Can You Join the Guard or Reserves if You Have a VA Service-Connected Disability Rating?

One of the biggest misconceptions about having a VA service-connected disability rating is that it closes the door on your ability to serve in the military ever again. Some injuries or disabilities may indeed prevent you from serving in the military again. But the service-connected disability rating isn’t what prevents you from serving again, it is the injury that does that.

Can you join the Guard or Reserves with a VA Disability Rating?

You can join the National Guard or Reserves with a VA Disability Rating – if you can get medical clearance.

If you have an injury or medical condition that is severe enough to warrant a VA disability rating, the chances are high that you will need a medical waiver to join the military again. Medical waivers are processed independently from your VA disability rating. There is no magic number that is too high to prevent you from joining the military – it all comes down to the type of medical condition and its severity. We’ll cover medical waivers in a separate article. For now, let’s take a look at how having a VA service-connected disability rating affects your ability to join the Guard or Reserves and how it affects your pay and compensation.

Dual Compensation from the VA and the Military is Prohibited

There is a law on the books often referred to as “concurrent receipt” which prohibits service members from being paid for active duty or active or inactive training concurrently with VA disability compensation or pension benefits.* You can find these laws written in 10 U.S. Code § 12316 – Payment of certain Reserves while on duty, and 38 U.S. Code § 5304 – Prohibition Against Duplication of Benefits.

You can read the full sections linked above, or check out these two excerpts which give you the gist of the law:

  • 10 U.S. Code § 12316: found under section (b) Unless the payments because of his earlier military service are greater than the compensation prescribed by subsection (a)(2), a Reserve of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard who because of his earlier military service is entitled to a pension, retired or retainer pay, or disability compensation, and who upon being ordered to active duty for a period of more than 30 days in time of war or national emergency is found physically qualified to perform that duty, ceases to be entitled to the payments because of his earlier military service until the period of active duty ends.
  • 38 U.S. Code § 5304: under section (c) Pension, compensation, or retirement pay on account of any person’s own service shall not be paid to such person for any period for which such person receives active service pay.

In short, the law states you can collect a pension, retainer pay, disability compensation or other earned pay, however, you must choose to suspend that benefit if you are called up for training or to active duty if you want to receive active duty or training pay.





*Note: There is a similar law often referred to as concurrent receipt which applies to receiving disability compensation while receiving retirement pay; this is a separate application of these laws, which you can read about here.

Typical Guard / Reserve Training Schedule

Most traditional Reservists and Guard members receive pay for 63 training days per fiscal year. This accounts for the standard 48 Unit Training Assemblies (UTAs), and 15 days of Annual Training (AT) time. The 48 UTAs typically consist of 4 drill periods per month for 12 months. For our purposes in this article, we will consider 63 paid service days as a baseline. Just keep in mind this doesn’t account for further training, deployments, mobilizations, or other active time. So you may end up with more than 63 days for the calculations we will do later in this article.

Verifying Your Time with Dual Payments

Because you can’t be paid by both the military and the VA on the same day, you must choose which pay you wish to receive, and which you wish to waive. You can do this at the end of the year with VA Form 21-8951, Notice of Waiver of VA Compensation or Pension to Receive Military Pay and Allowances (PDF). You must fill out this form each year in which you receive VA service-connected disability compensation or pension benefits and you serve on paid status in the Guard or Reserves.

The VA should send you this form during the first quarter of the current year, for the previous fiscal year. If you haven’t received a copy, you should request an annual waiver from the VA. However, keep in mind, this is up to you to complete and return. If you do not receive a form from the VA, then you should initiate completing the form on your own.*

Completing the form: Once you have your form, you will need to verify how many days of paid military service you had in the previous year. If there are no errors on your form, then you can sign it and send it in. If there are any errors or omissions, then you will need to submit it to your Commander or his representative for correction or approval. The unit will keep a copy, a copy will be forwarded to the State if you are in the National Guard, and a copy is submitted to the VA. You should also keep a copy for your records, including the date it was submitted.

Instructions for filling out VA Form 21-8951.

*Note: This is the law, and you cannot claim ignorance. You were informed by the VA when you received your VA Disability Rating Decision, found on VA Form 21-8764 – Disability Compensation Award Attachment. This form states your payments may be affected by receipt of active duty or drill pay as a Reservist or member of the Federally recognized National Guard. It is important to inform your Guard or Reserve unit when you join that you also have a VA Disability Compensation rating. Your recruiter or Personnel office will help you get this information into the system so it doesn’t catch anyone off guard.




The Service Member Chooses Which Pay to Waive

You should always run the numbers before signing and submitting the document. But in most cases, it will be best to waive the VA Disability Compensation. Here is how it works:

You must choose to waive your VA benefits for the number of days you served in the military, or, you must waive the military pay and allowances you received during your training days. The latter will almost always give the veteran less money.

Remember the number 63 above? That represents the standard number of training days for most members of the Guard or Reserves. If you waive your Va Disability Compensation payments, you will choose to waive 63 days of VA benefits. If you choose to waive your military pay from the training days you served, you would be waiving everything you earned from the military from the previous year.

Let’s look at an example:

Example of Waiving VA Disability Pay

Let’s look at an E-5 with 8 years and a 30% disability and no dependents (this example uses 2014 rates for both drill pay and disability compensation) .

The disability payments would equal $400.93 per month. $400.93 ÷ 30 days in a month = $13.36 a day in VA disability compensation.

The same E-5 would earn $385.80 per drill weekend (4 drill periods at $96.45 each). So 1 UTA = $96.45.

The E-5 can waive the VA disability compensation of $841.68 ($13.36 * 63 UTAs). Or he can choose to waive approximately $6,076.35 of military compensation ($96.45 per drill period * 63 UTAs & AT days).

It’s clear to see from this example that waiving the ~ 2 months of VA disability compensation is the right way to go!

Run your own calculations: Here are the current VA service-connected disability compensation rates, and a current Drill Pay Calculator. Simply plug in the numbers for your situation and run the numbers. It should be quick and easy to determine which pay is better to waive. Note: don’t just use 63 days – verify how many days of paid military service you had in the previous year.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Which Pay to Waive: VA disability compensation is tax free. Most drill pay will be considered taxable income. So if it’s close, you may come out ahead if you choose the VA service-connected disability payment. But you would need to bring in a lot of VA compensation pay to offset a year’s worth of drill pay. In most cases, it is best to waive the disability compensation. But be sure to run the numbers, just in case.

How Does the Government Collect What You Owe?

Great question. In most cases, the VA will not ask for the money back. They will simply withhold your future payments until they have collected the funds you owe. So if you had a standard year with 63 paid days, the VA would withhold your future earnings at a rate equal to 63 days of compensation pay. Keep in mind this equals just over two months, so you can expect to miss those payments after you submit your form. Be sure to verify the total number of paid military days you had in the previous year so you will know how long you will be without your disability compensation payments. You will want this information so you can work it into your budget so you don’t cause yourself any financial hardship!

Suspend Your VA Compensation if You Return to Active Duty

You should contact the VA to suspend your VA service-connected disability compensation if you return to active duty for an extended period of time, including mobilizations, deployments, long TDYs, taking an AGR slot, and long training assignments, such as technical training, Officer Candidate School, etc. Failure to do so will force you to incur a large debt to the VA and could cause problems down the road. The easiest thing to do, and the correct thing to do, is to suspend your compensation payment, then request its reactivation when you go off active duty orders.

Summary

You can join the Guard or Reserves with a VA service-connected disability rating – if you are medically cleared. But it does affect your pay and benefits. Make sure you keep this in mind if you have a VA disability rating and you are considering joining the Guard, Reserves, or even active duty.

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Date published: August 13, 2014. Last updated: March 3, 2015.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.

Comments

  1. Great job and thanks for your service. As a disabled Vet myself, I know the sacrifices that are put in to serve. If only some of the younger, entitlement, crowd would man-up and enlist, we would not have many of the problems that we have.

  2. Fredrick Wilson says:

    Thanks for this article. I have been scouring the internet for hope of being able to reenlist some how. I would gladly trade my disability payments for my honor and dignity back. I am very thankful for this up to date information.
    -Fred

  3. Are you sure that’s still current? I got a letter and then eventually called the VA because according to them, an audit showed that I was getting drill pay and getting disability pay around 2011. The person that I talked to said ” You can’t double dip the government.”

    I got out of active duty after 4 years, then did 1.5-2 yrs of national guard. A few months ago in 2014 I got the VA letter saying more or less what I mentioned above and that I would have about $100 buck deducted because of it. Anymore information would be greatly appreciated as I am disappointed in myself that I didn’t make anymore of my active duty service than I could’ve and wanted to make up for it by joining the guard.

    • Salvador, Yes, this is current and accurate information. I have a VA service-connected disability rating, and I just joined the Air National Guard. The VA representative was correct in the statement that you cannot “double-dip.” However, he didn’t explain it well.

      You can receive VA disability compensation while you are in the Guard or Reserves, however, you cannot receive the payment for the same day you receive military pay. At the end of the year, you will be required to fill out a form to select which pay you wish to receive – either your military pay, or your VA Compensation. Most people choose the military pay, because it is almost always more.

      If you choose your military pay, you will be required to forego the VA Compensation for the days you received military pay. In the Guard or Reserves that would typically be 4 days per month (4 drill periods), plus your AT days (active training days, or usually about 12-14 days per year). Combined that will be roughly 60 days of military pay per year for a normal year. Although it is possible to have more military days if you are activated or are required to attend training, you deploy, etc.

      The VA will then withhold your VA disability compensation for the number of days you served the previous year. If you had 60 days, then they would withhold the first two months of your VA compensation. Then your VA Compensation would resume.

  4. Confused a bit says:

    I am in what I believe is the opposite position. If you could please help me understand. I have done the calculations, I have been paid for 39 uta by my unit although I have requested my pay be withheld. I am an E-5 with 5 years, so my drill pay for a MUTA 4 is 340.68 or 85.17 per uta.
    At the same time I receive 100% VA Disability ( my unit did not push for medical discharge because I am very close to getting out.) my va disability is 3500.00. or 116 per day.
    Disability 116.00 * 39 uta = 4,524
    or
    Drill pay 85.17 * 39 uta = 3,321.63

    It might be extremely simple, but I am not understanding which to waive and which to keep to benefit me. Is the one that I waive the one I pay back? Please shed some light on this for me.

    • Thank you for contacting me. Typically, you will waive whichever pay is lower. In your case, you would want to waive your Drill Pay, because it is lower than your VA pay. I’ve only seen examples with waiving VA pay, which is withheld from future paychecks. I see that you weren’t able to have your pay withheld, which would be the easiest way to go. So it’s possible you may be required to repay the government by writing them a check. But I’m not 100% certain how this would work. I recommend contacting your personnel department for a more specific answer. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  5. Stephanie Seward says:

    hi….I have a question. My husband just got off of active duty in aug 2014. He joined the army reserves. He didnt have his rating till recently and he Is 60% with the VA. He has an apointment for TBI and Sleep Apnea. If his rating goes up…will he have to get out of the reserves? I see you were 100%, but almost ready for retire, but he isnt. What should we expect? The thing is is that he just receivdd a military tech position with the reserves and he needs to stay in reserves. Thanks in advance.

    • Stephanie, Being able to join the Guard or Reserves, or remain on duty in the Guard or Reserves with a VA service-connected disability, all depends on the extent of the disabilities and whether or not the individual can still perform the job duties required of him or her. This also includes being deployable. It doesn’t mean the person will deploy, but the individual needs to be able to deploy if called upon. A 60% rating by itself wouldn’t disqualify someone from serving, provided they can meet the service requirements.

      Each situation is handled on a case by case basis, so there is no way for me or anyone else to give you a firm answer about your husband’s future. All I can recommend is that he learn as much as possible about how the medical boards work, just in case he has to go in front of one to keep his job.

  6. I also am interested in reenlisting in the service. I did almost four years of active duty and was med-boarded for a lower back condition. My separation code is JFO and my reentry code is 3. Right before I got out they offered me a spinal fusion surgery, but I opted out and took the honorable discharge instead. I am currently rated 60% service-connected by the V.A. I feel like I’m in a state of disillusion with civilian life and was curious to know if there was any likelihood that I could rejoin? Could my condition be waivered at all, either in the guard or reserve? Or is it officially time to move on? Thank you.

    • David, I can’t comment on your specific situation, because medical conditions are unique to each individual. And to be honest, a recruiter can’t give you any guarantees either. The only way to find out is to apply to join the military again. But before you apply to the military, you will need to get some medical evaluations from a medical specialist stating your history for that condition, his/her expert opinion on your current condition, and whether or not he or she believes you would be able to serve in the military again without bringing additional harm to yourself or anyone in your unit.

      I don’t know enough about your current physical condition, so you will need to make a judgment call. Do you believe you are healthy enough to serve? If so, then you may try to apply to join the Guard or Reserves. If you don’t believe you are healthy enough, then you may need to consider surgery to improve your health before applying (this isn’t advice to get surgery; only you and your doctor can determine if surgery is the right option). Keep in mind that if you have surgery and your condition improves, the VA may change your disability rating.

      The application process for you would be a little different this time around because you would need medical waivers to join. Here is a recent article and podcast I wrote and recorded which explains How to Get a Medical Waiver to Join the Military.

      This will give you the process about how everything works, so if you decide to try and enlist, you will know what to expect. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  7. I was involuntarily separated from active duty and received separation pay. I also have a VA disability rating of 60%. My VA benefits are being withheld for five years in order to recoup the separation pay. I joined the reserves when I got off active duty. During this five year period where I am “paying back” my separation pay and not receiving my disability benefits but am collecting drill pay, will that drill pay eventually have to be paid back?

    • Rich, This is a situation where I honestly don’t have an answer. Here is what typically happens:

      If you receive separation pay and then have a VA disability, the VA will recoup the amount of separation pay you received. This is what is happening right now.

      If you receive separation pay and then join the Guard or Reserves, the DoD doesn’t recoup those funds immediately. However, they would recoup the separation pay if you eventually receive retirement benefits. However, in your case, the VA will have already recouped those funds, so that shouldn’t apply.

      The gray area that I don’t know about is what I think your question is asking: will you have to pay back any of the drill pay you receive while the VA is also recouping your separation pay. My gut reaction is no, because you technically aren’t receiving VA pay, because it is being used to recoup your separation pay. However, I cannot find a reg or the law to back that up, so please understand that is only a guess on my part. My recommendation is to contact DFAS and ask them about your situation. Sorry I don’t have a more definitive answer.

      Best of luck in your Reserve career!

  8. I have a couple questions. I just received my notice today 2/13/2015. The letter says I have 38 training days for the “fiscal year”. Are they counting from the entire year of 2014 or the military fiscal year from October 2013 to September 2014. Either way it doesnt seem to match up when I look at my points details in HRC. My second question is I only started receiving VA benefits in June of 2014 so isnt that the month that it should start counting from since that is when I started receiving double pay?

    • Eddie, Thank you for contacting me. This should only apply to the fiscal year, which is Oct 1, through Sept 30. If the numbers on your VA Form 21-8951 don’t add up, then you should contact the VA to have them verify your service dates.

      Keep in mind the following details before contacting the VA: Each Drill weekend is 4 duty days, a morning drill and an afternoon drill, so you would typically receive military compensation for 4 days during a standard drill weekend. Regarding the starting time of your VA compensation: many times your compensation may be awarded in a given month, but it may be retroactive to your separation date from the military, or from the day you filed your claim. So the VA may have used the filing date of your claim in their calculations.

      If your VA Form 21-8951 still doesn’t add up after taking those two things into consideration, then contact the VA and ask how to proceed to get your VA Form 21-8951 corrected. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  9. This law is not fair. I am a veteran and a Reservist. I am enlisted and only make about $200 a month, and I don’t have a job that makes enough to even qualify me for Obama Care. I have a 10% disability rating which is $100 a month that pays for my physical therapy to recover. Now they are taking it away because I serve the country. The VA also says I owe them a lot of time for being paid but my claim took forever to go through. Plus I was told to put in a claim for injuries on Active Duty. The VA will never get it right. I have no idea why they are always out for themselves in this type of situation.

    • Chandler, I can understand your frustration. I encourage you to look into TRICARE Reserve Select, which is an individual health care plan that qualifies for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. It only costs about $50 a month for an individual (about $200 a month for a family plan) and the coverage, copays, and maximum out of pocket expenses are comparable or even better than most health care plans under Obama Care. Here is more info on TRS.

