Understanding Your VA Disability Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) manages the VA disability benefits program. This program pays disability compensation to military service veterans with a service-connected disability with a VA disability rating. VA disability benefits are designed to help veterans with a disability pay for things they need, like healthcare, housing, and clothing.

9 Types of VA Disability Claims

  1. Original Claim
  2. Pre-Discharge Claim
  3. New Claim
  4. Secondary Claim
  5. Reopened Claim
  6. Increased Claim
  7. Permanently and Totally Disabled Claim
  8. Special Claim
  9. Fully Developed Claim

Monthly financial assistance in the form of VA disability compensation can be incredibly helpful for veterans with a disability. Sometimes, these veterans are unable to return to the workforce or earn a sustainable wage. Veterans’ disability benefits can assist with medical and everyday bills. These tax-free benefits can also help family members of disabled veterans, whether or not the veteran is still living.

The VA requires military veterans to meet several qualifications before receiving monthly compensation via disability pay. Additionally, veterans must work through the claims process carefully to ensure that they provide all necessary information for a detailed, well-executed claim.

What Is VA Disability Compensation?

Veterans disability benefits provide monthly compensation for veterans who have a disability that’s connected to their time in the military. Often, disabled veterans cannot work due to their disabilities. These benefits for veterans can help them pay for everyday costs, like housing and food, or medical costs, like supplies and appointments.

Do I have to pay taxes on my VA disability payments?

A disability benefit for veterans is tax-free, meaning that the disabled veteran will not need to pay taxes from their VA disability pay. The compensation benefits vary depending on the veteran’s disability rating and their household size. Veterans with dependent children and a spouse may qualify for more monthly compensation than single veterans.

The VA gives each disability a rating based on its severity if it is determined to be a service-connected disability. These ratings range from 0%-100%, with higher ratings yielding more VA compensation for a disability.

Current VA disability rates range between $152.64 per month to $3,332.06 for a single veteran with no spouse or dependents. Veterans with a spouse or dependents may qualify for more than $3,700 a month in veteran’s disability benefits.

Some veterans may also receive more money if they are unemployable due to their disability or have a severe disability or loss of a limb or an organ. Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is reserved for veterans with specific disabilities, adding an extra benefit to regular VA disability payments.

How To Qualify for VA Disability Benefits

There are a few basic requirements that a disabled veteran must meet to be eligible for veterans disability compensation. First and foremost, a veteran must have served on active duty service, active duty training, or inactive duty training. The VA also requires the veteran to be currently experiencing a mental or physical illness or injury. Finally, veterans must have a disability that relates to their time in the service.

This injury or illness could have happened before the service, resulting in a worsened condition from serving. Or, it could be something that happened during the veteran’s service or showed up after leaving the service. If the latter, the condition still needs to be connected to the veteran’s service in some way, such as lung problems that could have been caused by Agent Orange exposure.

Some common disabilities that qualify for VA benefits include:

  • Hearing loss or tinnitus
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Depression
  • Chronic back pain
  • Loss of a limb or organ
  • Cancer from chemical exposure
  • Sexual assault or harassment
  • Skin conditions
  • Neurological conditions
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Only veterans with an honorable discharge may qualify for VA disability benefits. The veteran’s dishonorable discharge or other-than-honorable discharge will make a disability claim ineligible.

A veteran must complete and file a disability claim with the VA if they believe they’re eligible for VA benefits. The VA will review and process the claim and ask for additional evidence, if needed, to support the claim before making a final decision.

How To Apply for VA Disability Benefits

Applying for VA disability benefits is a detailed process for veterans. Each veteran applicant must have evidence to prove that their injury or illness exists and affects them daily. They also must be able to prove that the disability is connected to their service to receive VA compensation.

Veterans can begin by filing a claim online. They can also file by mail or in person at a VA regional office. A Veterans Service Officer (VSO) can also help veterans fill out an application and gather the evidence they need to support their claim.

The VA requires as much information as possible to support a disability claim. The VA first reviews a veteran’s DD214 separation papers to determine the circumstances surrounding their discharge. This may also shed light on the veteran’s disability status.

The veteran can also submit any medical evidence from doctors and specialists, including test results, examination notes, and hospital records. Veterans can also submit their own written statements and statements from others that could support their claims, such as a former boss or a family member who helps the veteran daily with tasks.

Suppose the VA believes that it needs more information to determine the severity of your disability. In that case, it will order the veteran to complete a claims exam, also known as the C&P exam. This exam provides the VA with additional evidence that can assist with setting a disability rating. The VA uses this disability rating to determine individual unemployability, if applicable, and the disability payment amount the veteran qualifies for.

