If you are a veteran currently suffering from a medical condition or injury, you may be eligible to receive compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
These monthly benefits are tax free and meant to help veterans recover any economic loss they may suffer due to their impairment.
“The monetary benefits available to disabled veterans are broken down into two categories: pension and service-connected disability compensation,” said Katrina Eagle, a veterans law attorney in California.
The first type, pensions, are available to veterans who are totally disabled and have 90 days of active duty with one day occurring during war time.
You must also meet the income limits set by law to qualify for VA pensions. During the application process, the VA will need your proof-of-income statements and medical records. Your monthly pension compensation will be the difference between your countable family income and the VA’s yearly income limit.
The second type, service-connected disability compensation, is available to veterans with a disease or injury that occurred during service. The disability can be physical or mental so long as it was incurred or aggravated during active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training.
“There are three basic criteria that must be met in order for a veteran to qualify. First, it must be a current diagnosed medical condition for which the veteran is currently receiving treatment for it. Second, there has to be something the veteran can point to in their service that is the cause or culprit of the current condition. Third, you must have a doctor’s statement, also known as a medical-nexus opinion, that links the medical condition to the culprit in service,” Eagle said.
Once the VA has determined that your disability is service-connected, they will want to evaluate and assign a rating to your disability in order to determine its severity and how it impairs your ability to work and function day-to-day. This evaluation will be conducted by a VA compensation and pension (C&P) doctor; not a VA health care doctor.
“The Schedule of Disability Ratings, set by the VA, is a list of every medical condition or analogous condition and is broken down by severity percentages,” said Eagle “For example, if you are diagnosed with PTSD that is evaluated by a doctor as mild, you will receive a disability rating of 10 percent. If the doctor determines it is moderately severe, the rating is 30 or 50 percent. If it is severe, it’s 70 percent, and so on and so forth,” said Eagle.
Your disability rating will determine the amount of compensation you receive. You must have a disability rating of 10 percent or higher to receive disability benefits, and if your disability rating is 30 percent or higher and you have dependents, you may qualify for an additional allowance. You may also be eligible for additional compensation if you disability is considered very severe or if you lost a limb during service. Current VA compensation rates can be found at http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/rates-index.asp.
However, even if you receive a disability rating that is less than 10 percent, you may qualify for other benefits reserved for disabled veterans.
“A non-compensable diagnosis can still qualify you for benefits. It depends on the state, but in California, a disability rating of zero can get you in-state college tuition for a child,” Eagle said.
If you believe you qualify for VA disability benefits and would like help applying for them, there are many veteran service organizations that can help. These professionals are trained to file disability claims on behalf of veterans, and will not charge you for their assistance. You can also visit your local VA office or the VA’s benefits website to apply.
For more information regarding pension and disability compensation application requirements, check out our article on Applying for Benefits 101.