These benefits are added to your monthly pension payments.

Aid and Attendance eligibility requirements (if you qualify for a VA pension) are as follows:

  • You need another person to help you perform daily activities, like bathing, feeding, and dressing, or
  • You have to stay in bed—or spend a large portion of the day in bed—because of illness, or
  • You are a patient in a nursing home due to the loss of mental or physical abilities related to a disability, or
  • Your eyesight is limited (even with glasses or contact lenses you have only 5/200 or less in both eyes; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less)

Housebound eligibility (if you qualify for a VA pension) requires that you spend most of your time in your home because of a permanent disability.

READ MORE about A&A and Housebound allowances in our post about Special Monthly Compensation.

How do I apply for a VA Pension?

You can apply for a Veterans Pension using VA Form 21P-527EZ Application for Pension. You’ll need information about your military history (i.e. service records like your DD-214), your financial information and the financial information of your dependents, your work history, direct deposit information (optional), and medical information.

Once you’ve compiled your application, you can send it to the Pension Management Center (PMC) for your state. Find your PMC here.

Or, if you prefer, you can bring your application to your local VA Regional Office (RO). Find your RO here.

About the Author

Bio photo of April Donahower

April joined Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick in August of 2016 as an Associate Attorney. She currently serves as the Appellate Supervisor in our Veterans Law practice. April’s practice focuses on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about April