9 Types of VA Disability Claims

VA disability benefits are not one-size-fits-all benefits. The VA provides multiple claims routes for veterans to file depending on their current situation.

1. Original Claim

An original claim is the first claim you’ll file with the VA for VA disability benefits. The VA allows service members to file a disability claim up to 180 days before leaving the service. If you have less than 90 days of service left, your claim will not be processed until after you leave the service.

Veterans can also submit an original claim after they leave the service. This post-service claim is available to veterans whose disability may not have appeared until after they were discharged.

Veterans are allowed to file new or supplemental claims if they believe that new evidence could increase their chances of receiving disability benefits. However, an original claim is used as the basis for further VA disability claims, should the veteran file any. The evidence and disability rating assigned during the original claim may also be used in the future to determine eligibility with any new claim filings.

2. Pre-Discharge Claim

If a service member develops an injury, illness, or disability during their service, they may be allowed to file a pre-discharge claim. This simply means that they’ll begin the filing process before they discharge from the service.

Service members can file as early as 180 days before leaving the service. To do this, they can file through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program. Only eligible service members may do so if they’re on full-time active duty service, have a known separation date, and have copies of medical treatment they’ve received. Going through the BDD process can speed up the claims process, allowing you to potentially receive benefits soon after discharge from the military.

If you’re not eligible for early filing with the BDD program, you can still file for up to 90 days prior to discharge from the service. This process is the same as a standard claims process after leaving the service, but it gets the bulk of the paperwork completed before discharge. Once discharged, the VA will begin processing the veteran’s claim.

3. New Claim

Veterans file a new claim when they have new evidence to give to the VA regarding their disability. Typically, veterans file these claims if they want to have their disability rating changed to receive more financial assistance or qualify for special disability compensation. The changes that occur from new claims can also assist veterans in getting pensions or qualifying for Individual Unemployability status.

A veteran might file a new claim if they have received a diagnosis for a new disability since filing their original claim. However, the VA will not consider any old medical evidence related to a veteran’s claim when they file the new claim. The VA’s decision will solely be based on the evidence presented in the new claim.

4. Secondary Claim

Secondary claims provide evidence to the VA involving a disability that has been caused by or worsened by another disability with a service connection. For instance, a veteran might file a secondary VA disability claim for sciatic nerve damage caused by a spinal injury they received while on active duty.

Secondary claims can boost a veteran’s VA disability compensation by increasing their disability rating. However, the two conditions must relate to each other somehow, so the veteran needs to provide enough medical evidence that shows their relationship.

Most importantly, veterans must establish that the secondary disability is severe enough to impact their daily life. This can usually be accomplished via doctor’s visits and test results, but the VA may also require additional exams for more evidence.

5. Reopened Claim (Supplemental Claim)

When the VA denies an original, new, or other types of disability claims, the veteran may appeal the decision. However, they must appeal within one year of the denial. Some veterans may not have enough additional evidence during that time to appeal the decision and miss the appeals window.

When that happens, they can file a reopened claim, also known as a supplemental claim. These claims reopen the denied claim when a veteran has new evidence that could assist the VA in changing its decision. VA Form 20-0995 allows veterans to reopen their previous claim if they have “New and Relevant Evidence” to show.

If the veteran does not physically have the evidence, such as x-rays or test results, in their possession, they can request the VA to get it for them.

6. Increased Claim

Over time, a veteran may experience worsening symptoms related to a disability for which they receive VA disability benefits. The veteran can file an increased claim to ask the VA to increase their disability rating based on their symptoms and further medical evidence proving a worsened condition.

Like other claims, a veteran should accompany an increased claim with plenty of evidence to prove that their condition has gotten worse. For instance, a diabetes claim may increase if the veteran has switched to being insulin-dependent rather than controlling the condition with medication.

If the VA determines that the veteran’s condition has worsened, it may decide to increase their disability rating and, subsequently, their monthly benefit amount.

7. Permanently and Totally Disabled Claim

Although veterans don’t technically file a claim for the VA to receive Permanently and Totally (P&T) disabled status, they can request to have their case reviewed for this status.

A P&T designation denotes that a veteran has a 100% disability rating for a disability that the VA determines will be permanent rather than temporary. With this rating, veterans will not receive a reduction in their disability rating or monthly payment amount.

Veterans can request this status with enough medical evidence. Often, they do this by writing to their VA regional office to request a change and provide medical evidence. However, they can also file a new claim if they have substantial new medical evidence that could switch them to P&T. In this evidence, your physician should indicate that your condition is not expected to improve.

8. Special Claim

A special claim can assist veterans with getting additional disability compensation for special needs relating to their disability. For example, a veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange and had a child with congenital disabilities potentially resulting from that exposure could become eligible for VA disability benefits.

Other examples of special claims situations include hospital stays, accidents occurring during VA medical treatment, and needing adaptive equipment relating to a service-connected disability.

Veterans may also file a special claim if they are unable to work because of their disability and would like the VA to consider increasing their disability payments. Some special claims lead to short-term payments, while others provide long-term compensation.

9. Fully Developed Claim

A Fully Developed Claim (FDC) allows veterans to apply for VA disability benefits and seek approval faster than regular claims. With these claims, a veteran sends in all medical evidence, written statements, and other information at the time of filing. They also declare at that time that they have no further evidence to submit and that they’ve furnished all the information they can to process the claim.

Because the VA doesn’t need to wait for more information or set up additional exams for the veteran, the process can move more quickly than the traditional approval or denial process.

Sometimes, the VA decides that it needs more information to process the claim. When this happens, it may switch the claim to a standard (original) claim to go through the regular process.

How To Appeal a Denial from the VA

The VA disability benefits claims process typically takes around 144 days to reach a decision once a veteran applies. However, veterans can speed up the process by presenting as much factual medical evidence as possible to the VA when they file a claim. The more information the VA has, the easier it will be to make a decision without requesting additional exams that could push back a decision date.

A VA disability attorney can help veterans gather the evidence they need to submit a complete and detailed claim. These attorneys specialize in getting the right information for veterans to prove their disability, severity, and service connection.

Even with plenty of submitted evidence, there’s a chance that the VA denies a claim. In fact, more claims get denied initially than approved.

When this happens, you can file an appeal. After a denial, you can request a decision review by filing a supplemental claim. These claims require new evidence that could move the VA’s decision in your favor.

Veterans can also request a higher-level review in which a senior-level official reviews the claim. This is a good option if you do not have new evidence to submit.

Another option is a board appeal, through which a Veterans Law Judge reviews your claim. These appeals can take one year or longer to complete.

A VA disability attorney can assist you through the appeals process to ensure that you give the VA the correct information to complete the review. A medical evidence developer can also help you compile medical evidence to improve your chances of getting approved for VA disability compensation.  

VA Disability Benefits for Family Members

VA benefits for family members can pay compensation to the families of active-duty service members and disabled veterans. These benefits come from a VA program called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) that helps support the surviving spouse, child, or parent of a veteran who died while on duty or from a service-connected disability.

A surviving spouse is eligible for these monthly benefits if they were still married to the veteran at the time of their death and, if separated, were not at fault for the separation. Surviving spouses must have also been married to the veteran for at least one year or had a child with the veteran.

Dependent children who survived the veteran may qualify if they’re under the age of 18 or 23 if still in school and are not yet married. A veteran’s parents can also receive DIC benefits if their income falls within the eligibility guidelines.

DIC benefits for a deceased veteran family pay the surviving spouse, children, or parents a tax-free monthly benefit. Surviving spouse and children rates differ from surviving parent rates. The current rate for surviving spouses is $1,357.56, but other situations can increase monthly payments. Eligible children, for instance, add $336.32 to the spouse’s payment.

Surviving parent rates decrease with higher incomes. The highest payment is currently $672 a month for one parent for $487 for both parents.

The VA requires different forms to apply for DIC benefits depending on whether you apply as a surviving spouse, child, or parent.

Ultimate Guide to VA Disability Benefits for Veterans and Their Families

VA disability benefits give disabled veterans monthly compensation to offset their financial needs. Disability compensation from the VA can help disabled veterans pay for their everyday costs, like housing, food, and utilities. They can also use this benefit to pay for health care and other necessities. For veterans who are unable to work due to their service-connected disability, VA compensation can be an essential financial aid.

A veteran must file a disability claim to become eligible for VA disability pay. Depending on the type of claim and the disability, these claims may take several months to complete. However, an eligible veteran may receive back pay for any compensation they were eligible for during the determination process.

Families of veterans who died as a result of their disability or during active duty service can also receive compensation from the VA through the DIC program. This benefit assists surviving spouses, children, and parents with a monthly payment.

Veterans can file a disability claim online, by mail, or through their VA regional office. To assist in filing a claim for VA compensation, consider reaching out to a VA disability attorney or a veterans service officer.