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Do VA Disability Benefits apply only if I’m permanently disabled?

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  18 Comments

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Many may think VA disability benefits only apply to someone whose injuries are so severe that they’re confined to a wheelchair or have lost a limb. However, disability compensation is available to any veteran who has a physical or mental illness or injury incurred during, or aggravated by, military service.

For each condition that is service-connected, the Veterans Benefits Administration measures the degree to which that condition interferes with your daily life functions. This “disability” is measured on a scale from 0% to 100%. Vets with ratings of 10% or higher are entitled to monthly tax-free compensation. One state estimates that the majority of its disabled veterans have a disability rating of 10%, 20%, or 30%. Vets with multiple conditions typically are rated at the highest levels.

Common service-connected disabilities

In 2009, the most common approved VA disability benefits for vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were for the following conditions:

  1. Tinnitus – 34%
  2. Neck and back strain (Lumbosacral or cervical strain) – 23%
  3. PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) – 17%
  4. Hearing problems – 14%
  5. Migraine headaches – 12%

For female veterans, the top five service-connected disabilities in 2009 were:
PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) – 6%

  1. Lower back injuries – 5%
  2. Migraine headaches – 5%
  3. Major depressive disorder – 5%
  4. Partial hysterectomy – 4%

If you’re wondering whether your condition qualifies as a “disability,” one point to consider is if there is “residual” effect from the injury or illness. If whatever occurred was completely resolved during your time in service, that may not qualify. But if, say, you broke your leg during active duty and you think it’s fine now – go ahead and make an application. You may be rated at a 0% disability today, but if you develop arthritis later in that leg, you’ll be glad you already had the service-connected condition documented. There’s no time limit on application, but the longer you wait, the harder it may be to find the medical records and prove that the condition is connected to your service.

Mental illness disabilities

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental disorder recognized from combat. The number of veterans applying for and receiving disability benefits for PTSD is increasing.

Many other mental health conditions can qualify for compensation, if they occurred or were aggravated during military service. These include: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders, among many others. Mental health conditions are also rated from 0% to 100% disability, based on the level of interference with your work and social life.

Depression was the fourth highest disability claim for female veterans in 2009. Women may feel more able to publicly seek help for depression, as there is more cultural stigma against men who suffer what are often considered “emotional” problems. But mental illness is serious and should receive appropriate medical and psychological treatment before it worsens.

If in doubt, vets should still apply

Many vets feel they were only doing their duty and that VA disability benefits are really for more “serious” cases. You may not even consider yourself disabled and are able to perform many of the normal functions in your life. But if you’re young and think you can shake off that bum ankle, it could turn into arthritis when you’re older and may seriously inhibit your ability to walk.

You don’t have to apply for disability benefits within a certain time from your service. If your military service was a while ago and you’re either still feeling effects from a condition or believe new symptoms may stem from your service, you can still apply.

It could be that your symptoms had a delayed onset, or – in the case of Vietnam era vets, the VA now recognizes some medical conditions that it denied back then. If you’ve been out of service for a while, it may be a more complex process to find all of the medical records and documents to show the injury or illness was service-connected, but if you’re entitled to these benefits, you should consider applying.

If your application is approved and you are officially designated, most vets receive some kind of assistance.

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  1. Commented and got no response

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Thomas,

      Please see the response to your question posted earlier today.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  2. Kim says:

    My husband has a combined rating of 80%; 70% for PTSD. He also received a rating of 0% for a lower back injury. He separated from the Air Force in 1992. My question is twofold.

    He is currently out of work because of a back related workers comp injury, since January 2014. I believe this injury actually began while he was in the military and for which he has received a 0% rating. He will be receiving another surgery and is expected to be out on disability for another year. He currently receives compensation from workers comp, which will be stopping in a couple months, but should be able to receive state disability when the workers comp ends. My question is if the injury began while on active duty, which was rated at 0%, but is now much more severe and for which he is unable to work; should they not have given him a higher disability rating for the back issue?

    Secondly, I think he should apply for UI because of his PTSD, which I believe has affected his employment since he separated from the military. Can you receive UI if you are receiving benefits from workers comp or state disability? If not, can he at least begin the application?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Kim.

      As to the back injury, a 0% rating means the VA accepts that the injury was incurred in service, but the injury does not rise to the extent necessary to justify a compensation benefit payment. You will need to file a new claim contenting an aggravation of that preexisting injury. As to PTSD and workers compensation, you will need to file a new claim as to a contention that your husband is unable to successfully work in any reasonable capacity.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  3. Steven D. says:

    Hi Kay,

    So I’m a retired combat vet with 20 years of service. During my time in service, I incurred multiple injuries and recieve 90% Disability benefits from the VA. I’m currently working and since my retirement in 2014, some of my service connected disabilities have returned. I sustained a terrible DVT (my 4th) and a PE (my 2nd). I was given 10% for DVTs and 0% for PE. This year I had two back surgery (recieving 20%) for that surgery. My back is getting worse, my anxiety has grown because of it and I’m worried I will be unable to continue working. I have filed an appeal with the VA in hopes of receiving 100% disability for the PE.

