VA Pensions and Eligible Periods of War


A VA pension is a needs-based monetary benefit for veterans and surviving spouses with limited financial resources. Several requirements must be met to receive a pension, such as the veteran must be 65 years and older or totally disabled, and having served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day during an eligible period of war. This includes service in non-combat zones, except for the early years of the Vietnam Era.

Veterans who entered active duty after September 7, 1980 will usually need to have served at least 24 months or the entire period for which they were called to active duty, with at least one day during an eligible period of war.

Eligible Periods of War

To meet the wartime requirement for a VA pension, a veteran must have served during a war period established by Congress or presidential decree.

For VA pensions, the eligible periods of war are:

  • Mexican Border Period (Border War) (Dates: May 9, 1916 – April 5, 1917) – Various military engagements that occurred near the Mexico-United States border and nearby waters during the Mexican Revolution.
  • World War I (Dates: April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918) – This period was extended to April 1, 1920 for military personnel who served in the Soviet Union. World War I was a European war fought mainly against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. U.S. allies included France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia.
  • World War II (Dates: December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946; extended to July 25, 1947 if the veteran was in service on December 31,1946) – World War II was a worldwide conflict involving the U.S. and various allies (Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union) fighting against Germany, Italy and Japan.
  • Korean War (Korean Conflict) (Dates: June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955) – A war between South Korea and North Korea, with the U.S. allying with the South Koreans, and China siding with the North Koreans.
  • Vietnam Era (Dates: February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period (including service on U.S. military vessels off the coast of Vietnam; also August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975 for active duty military personnel stationed anywhere in the world) – The Vietnam war was a conflict between North and South Vietnam, with the U.S. supporting South Vietnam.
  • Gulf War (Dates: August 2, 1990 – to present) – Anyone who served in the Gulf War beginning on August 2, 1990 is considered a veteran and eligible for veterans benefits. Sometime in the future, an end date will be set by Congress or a presidential proclamation. This period Includes Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A veteran can combine periods of active duty during an eligible period of war to meet the 90 day active duty requirement. Regardless of how many years a veteran served, their service must also include at least 1 day during a recognized war period.

Sometimes a veteran will serve in peacetime and wartime during the same period. As long as the veteran served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day during an eligible period of war, he or she has met the wartime requirement.

Serving in the Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during peacetime, but can also be transferred to the U.S. Department of the Navy during a war.  Members of the USCG can qualify for VA pensions if they served at least 90 days of active duty with at least 1 day of service during any eligible period of war.

Merchant Marines Called for Active Duty

U.S. Merchant Marines (mariners) are civilians during peacetime but can be called for active duty when there is a war. During wartime, the Merchant Marines support the Navy by transporting military personnel and cargo. This is what occurred during WWII.  Mariners who served during WWII (an eligible period of war) can qualify for a VA pension.

National Guardsmen and Reservists

There are seven reserve components of the U.S. military: Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve.

The Army and Air National Guard is a reserve military force jointly controlled by individual states as well as the federal government. Reserve units are mostly subordinate to the federal government.

Guardsmen and Reservists serve part-time and generally have civilian jobs. They can be called for federalized active duty during wartime, a national emergency and for other reasons to support the armed forces.

Members of the National Guard and Reserves can qualify for some VA benefits like health care, life insurance and home loans. Individuals who have served 20 years or more are usually entitled to military retirement benefits.

National Guardsmen, Reservists and their families are ineligible for VA pensions unless they were called for active duty during a recognized wartime period.

Aid & Attendance and Eligible Periods of War

Aid & Attendance is a VA long-term care pension for veterans, spouses and surviving spouses who need the help of another individual to perform some of the activities of daily living. The pension is a reimbursement for care at home, in the community or in a care facility. Pension requirements include the veteran having served during an eligible period of war.

If you would like more information on the Aid & Attendance benefit, eligible periods of war or other Aid & Attendance qualifications, contact one of our benefit consultants.

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