Military veterans are entitled to certain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including healthcare and pension benefits. Following the death of a military veteran, the VA also pays a survivor pension, also known as a widow's pension, to qualifying family members. Let's take a closer look at the qualifications for receiving the VA widow's pension.

A need-based benefit
The VA widow's pension is payable to families with relatively low incomes, including both a surviving spouse and unmarried children. In order to qualify, the veteran must meet the requirements of military service, and the family must meet yearly family income limitations.

To meet the military service requirement, the veteran must generally have wartime service. For those who served before Sept. 7, 1980, 90 days of active military service is necessary, and at least one of those days has to have been served during a war-time period. For those entering active duty after Sept. 7, 1980, at least 24 months of service is necessary unless the full period for which the servicemember was called to active duty was shorter. In addition, at least one day must have been during a war-time period. In addition, the veteran must not have been dishonorably discharged.

Eligible family members include the surviving spouse, but benefits end if the surviving spouse remarries. In addition, children of wartime veterans can receive benefits if they are under 18, under 23 and attending an approved educational institution, or incapable of self-support due to a disability before reaching age 18.

Calculating the benefit
To figure out the amount of the pension benefit, you need to compare what counts as income against the annual pension limit. The annual pension limit depends on the size of the surviving family as well as other factors, such as whether the surviving spouse is housebound or is eligible for aid and attendance benefits. You can find the full list of benefits for various families here.

This maximum amount is reduced by what's known as countable income, which includes wages and salaries, disability and retirement payments, and investment income. Unreimbursed medical expenses above 5% of your maximum pension limit can reduce your income. Once you subtract countable income from your maximum pension, and you'll have the net widow's pension that you'll receive. If your countable income is greater than the annual pension limit, then you won't receive a widow's benefit.

The VA widow's pension isn't a huge amount. For some families, though, it can make the difference between getting by and not having enough.

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