Federal disability compensation is one of the most common benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA will make monthly payments to veterans who are currently disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service. Disability compensation varies with the degree of disability and the number of veteran’s dependents. Veterans with certain severe disabilities may be eligible for additional special monthly compensation. The 2012 benefit rates range from $129 per month for veterans who are 10 percent disabled to $2,816 per month for veterans who are 100 percent disabled. To view the rates, visit: http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/resources-rates-read-compAndSMC.asp. Disability benefits are not taxed as income to the veteran.
The payment of military retirement pay, disability severance pay, and separation incentive payments known as SSB (Special Separation Benefits) and VSI (Voluntary Separation Incentives) affects the amount of VA compensation paid to disabled veterans.
To be eligible for VA disability benefits, a veteran must have left military service under other than dishonorable conditions, and have an existing disability that is service-connected. Certain conditions or diseases that occur within one year of a veteran leaving military service are assumed to be service-connected, but a veteran can apply for benefits at any time provided he or she can show that an existing disability was incurred or aggravated during military service. Children of veterans may also be eligible for benefits under limited circumstances, such as children of Vietnam veterans with spina bifida. For additional information visit the Compensation and Pension Benefits section of the VA website at: http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/.
- Special benefits are available to veterans with certain medical conditions who were/are:
- Prisoners of war (POWs);
- Exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides [Note: veterans who served in Vietnam during between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are assumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.],
- Exposed to radiation; or
- Gulf War veterans with certain chronic illnesses.
For additional information about these conditions, visit the Disease-Specific Registries section of this guide.
You can apply for compensation benefits through the VA’s Veterans Online Application, or by submitting an application by mail to the nearest VA regional office. For assistance, contact the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. The VA also publishes a guide to Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents, available online at http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp, which lists the many types of VA benefits available.
Proving an Injury or Illness Is Service-Connected
Veterans can submit various types of evidence to show that a claim is service-connected. When filing a claim, the veteran should indicate any medical treatment he or she has received at military or VA facilities for the disability. The VA is responsible for obtaining any of the veterans’ records in the custody of the federal government, including medical records from VA and military facilities. The veteran should also notify the VA of any medical treatment received from private doctors or hospitals and make arrangements for those records to be sent to the VA. The VA generally will not be able to obtain these records without the veterans’ written permission. A veteran can also submit statements from friends or family members who can attest to the impact of the disability on the veteran’s daily life, or statements from fellow servicemembers who can substantiate that an injury or traumatic event occurred during the veteran’s service.
Under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000, 38 U.S.C. § 5013A, the VA must provide veterans with assistance in obtaining evidence to support any claim where there is a reasonable possibility that such assistance will help the veteran substantiate his or her claim. The VA is therefore obligated to make a reasonable effort to help the veteran obtain records that would back up his or her claim, and to provide the veteran with a medical examination when such an examination is necessary to make a decision. If the VA schedules a medical exam to evaluate a veteran for compensation benefits, the veteran must attend the examination. This includes veterans who are already receiving compensation who are instructed to report for a re-examination by the VA. Veterans who fail to report for an examination risk denial of their claim, or loss of their existing benefits.
The criteria for rating different disabilities are listed on the Department of Veterans Affairs website at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/warms/bookc.asp.
Note: Once an injury or illness is determined to be service-connected, the amount of compensation a veteran receives for that injury or illness may vary over time. If a veteran’s symptoms or impairment get worse, the veteran can file a new claim requesting that his or her disability rating be increased at any time. The VA may also re-examine a veteran to determine if his or her condition has improved and lower the amount of benefits in certain circumstances when the veteran’s condition has demonstrably improved. Veterans who have surgery or other medical treatment may also be entitled to a temporary disability rating of 100 percent for periods of hospitalization or convalescence during which the veteran is unable to work.