Health-care costs are a very large element of any senior’s budget in retirement. This is before we even consider a nursing home or assisted care.

These costs can add $6,000 to $10,000 in monthly expenses. For veterans, there is a benefit that may help them or their spouses. The Non Service Connected Disability Pension is designed to provide veterans, their spouses and their surviving spouses with a monthly, tax-free pension.

There are several requirements that must be met to qualify for this benefit. First, the veteran must be over age 65 and/or unemployable. There is no age requirement for a surviving spouse who has not remarried. The surviving spouse must have been married to the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death and the marriage must have lasted for at least one year.

There are three military requirements the veteran must have met. He or she must have an honorable discharge from the service; must have served at least 90 days of active service; and at least one of them must have served during a time of war. There are published dates for each conflict and it is important to remember you did not need to be deployed to the war zone to qualify for the benefit.

A doctor must certify that you need assistance with the activities of daily living for either a physical or mental impairment. The doctor is able to document this need in a qualifying Physicians Report.

If a veteran or his or her spouse meets this first set of requirements, there are then net worth and liquid assets parameters. These assets are subject to a three-year lookback test. With proper planning, assets can sometimes be repositioned to protect them from being spent down. There is a net worth limit of $127,061. With proper planning,g you can protect more than this amount.

The Veterans Administration considers the income of vets or their spouses compared with their health-care expenses. Some income sources are fixed, such as Social Security income and pensions. Other elements of income such as IRA, 401(k)s and investment income are more variable and you have more control over them. Also, there may be some control over expenses such as having a private room at a facility if necessary.

These benefits can be very valuable to the veteran and spouse. Under the right circumstances, a married vet can receive up to $2,230 in a tax-free monthly benefit. This benefit is paid directly to the vet and can be spent however it is desired. A single vet can receive up to $1,881 and a surviving spouse up to $1,210.

If these benefits are applicable to your circumstances, you should explore the possibilities. They can significantly reduce the financial burden on your family and maybe allow you to receive care in a better facility.

Thank you for your service.

Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”

To submit columns on financial planning or investing, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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