FAQ Friday: Who is eligible for VA disability compensation?
Q: What is disability compensation?
Disability compensation is a tax free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that were caused by—or got worse because of—your military service. A disability can be a physical illness or injury (like cancer or a back injury) or a mental health condition (like depression or PTSD). Even when the condition didn’t appear until years after your service ended, if it was the result of an injury or illness that happened during active military service, you may qualify for disability compensation. The benefit is paid monthly by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Q: Who is eligible to receive VA disability compensation?
You may be able to get disability benefits if you have a current illness or injury (physical or mental) and:
- You are a veteran, and
- your disability is “service-connected” (see next question), and
- you were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
Q: What is a service-connected disability?
The VA considers a service-connected disability to be a current illness or injury that happened while you were on active duty, or that you had before active duty but was then aggravated (i.e. made worse) by your military service.
When determining if your disability is service-connected, the VA generally looks for evidence of three things:
- documentation (i.e. medical records, service records, photos, etc.) of an in-service illness, injury, or event, and
- a current diagnosis of a physical or mental disability, and
- a medical nexus (i.e. a medical link) between the in-service illness/injury/event and your diagnosis (for example, a psychiatrist’s opinion that your PTSD was caused by a combat event you experienced, or medical research showing that exposure to Agent Orange is scientifically linked to developing Type II diabetes).
Q: Are former members of the Reserves or National Guard eligible?
Generally, yes. Current and former members of the Reserves or National Guard who were called to active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty may be eligible for VA disability benefits.
However, Reserves or National Guard members with active duty for training purposes only do not meet the eligibility requirement for disability compensation.
Q: I wasn’t honorably discharged. Am I still eligible?
If you received a General Discharge or General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions: you are eligible to apply for disability compensation.
If you received an Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge: the VA will make a case-by-case determination of eligibility after reviewing the incidents that led to your discharge.
If you received a Bad Conduct Discharge: you will most likely not be eligible to apply for disability compensation. However, if you receive a bad conduct discharge by a special court-martial, rather than a general court-martial which is for more serious charges akin to civilian felonies, VA may still make a case-by-case determination of whether you are eligible for benefits.
If you received a Dishonorable Discharge: you are ineligible for all VA benefits.
Q: How much does the VA pay for disability compensation?
The amount of compensation a veteran will receive each month depends on your disability rating or, if you have multiple service-connected disability, your combined rating. It also depends on how many dependents you have. Dependents include your spouse and children and, in some cases, your parents or other family members.
To learn more about how disability ratings and combined ratings are calculated, take a look at our overview of the VA rating system. To learn more about when the VA can and cannot reduce your rating, check out our post on rating reductions.
To estimate how much you would receive with different numbers of dependents and different levels of disability, take a look at the VA’s Compensation Benefits Rate Tables.
Q: What do I need to apply for VA disability?
- Discharge papers (DD214 or other separation documents)
- Service treatment records
- VA medical records and hospital records that relate to your claimed illnesses or injuries
- Private medical records and hospital reports that relate to your claimed illnesses or injuries
For more information about how to obtain these documents, check out our post on frequently asked document questions.