The 2021 VA Disability Pay Schedule
you have a medical condition or disability due to your military service, you
may qualify for VA disability compensation. But there are certain things you
need to do to qualify. And it helps to know the mechanics of how VA disability
compensation is paid out.
This article will walk you through the basics of qualifying for VA disability compensation, how much you can expect to receive, and when you may expect to receive direct deposits for 2021.
What is VA Disability Compensation?
Disability compensation is a tax-free federal benefit paid out to veterans with service-connected medical conditions and disabilities incurred while on active duty or, for reserve component service members, in the line of duty while on orders.
Once the disabled veteran qualifies for payment benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays out the benefit each month.
Payment varies based on your medical condition and severity. It also varies based on the number of family members and dependents, according to the VA disability payment schedule, discussed below.
Am I Eligible for VA Disability Benefits?
Not every disabled veteran is eligible for VA disability benefits. To qualify, you must meet three basic criteria:
1.) You must have a current condition, recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and diagnosed by a physician;
2.) You must have an injury, illness, or mental health condition incurred while in-service;
3.) You must be able to establish a medical nexus between your current disabling condition and your military service.
How does the VA calculate payment benefits?
When you apply for disability compensation, the VA will generally schedule an exam with a VA physician, who will evaluate each of your potentially service-related medical conditions.
The physician will then compare your medical condition(s) against a detailed rating rubric, the VA disability rating schedule. Your doctor will then assign you a VA disability rating that ranges from 0% up to 100%.
Many veterans have multiple service-related medical conditions that can contribute to their post-service disability. If you have multiple service-connected conditions, your doctor will use the VA rating schedule to calculate a combined disability rating.
The more you can document, the higher the disability rating you may qualify for, and the higher the eventual VA disability compensation payments you may receive.
Note that you may receive a VA disability rating of 0%. This means you won’t be eligible for VA disability compensation as a cash benefit. But you may be eligible for other benefits, such as ongoing VA health care.
Monthly VA Disability Compensation Benefits – 2021
|Disability Rating||Base Disability Compensation Rate (single, no dependents)|
Benefits for Qualifying Dependents
If you have qualifying dependents, and you have a VA disability rating of 30% or higher, you may qualify for additional benefits.
Qualifying dependents include:
- Your spouse;
- Minor children (under age 18);
- Dependent parents;
- Children between ages 18 and 23 who are enrolled in school.
Additional benefits may be payable if the disabled veteran has a spouse who requires aid and attendance.
Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)
The federal government adjusts VA disability compensation each year to account for increases in the cost of living. Generally, the VA announces the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the year each October, at the beginning of the federal fiscal year. The adjustment then takes effect in December.
For 2021, the VA has already announced that the COLA is increasing payment benefits by 1.3%. This translates to an increase of up to $19.68 per month for those with a 100% disability rating. The increase goes into effect on December 1st.
Proving a Service-Connection
VA disability compensation is paid out only for conditions the Department of Veterans Affairs deems to be “service-connected.” That is, there must be a nexus (connection) between the medical condition/diagnosis and the veteran’s qualifying military service.
In most cases, the burden of proof in establishing a military nexus is on the veteran. But not in all cases: Congress has listed some conditions as presumptive. That is, if a service member has qualifying service, and is diagnosed with certain conditions, the VA presumes the condition is service-related.
The most widely known examples of presumptive service-connected disabilities are those related to exposure to Agent Orange, a powerful defoliant used in Vietnam. However, the VA also considers certain conditions to be presumptive for former POWs, atomic veterans, and veterans of Operation Desert Storm.
For more information on presumptive conditions, see our post here.
If your condition is presumptive, you won’t have to establish a nexus between the condition and a specific incident during your service. You don’t have to prove you were actually exposed to Agent Orange. You just need to show that you were in country or otherwise have qualifying service, and that you have been diagnosed with one or more of these conditions.
The VA has defined some conditions as presumptive for those who are former POWs, and for those with service in Operation Desert Storm.
If you have a condition that doesn’t qualify as presumptive, you will need to submit a NEXUS letter. A NEXUS letter a letter from your current physician that establishes your diagnosis as service-connected.
All conditions not listed as presumptive for your period and place of service will require a NEXUS letter from your physician to qualify you for VA disability compensation.
You will also need a NEXUS letter to receive benefits for a secondary condition – that is, a medical condition that has been caused or exacerbated by an original, primary service-connected condition.
