Little-known pension benefit aids veterans

  • World War II Marine Corps veteran Carol J. Schwartz at her home in Sonoma, Calif., on November 9, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

At 89, Marine Corps veteran Carol J. Schwartz needs a constant caregiver and her daughter, Lani Young of Sonoma, needed some relief from that role.

Securing a Veterans Affairs pension tailored to their needs gave both women a life-changing lift.

"Definitely," said Young, 64, who works full-time and has been the primary caregiver for her mother, who has dementia and cannot be left alone.

"What this means for us is we can move into a larger place," Young said. The two women have been sharing Young's one-bedroom cottage since May, when Schwartz, a lifelong Southern Californian, moved in.

Schwartz, who served as a Marine Corps office worker in San Diego during World War II, was approved last month for a special aid and attendance pension based on her need for assistance with daily activities.

With more than half of Sonoma County's 32,400 veterans age 65 and older, the VA pension benefit is becoming increasingly important, said Chris Bingham, the county's veterans service officer.

Ten to 20 people a week are coming to the Veterans Service Office on Westwind Boulevard in Santa Rosa to get help applying for the aid and attendance pension, which pays a single veteran like Schwartz up to $20,795 a year and $24,651 for a veteran with one dependent.

The caregiver provision boosts the maximum annual pension by $8,330 over a basic pension for low-income elderly or disabled veterans who served at least one day during a wartime period.

There is a smaller enhancement for veterans who are confined to their homes. Pensions are paid to veterans or their surviving spouses.

But the aid and attendance pension is underutilized, Bingham said, because many veterans are unaware of it. "The VA does a poor job of educating vets on their benefits," he said.

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