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.


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.


  1. says

    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.

  3. Salvador says

    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.

    • says

      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.

      • Christopher Kelley says

        I have a question. I just recently received 90 percent disability and i know i have to decline reserve pay. that is no issue. however my question is i know there are people with 60 and 70 percent that have to decline pay that only show up for retirement points and only have to come in 4 times a year instead of every month. How do i find the regulation for this and is this for real. I know a person that does it but i am unable to speak to him at this moment. so i was hoping you can help me. thank you.

        • says

          Christopher, Thank you for contacting me. Units have a lot of flexibility when it comes to scheduling certain members’ drill dates. Most units require everyone to participate on the regular unit drills, but some units may permit members to participate at different times if the mission and operations permit. The individuals you mention may fall into this category. Some members may also be IMAs (Individual Mobilized Augmentees) which have more leeway in when they serve.

          My guess is their disability rating has no effect on how and when they serve. It’s probably a function of their unit granting them permission to participate at different intervals. My recommendation is to speak with the individual you know when you get the chance, and go from there. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  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
    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.

    • says

      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.

    • says

      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. David says

    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.

    • says

      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. Rich says

    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?

    • says

      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. Eddie says

    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?

    • says

      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. Chandler says

    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.

    • says

      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. Kevin says

    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?

    • says

      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. Kody says

    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?

    • says

      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. Jonathan says

    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. Rob says

    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. Tamara says

    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.

  15. Abner says

    I’m on the same boat as Rob. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea while in the navy. I’ve been out since July on 2013 and as of lately have been wanting to serve again in the ANG. However after talking to a recruiter he said that my chances would be very slim. I would love to speak to a recruiter who knows the rules and would be willing to help me get back in. He said that I wouldn’t be able to “have my cake and eat it too” since I get 60% disability. I would love nothing more then to serve again even if it just in the Guard. He also mentioned that he doubts any CMDR of a guard unit would be willing to sign off on my waiver to let me back in because of the sleep apnea .What do you recommend I do?

    • says

      Abner, Thank you for contacting me. The 60% disability rating by itself won’t stop you from joining, but the underlying medical conditions may. I’m not sure if the sleep apnea condition is a waiverable condition. You would need to speak with a recruiter and the doctors at MEPS to find out that information. You can also look it up in the Department of Defense Instruction for medical standards (DODI) – which is found within this article that discusses applying for medical waivers.

      The best advice I can give you is to be honest with the recruiter, explain every potential negative item on your profile, and let your recruiter know you are willing to do whatever it takes to get back into the uniform. Just understand that you have a red marks against you, and it may not be easy. In fact, it may be difficult to find a recruiter willing to work with you, depending on how taxed the unit is (in my opinion, a good recruiter will tell you straight up what your chances are, and will let you know the exact steps to take to fill out and submit the necessary application(s). Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  16. Jeremy says

    I transitioned from Active Duty to the Army National Guard for three year. I filed a claim with the VA and I received a 80% service connected rating, I am wanting to be medically chaptered but my Unit doesn’t seem to want to chapter me now. Last month they informed me that since I had a 80% rating that that I was non-deployable so they had no choice but to medically chapter me, but this month something seems to have changed. My question is there any truth to my Unit’s claim, am I non-deployable since I have such a high rating and is there a cut off of percent, if so what is the cut off that automatically makes you ineligible for military service and do they have to give me a waiver to keep me?

    • says

      Jeremy, Thank you for contacting me. I haven’t read any regs that list a cut-off percentage for disability ratings. But each branch of the military may have different guidelines. From what I understand, the most important thing isn’t the disability rating, but rather whether or not the disabilities prevent the servicemember from being able to perform his or her duties.

      In your case, there may be a medical condition that disqualifies you from being worldwide deployable. Or, there could be an Army reg that states a limit for disability ratings. I don’t have an answer for you (and most of these situations are on a case by case basis).