Your NEXUS letter needs to contain the following elements:
- Your doctor’s credentials – what makes them qualified to assess your condition as service-related?
- A statement that your physician has examined you and has thoroughly reviewed your medical records and any relevant military records;
- A statement that in the physician’s opinion, your diagnosed condition is related to your military service, AND;
- A medical rationale that fully supports your doctor’s opinion.
Your NEXUS letter doesn’t have to come from a VA physician. It can come from any licensed physician. Ideally, your NEXUS letter will come from a physician holding a relevant specialty. That way, there is less chance of it being challenged by VA officials. For example, you don’t want an orthopedic surgeon assessing your PTSD symptoms, nor a psychiatrist assessing your service-related back injury.
Other VA Disability Benefits
The term “VA disability compensation” refers specifically to the cash compensation directly arising from your VA disability rating. But depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for additional VA benefits. For example, if your service-related disabilities make it impossible for you to sustain gainful employment, you may qualify for VA Individual Unemployability Benefits.
This is important because it may allow certain veterans to receive the same monthly benefit as someone with a 100% disability rating.
Qualifying for Individual Unemployability Benefits
To be eligible for Individual Unemployability Benefits you must meet the following criteria:
- You must have at least one service-connected disability rated at 60% or higher, OR;
- You must have two or more service-connected disabilities, with at least one of them rated at 40%, AND a combined disability rating of 70% or more.
In addition to the criteria listed above, you must be able to show that these disabilities make it impossible to maintain steady employment sufficient to sustain you and your family above the poverty level.
If you require frequent hospitalizations that impede your ability to hold down a job, this could also help qualify you for the VA individual unemployability benefit.
For more information on Individual Unemployability benefits, visit www.va.gov.
When’s Payday? The VA Disability Compensation Pay Schedule
Normally, the VA pays out benefits by direct deposit each month in arrears. That is, the VA pays out benefits for each month on the first business day of the following month.
Exception: When the first business day of the following month is a holiday, then the VA will make the direct deposit on the last business day of the preceding month.
Non-business days include weekends and federal holidays.
Pay Dates for 2021
If you are receiving VA disability compensation, you can expect your disability compensation payment dates as follows:
|January 2021||February 1, 2021|
|February 2021||March 1, 2021|
|March 2021||April 1, 2021|
|April 2021||April 30, 2021|
|May 2021||June 1, 2021|
|June 2021||July 1, 2021|
|July 2021||July 30, 2021|
|August 2021||September 1, 2021|
|September 2021||October 1, 2021|
|October 2021||November 1, 2021|
|November 2021||December 1, 2021|
|December 2021||December 31, 2021|
Note: If your direct deposit is going into an account with USAA or the Navy Federal Credit Union, you may receive credit for your direct deposit a day or two early in any particular month. Contact these financial institutions for details.
Does Social Security Affect my VA Disability Compensation?
No. VA disability compensation is not considered income, and therefore does not affect your Social Security Benefits, nor does Social Security reduce your VA disability compensation.
VA disability compensation also does not affect Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, or SSDI.
You may have other sources of income that may result in a tax on Social Security benefits. However, since VA disability compensation is not federally taxable income, it does not trigger or increase the Social Security income tax.
Disclaimer: Hill and Ponton does not give individual tax advice. This information is for general informational purposes only. For individual tax advice, you should consult the services of a qualified tax professional.
Is COVID-19 delaying benefits?
No. At present, the VA is paying all disability compensation and other benefits as scheduled. However, VA facilities are taking Coronavirus-related precautions that may affect your visit. Some VA regional offices may have reduced hours. See here for additional information on COVID precautions.
Where Can I Get Help Applying for VA Disability Compensation?
It’s very common for veterans with qualifying disabilities to have trouble actually receiving benefits. The application process is complicated. Additionally, many veterans who do receive benefits don’t receive the full amount to which they should be entitled.
Initially, many veterans get a lot of help from veterans service organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), or the American Legion.
Even with the assistance of a qualified veterans service officer (VSO), many qualified applicants get rejected. If you’re having trouble getting the benefits you deserve, you may need an attorney who specializes in VA disability benefits.
To schedule a case evaluation with a member of our disability services team, click here, or call us at 1-888-373-9436.
Thank you for your service, and we look forward to working with you.
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