      If you are paying $100 a month for your physical therapy for a service-connected disability, then you can also look into receiving care from the VA. They provide health care for all your service-related injuries or illnesses for which you receive compensation. This should save you $100 a month, and get you the health care coverage you need to recuperate.

      Regarding the VA disability compensation – the law states you cannot earn both VA disability and military pay on the same day. At the beginning of the year you should receive a VA Form 21-8951 that states the number of days you received military pay in the previous year. You should elect to waive your VA pay for that numb or days, which the VA will withhold in the coming months. Most people have around 63 training periods in a year, which means the VA will withhold roughly 2 months worth of disability pay. The rest of the time you should receive your VA disability compensation unless you it is being recouped for other reasons (for example, if you received separation pay).

      The VA isn’t out there for themselves – they are simply following the law as it is written in Title 10 of the US Code. Thankfully, you have some great options within the VA and military system to get medical coverage for your current injuries through the VA, and to get ongoing medical coverage at a very affordable rate through TRICARE. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  10. Ryan, thanks for the information. I have a question you might be able to answer if you don’t mind….

    I’m 53 years old. Retired from the ANG with 26 years (9 years enlisted and 17 years officer). My retirement was honorable. Now I am completely retired and would like to go back into the Guard for a few years, maybe till I’m 60. Do you know the rules on this?

    • Kevin, Thank you for contacting me. To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this question. I do know that retired active duty members cannot come out of retirement to join the Guard or Reserves again, but I do not know whether retired Guard or Reserve members are able to do so. They are eligible to be recalled to active duty in an emergency, up to age 60, but I do not know if they can voluntarily come back to the Guard or Reserves. The best I can recommend is to contact a recruiter and ask if it is possible.

  11. So just to be clear, I completed 4 years enlisted and plan on going back as an officer upon completion of my BA and I have a 10% rating. As long as I suspend my entitlements I can go back to active duty?

    • Kody, Thank you for contacting me. Yes, you would have to waive your benefits if you go back on active duty. However, you would not have to waive them if you go into the Guard or Reserves. You just can’t receive income from both on the same day. The way it works is you actually receive income for both and you file a form at the end of the year in which you declare which pay you wish to keep and which one you wish to waive (most people waive their VA pay because it is less). Then the VA will withhold pay for the number of days you received pay for military service. A standard year of drill days + 2 week training time is approximately 63 days. So you would have to elect to waive VA compensation for that number of days served. If you do that, the VA will withhold the next 63 days of VA compensation, after which it will resume. I hope this helps. Best of luck with your studies and your plans on receiving a commission!

  12. I was reading your article and its great and very informative, however after viewing the regulation from the VA’s website it clearly states your Commander does NOT have to sign unless there is a mistake in your reported number of drill days.

    This is straight from the VA-“VA does not require a Veteran’s unit commander to sign VA Form 21-8951 unless the Veteran asserts the actual number of training days is less than the number the Hines ITC printed on the form”

  13. Hi Ryan. I recently contacted a Navy Reserve recruiter because I too was looking at coming back in as a reserve officer via a DCO program. As soon as we got to the VA disability question, and I told him it was for sleep apnea, which I had on active duty, he said I would not qualify to serve. He said anything above 30% automatically disqualifies a veteran from serving in a reserve or guard capacity. I was disappointed because I am fine, and actually was diagnosed with sleep apnea about 4 years in the Navy when I was about 140 pounds. I am still within standards now, but since I am drawing above the 30%, he says no go. Is there something I can do here? I know you have said it doesn’t matter, but I am being told something totally different. Thanks.

  14. http://dma.wi.gov/dma/retirees/briefs/Four_Great_Myths.pdf

    You need to go to your recruiter and show him this.

    If he won’t listen, then go to another recruiter, until you find one that will either listen to you, or knows what he’s talking about. That’s one thing I’ve learned in the military–a lot of people don’t know what the heck they’re talking about, they just push RUMINT as actual regulation without doing any research. Never take anyone’s word for it, ESPECIALLY a recruiter. Good luck.

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