What is VA Disability Compensation?
If you were wounded or injured or became sick as a result of your military service, you may be entitled to VA disability compensation. This benefit is a tax-free monthly payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs to affected military veterans.
The amount you may receive varies with the severity of the service-related condition. The more severe or debilitating your condition, the more VA disability compensation benefit you may receive.
The VA pays benefits for physical wounds and injures as well as mental health/psychological conditions. So you may receive benefits for service-related mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
To qualify for VA disability compensation, you must be able to show that your disability was due to your military service, aggravated by your military service, or it must be one of the conditions listed as “presumptive” by the VA. See below for a more detailed discussion of presumptive conditions.
VA Disability Ratings Explained
If the VA determines that you have a compensable service-related condition, or multiple such conditions, they will assign a disability rating between 0% and 100%.
A 0% disability rating goes to veterans who have a service-related diagnosis, but the condition is not severe enough to affect lifestyle, employment or social functioning and does not require medication. A 100% rating goes to veterans whose service-related conditions are completely disabling.
VA Disability Rates
You may receive a higher VA disability compensation rate if you have a spouse, child or dependent parent and you are at least 30% disabled. You may also receive additional compensation if your spouse has a serious disability.
As of 2020, VA the disability compensation rate, regardless of family status, is $142.29 for those rated as `10% disabled, and 281.27 per month for those rated as 20% disabled.
For those rated at 30% or higher, your monthly benefit varies based on your family status, as follows:
Note: You may receive less than full VA disability benefits if you are also receiving military retirement pay, disability severance pay or separation pay. You also may receive less if you have been incarcerated for at least 60 days due to a felony conviction.
Special Monthly Compensation
The Department of Veterans Affairs also pays an additional amount to service-disabled veterans with particularly disabling or disfiguring injuries and illnesses. This benefit, called Special Monthly Compensation (SMC), may be payable if you meet one or more of these criteria:
- You have had one or more limbs or extremities amputated;
- have no effective function remaining in one or more limbs;
- You have lost one or both eyes;
- You are totally blind in one or both eyes;
- You are permanently bedridden;
- You need daily help with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, dressing, and bathing. This is also called “aid and attendance.”
Normally, Special Monthly Compensation comes in grades L through O, lowest to highest.
In addition, Level R may apply if you need daily help from another person for basic needs (like dressing, eating, and bathing), and Level S may apply if your service-connected disability has left you completely housebound.
To learn more about Special Monthly Compensation, and what it takes to qualify, click here.
If you have a presumptive condition, the Veterans Administration automatically assumes that your disability occurred as a result of your qualifying military service. Do don’t need to prove your disability was service-connected. You only need to demonstrate that the military placed you in a qualifying location within certain time frames. This is common with Agent Orange-related claims.
The specific list of presumptive conditions varies by the location and nature of your service.
You can find a full breakdown here.
According to the Veterans Administration, you may be eligible for benefits if you have a designated presumptive condition, and:
- You are a former POW with a condition at least 10% disabling;
- You served in the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975;
- You are an Atomic Veteran exposed to ionizing radiation, and;
o You participated in atmospheric nuclear testing;
o You occupied or were prisoners of war in Hiroshima or Nagasaki;
o You served before Feb. 1, 1992, at a diffusion plant in Paducah, KentuckyPortsmouth, Ohio or Oak Ridge, Tennessee;
- You served before Jan. 1, 1974, at Amchitka Island, Alaska
- You are a Gulf War Veteran, and;
oYou served in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations;
oYou have a condition that is at least 10 percent disabling by Dec. 31, 2021;
VA disability compensation rates are adjusted annually to reflect the rising cost of living. This is important because many veterans depend on these benefits for many years. Absent these cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), inflation would gradually eat away at disabled veterans’ actual buying power over time.
By law, VA disability benefits and Social Security benefits both receive the same annual cost-of-living adjustment. The percentage amount varies based on the inflation rate for the previous year, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).
For the year 2020, the COLA adjustment for both benefits was 1.6%.
In some years, there’s no cost-of-living adjustment, because there was no measurable inflation as indicated by the CPI-W. However, in high-inflation periods, VA and Social Security COLA adjustments have been as high as 14.3%, as they were in 1981. In recent years, the trend has been much lower.
VA Benefits for Dependents
The VA also pays certain benefits to surviving spouses and children of service-disabled veterans. The VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefit is a tax-free monthly benefit paid to qualified spouses and children of veterans who died in the line of duty or as a result of injuries or illnesses incurred as a result of their military service. In some circumstances, this benefit is paid out to the deceased veteran’s parents.
How to Apply for VA Disability Compensation
First, obtain your DD 214. Then fill out VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension. Once you have completed it, mail it to the following address:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
You can also apply online using VONAPP, or bring the form in-person to a Veterans Administration regional center near you.
If you’re originating a new claim, be prepared to furnish your DD-214, and allow the Veterans Administration access to your medical records as well as your military records.
You don’t have to submit supporting evidence right away in order to apply, but you may have to submit to a medical exam. Once you start a VA disability compensation claim, you have up to one year to submit supporting evidence.
Veterans Service Officers (VSOs)
If you need assistance in filing your initial claim, you can contact a Veterans Service Officer, or VSO. These are specially trained advocates who attend regular in-service training and act as advocates and advisors for veterans filing VA disability claims and who are having trouble navigating the medical and benefits systems.
These VSOs can work for Veterans Service Organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Generally, these organizations do not charge you for their services during the initial application. They may charge reimbursement for unusual expenses.
How a VA Claims Lawyer Can Help with Your VA Rating
If you believe you may have been improperly denied VA benefits, or if you believe that the VA has assigned you a disability rating that is too low, contact a VA claims attorney. If the VA acted wrongly, your VA claim lawyer can help you file your appeal so you can get the benefits you have earned with your military service.
More specifically, call us today if any of the following circumstances apply:
- You have been wrongly denied VA benefits altogether;
- You have wrongly been assigned a low disability rating;
- You have been wrongly denied unemployability benefits;
- You have not been paid back pay that you are owed.
Our team of attorneys at Hill and Poston have assisted thousands of veterans who have been wrongly denied benefits, or who are receiving less than what their service-related injuries or illnesses entitle them to. If the VA acted wrongly in your case, violating the law or their own procedures, we may be able to get the problem corrected.