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Basic Pension Eligibility – do not apply before reading!

Welcome back, everyone.

Something occurred to me: sharing all this knowledge about effective dates and how the VA does math doesn’t really help all that much if you’re not sure of your ability to claim Pension entitlement. Sorry; I got excited.

As per the VA, you need to have qualifying military service. “Qualifying military service” for most Pension recipients will nowadays fall under Korea and the Vietnam Era. Your length of service needs to be 90 days, with one (yes, just one!) of those days during a wartime period. The recognized wartime periods are below:

  1. Mexican Border Period (May 9, 1916 – April 5, 1917 for Veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders, or adjacent waters)

  2. World War I (April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918)

  3. World War II (December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946)

  4. Korean conflict (June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955)

  5. Vietnam era (February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975)

  6. Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – through a future date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation)

For service after September 7, 1980, the active duty time requirement was lengthened from 90 days to two years OR the honorable completion of an activated tour of duty for Guard/Reserve members. There are several caveats and loopholes in this policy, but they are narrow in scope and the VA will tell you if any of them apply.

The VA is still paying one dependent child from the Civil War and eight living people (two children and six spouses) from the Mexican Border Period as of April 2017.

Eligible military service is typically verified via the DD Form 214 or its pre-1950 equivalent, the WD AGO or NAVPERS forms. If you are attempting to help an elderly relative locate their records for Pension purposes, there are two things you need to be aware of:

  1. Almost every military record is findable save for those that burned in the National Personnel Records Center fire of 1973.

  2. In order to initiate a search for records, you will need to fill out and submit a Standard Form 180, or “SF-180.” The form is about as self-explanatory as a government form can be: provide the requested information and then mail the form to one of the fourteen addresses at the bottom of the last page that corresponds with your service member.

  3. Then, wait. Unfortunately, this is not a fast process. The upside is that the VA sometimes has faster access than you do, and it is not absolutely necessary to request your own records prior to applying for benefits. Is it helpful to have records submitted with your application? Yes, of course. But it’s not a deal-breaker.

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