Understanding Veterans Disability Benefits
This overview of the veterans’ disability benefits program explains the type of military service that qualifies, which medical conditions are eligible, and how benefits are calculated.
Veterans’ are entitled to compensation for disability from an injury or disease that occurred (or was aggravated) during active military service. This applies to partial or full disability, on a scale from 10% – 100% disabled, depending on how much the condition interferes with your normal life functions.
Type of military service
In order to qualify for veterans disability benefits, your injuries or diseases need to have occurred or been aggravated, during active military service, defined as:
- active duty, OR
- active duty for training, OR
- inactive duty training.
Eligible veterans need to have been discharged or released “under conditions other than dishonorable.” Veterans may also receive disability compensation for disabilities or diseases that occurred after service — if they can be shown to be related to, or secondary to, injuries or exposures that occurred during service.
Eligible medical conditions
Disability payments can be made for both physical and mental health conditions. Two examples provided on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website are:
- A reservist who injures her knee during physical training – she is entitled to compensation for residual problems from the knee injury.
- A veteran who served for three years in the Navy, fell and injured his back during active duty — after being honorably discharged, he is entitled to disability benefits for residuals from his back injury.
Compensation is available for a wide range of physical and emotional conditions. These include injuries during boot camp, ringing in the ears from driving a tank, or anxiety from combat experience. Claims and benefits are increasing for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – the most common mental health disorder from combat.
Certain disabilities are presumed to stem from specific periods of military service. For example, the DVA now acknowledges that Agent Orange exposure has caused many illnesses in vets who were exposed. Veterans who served in Vietnam or areas of Korea during certain periods are presumed to have been exposed and may be eligible for payments If they have current ailments related to Agent Orange. Also, veterans suffering from exposure to other hazardous chemicals or Gulf War veterans who experience symptoms of “Gulf War Syndrome” may also qualify for compensation.
TBI and Diabetes among conditions now recognized
Veterans who suffer effects from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are now more likely to get assistance from the DVA. Vets from Irag and Afghanistan are showing a high rate of TBI injuries and related symptoms – so much so that the DVA announced a new system to review claims. Certain vets who filed earlier TBI claims and were denied can have their claims reprocessed.
Diabetes mellitus (Type II) has now been officially linked to Agent Orange exposure. In some cases, retroactive awards can be granted for Vietnam vets who applied for service-connection to diabetes before 2001 and were denied.
Often it takes the DVA years to acknowledge a military connection to ailments that veterans suffer. Experts say the best thing to do is file a claim and list all of your symptoms. Also get free help from Veterans Service Organizations who have trained staff to help you get the compensation you deserve.
If you are found to have an eligible condition stemming from military service, you will be rated on a scale from 0 – 100% disabled. If you are at least 10% disabled, you will receive a monthly tax-free payment. The base monthly veterans disability benefit currently listed for 100% disability is $2916 for a veteran with no dependents. From this base payment, additional benefits can be available, such as:
- Additional compensation is paid out for dependents, which can rise to a total of $$3,187 monthly for full disability for a veteran with one spouse and one child.
- For certain conditions requiring the need for aid and attendance, an additional Special Monthly Compensation may be available.
- Other benefits – Once disability is established, funds may be available for other types of assistance, such as an automobile allowance, clothing allowance, convalescence, dental, etc.
Be sure to find out all you’re eligible for. There are no age or income requirements to receive benefits, and you can still work if you’re able.
Administration of Benefits
The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs administers health benefits to veterans. The DVA is the second largest federal agency, next to the Department of Defense. It has two separate health-related divisions:
- The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) runs the VA medical centers and provides healthcare to veterans. It does not run the disability benefits program.
- Veterans Benefits Administration – The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) processes applications for veterans disability benefits.
Usually, the two departments have offices in entirely separate facilities and are run separately. For example, a VHA doctor may be treating your service-related condition, but you are not technically a “disabled veteran” until you apply and are approved by the Veterans Benefits Administration.
There are many flaws in the application processing system, including long delays and very high error rates. See our articles for more details on how to apply for Veterans disability benefits: