To qualify for veterans disability benefits, you must have a diagnosed medical condition caused by or incurred during military service. In other words, you must have a service-connected disability. Veterans disability is available for physical and mental health conditions.
You are not eligible for veterans disability benefits if you were dishonorably discharged.
What evidence must I show?
First, you must prove with medical records that you currently have a diagnosed physical or mental health condition. Second, you must establish with medical records or medical opinions that your disability is due to an injury, disease, or event that occurred when you were in military service. Basically, you need to provide evidence of a current diagnosis; an event, injury, or disease in service; and a medical nexus, or link, between the two.
Are there exceptions to having to prove a link between my disability and my military service?
There are certain situations in which the military will automatically presume that your disability is service-connected. The following situations have presumptive service connection for certain conditions:
- If you are a former prisoner of war;
- If you were exposed to certain chemicals, such as Agent Orange in Vietnam or contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, while in military service;
- If you were diagnosed with the condition within a certain period of time after discharge; or
- If you served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War.
What happens after I file my claim for compensation?
Most claims for veterans disability go through eight steps in processing. The VA’s goal is to complete these 8 steps in 125 days.
- You file a claim for disability compensation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You can file your claim online or by regular mail.
- The VA will assign a Veterans Service Representative (VSR) to your claim. The VSR will review your claim and determine if additional evidence is necessary to support your claim. If you have submitted adequate evidence, your claim will jump ahead to step 5.
- You will receive a VCAA (Veterans Claims Assistance Act) notice telling you if any additional evidence is needed to evaluate your claim. Gather the evidence you can and submit it. You can also request that VA collects the evidence for you if it is held by another federal agency.
- The VSR will determine if you have provided all the necessary evidence. If you have, your claim will move forward. If you have not submitted all the required evidence, the VSR will request further evidence of your disability.
- The VSR will recommend a decision and prepare documents with the details of the decision.
- The VA will review the recommended decision and give final approval.
- The VA will prepare your claim decision packet.
- You will receive the decision packet in the mail.
What types of compensation can I get for my disability?
The VA has multiple programs that can provide compensation to disabled veterans. Most of these programs provide tax-free money paid monthly to veterans and their families.
The VA pays disability compensation directly to the disabled veteran. The severity of your disability determines your disability rating and your disability rating corresponds with a benefit amount. You must have a rating of at least 10% to receive compensation. The disability scale runs from 10% to 100% and increases in 10% increments.
The VA will pay tax-free money, called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), to a surviving spouse, child, or dependent parent of a service member killed on active duty or in training, or of a veteran who dies from a service-connected disability. A parent who receives DIC must have been financially dependent on the service member or veteran.
Veterans can get a higher monthly rate of tax-free compensation in exceptional circumstances. This benefit is Special Monthly Compensation (SMC). There are different levels of SMC to accommodate the varying exceptional circumstances in which SMC is available.
Certain additional VA disability programs provide compensation based on the circumstances of the veteran. These programs can give compensation for vehicle and clothing allowances, hospitalization and convalescence, etc.
If I am already getting Social Security Disability benefits, will I automatically qualify for veterans disability benefits?
The VA and the Social Security Administration (SSA) run completely separate disability programs, each with its own eligibility requirements. Qualifying for one program does not mean you will automatically qualify for the other.
You may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits without being eligible for veterans disability. This is because your disability does not have to be service-related for you to receive SSDI.
For example, Tom is a veteran who is receiving SSDI benefits. He was completely disabled in a catastrophic car accident he experienced while working in the private sector. Because there is no causal link between his military service and the car accident, Tom is not eligible for veterans disability benefits.
It is also possible that you qualify for veterans disability benefits but not the SSDI program. You can get veterans disability benefits for your service-connected disability, even if you are only 10% disabled. To receive SSDI benefits, you must be totally disabled and you must have accumulated enough work credits. Veterans disability benefits do not require total disability or work credits.
For example, Pam is receiving veterans disability compensation for PTSD from her military service in a combat zone. The VA rated her as being 50% disabled. Despite Pam’s service-connected disability rating of 50%, she is not considered disabled by Social Security standards.
Can I get both veterans disability benefits and Social Security benefits?
It is possible to qualify for both veterans disability and SSDI benefits. You must meet the eligibility requirements for both programs independently, but if you do, you can receive benefits from both.
For example, Tony is a former prisoner of war who suffered an injury while on active duty. He received an honorable discharge and entered civilian employment. He submitted a claim for service connection for his injury and was approved. Years later, his service-connected medical condition deteriorated, and he became 100% disabled. Tony may qualify for both SSDI and veterans disability benefits.
How can I speak to a lawyer about my veterans disability claim?
A veterans law practitioner can help you determine your eligibility for veterans disability benefits and assist you with the application process. The lawyers at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick proudly serve veterans and we work hard to get you the benefits you deserve. Call us today at 401-331-6300 for help with your veterans disability claim.