    My question is if I can’t work, can I file for SSID at 90%? If so can I expect my SSID to be reduced because of the $2100 the VA gives me monthly? Should I file now while I’m still working in anticipation that I will stop working?

    I live in Texas. Thank you for your support and responce in this manner


    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Steven,

      If you are grossing $1,090 or more monthly, a Social Security Disability claim will be denied. If you have to stop work or drop to part-time so your earnings are less than $1,090, you can file then. Your Social Security will not be reduced by VA compensation benefits.


  4. Joe says:


    I am a veteran from the Iraqi/Afghan War time period. However, I was never deployed.

    While on duty, I was diagnosed with “Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Emotions” and “Depression”. My understanding is that adjustment disorder can be rated if it is considered to be chronic. Is that correct?

    Despite never having been deployed, I had a commander that was out to get me (Ultimately, I prevailed, finished my commitment and was honorably discharged). However, my paranoia, distrust, depression, and anxiety from that time period have remained.

    While on duty, I began taking a very high dose antidepressant (which I am still taking…coming off of this medication causes panic attacks and severe depression) and was seeing mental health very frequently for these issues (so it is thoroughly documented during my active duty time).

    Should I bother filing for disability?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Joe,

      A VA claim requires plausibility. You claim appears to be plausible so it would be reasonable to apply. But, you will need to prove your disability. There are four requirements that you have to prove. (1) You are an eligible veteran, (2) you incurred a medical condition in-service, (3) you have a current chronic medical condition, and (4) the in-service condition links to the current condition.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  5. G.Hinojosa says:

    Trying to get started
    I might have PTSD, I have never made a claim. How can I prove that I have PTSD? Can I make a claim if I have never been diagnosed? Where do I make a claim? Everyone tells me that I should be getting compensated but I just want to get better. I have no clue as to where i start. EAS-Nov. 1997 USMC currently live in Orange County CA.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear G.,

      There are four basic things you must prove. (1) You have a current diagnosis of PTSD,which it appears you can document from your attending physican;(2) You incurred PTSD in-service; (3) There is linkage of your current medical condition to your in-service medical event; and (4) that you are a veteran.
      Thus, it appears your problem will be to prove you had an in-service medical condition or event of PTSD. You will need to provide the VA with a copy of your in-service medical records showing treatment while on active duty for this issue. In the alternative, you will need to obtain a medical expert opinion that your current medical condition links back to an in-service event.

      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  6. Doug Noe says:

    My V.A. compensation ( Agent Orange ) claim as been denied. Can you recommend a competent attorney in the Lee county ( SW Florida ) to help
    with my appeal?


  7. Michael says:

    Dear Kay,
    I was awarded 10% for chronic lumbar strain. Can I reapply for an increase in benefits with chronic lumbar strain secondary to right leg, femoral nerve dysfunction, severe muscle atrophy of right quad, and patellofemoral syndrome? I have supporting evidence such as MRI report, nerve/EMG results, and Dr clinical notes. If you say I may be entitled to increased benefits, how would you suggest writing it out on the form?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Michael,

      I would ask your doctor if the conditions you described are a result of the chronic lumbar strain. If they are, I would then apply to have right leg, femoral nerve dysfunction, severe muscle atrophy of right quad, and patellofemoral syndrome recognized as serviced connected conditions that are a result of the chronic lumbar strain with a note from your doctor stating that this is in fact accurate. Once these conditions are accepted then you can file for the increase. Good luck. It is a slow process but if you just try to get the increase they will deny it because of unrelated conditions.

      James Mitchell Brown
      VA Moderator

  8. Bill Rao says:

    Discharged 1970. Military med records show several entries for lower lumbar strain one 1966and again in 1969. Unable to obtain civilian med records as they have been purged. Many sick call records from employer which contain dr. Notes showing loss of work due to lumbar strain. Continually have back pain but no major episodes in the past ten yeas. I have learned how to treat myself when when pain begins. Is it worth filing?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Bill,

      Dear Bill,

      I recommend that you apply for benefits. You may be awarded partial disability. I also suggest that, if you have not already done so, you request your “C: file, which is your entire military medical record. In fact it is a good idea for all veterans to request their “C” file.



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