It iis quite common for family members or others to provide monetary support to a loved one in financial need who has applied for or is receiving pension benefits with either Housebound or Aid & Attendance supplement from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This contribution of money by family members is called “family maintenance.” Recently, clients have asked me (1) whether the VA considers family maintenance to be income in determining the amount of the monthly VA pension benefit payable, and (2) whether it is best for the family member to pay the provider directly, or to deposit the money into the claimant’s bank account?

The VA’s treatment of family maintenance is controlled by 38 C.F.R. 3.272 which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Maintenance. The value of maintenance furnished by a relative, friend, or a charitable organization (civic or governmental) will not be considered income.

Where the individual is maintained in a rest home or other community institution or facility, public or private, because of impaired health or advanced age, money paid to the home or the individual to cover the cost of maintenance will not be considered income, regardless of whether it is furnished by a relative, friend, or charitable organization. The expense of maintenance is not deductible if it is paid from the individual’s income.

Simply stated, family maintenance (whether the contributions are made in cash or through the direct payment of bills) is not considered countable income to a claimant provided that it is given on a regular basis; i.e. weekly or monthly, for instance.  If family maintenance is given sporadically, it would be countable as a gift.  In either case, however, family maintenance would not be considered unreimbursed medical expenses (UME) which would reduce the claimant’s countable income for VA purposes.

As to whether direct payment to the provider or contributions to the claimant is best, I recommend that the claimant pay whatever he/she can towards UME in order to get the full pension and then direct the family member or friend pay the remaining outstanding bill directly to the facility, care provider, doctor, etc.  That way, the paying individual may be in a position to collect accrued benefits if the claimant dies while he/she is owed benefits from the VA.  In addition, there may be a personal tax benefit for the family. Paying the claimant directly presents a problem because the VA can question where the income is coming from.