      My recommendation is to talk to as many people as possible to find out more about your situation. Recruiters can be a great source of information on these types of topics because they deal with medical eligibility issues on a daily basis. You can also try speaking with your unit deployment manager, someone in your medical unit, etc. It sounds like you’re going to have to do some digging to get a firm answer. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  17. Dustin Lockhart says

    Hey Ryan a question for you,

    If you are rated 90% disabled due to TBI, can you still sign up for reserve?
    And will the VA take your disability away because you can serve in the Military?

    • says

      Dustin, Thank you for contacting me. I haven’t seen any written regulations which limit the disability rating at which you can join, but I’ve heard that it can be more difficult when you have a high rating.

      The big question that needs to be answered is this: can you perform your required duties in the military with your current disability, and would you present an added risk to yourself or others?

      I can’t answer that – that is something that needs to be determined by the medical professionals. You would need to start the process with a recruiter and they will take it from there. I will say that the military is taking a hard look at Traumatic Brain Injuries for all prospective recruits, even those who have never served in the military before. At the minimum, I would expect you to need a medical waiver to be able to join. Here is more information on that process.

      Regarding pay, the military and the VA don’t take away your pay, but you are only allowed to earn one type of pay on any given day. The process is explained above, but please let me know if you have specific questions, or if it isn’t clear.

      All of that said – I don’t want to get your hopes up (or tell you it’s impossible). The military is doing a lot of studies on TBI and trying to minimize the effects of multiple concussions. I expect you may be facing an uphill climb to get back in. But don’t let that stop you from making the inquiries. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

      • Nick says

        Ryan…thanks for the insight here. Do you have an regulations that prove I do not have to voluntarily waive my VA disability in order to pass through MEPS. I can’t believe this is such a complex topic when there should be something that clearly states….members can re-enter the military regardless of VA status, so long as they can pass a physical.

        I may be joining a guard unit and have 60%, but will need to go to MEPS. Many things online (and a different unit) have told me I’ll lose that 60% while at MEPS. I need something in writing one way or another.

  18. Tyler Hogue says

    I was medically discharged for asthma in the Air Force. I have since been cleared by a doctor of not having it anymore and I really think I never had it but it was just a bad area and bad time of year. But would I be able to get a waiver for a Air Force 2Q rating and entering the army national guard or reserve?

    • says

      Tyler, Asthma is a tricky condition and one I can’t give you a good answer on. You will need to visit a recruiter and have them work with you to get the proper documentation submitted to MEPS. Then it’s in their hands whether or not they will accept your application. A recruiter should be able to give you a better idea than I can. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  19. Nicholas says

    I palaced chased into the reserve. I understand that I will have to waive either the VA compensation or drill pay. I think I am going to waive the VA compensation. My question is, I started reserve duty on January 27th. I started receiving VA compensation on the same day. Since I don’t have any drill days from the previous year (2014, as I was still active duty), will the VA withhold, or waive benefits? Or will I have to waive benefits since a full year did not pass?

    • says

      Nicholas, Thanks for your question. The pay issue is handled next year. The VA will send you a VA Form 21-8951 – Waiver of VA Compensation to Receive Military Pay. Basically, you choose next year which pay you want to waive. If you choose to waive your VA compensation, then the VA will determine how many days you served in the Reserves and withhold a corresponding number of days pay for VA compensation. So if you were paid for 60 drills, the VA would withhold 2 months of disability compensation the following year.

  20. Harrison says

    Hey Ryan,

    Sorry if this is a redundant or an all too common question:

    I have a service-connected disability rating of 60% from a mild TBI. I chose to ETS on my own accord from the army, which I did in November of 2011.

    My RE code on my DD-214 is 1, and my PULHES score is also all ones. I was still awarded the rating because of the documentation from the blast and minor residual effects from it. I have since managed to graduate college with a BA and I was interested in joining the Reserves or the National Guard.

    I have talked to a few recruiters, all of which have said it is literally impossible to join with a rating of over 30%. After reading your comments to everyone, I now know that is incorrect.

    My question for you is this: is it likely I can still join the Guard or Reserves with that RE code and PULHES score on my ETS physical? I wish to waive ALL my military pay and simply keep my VA compensation, even during an AT period — unless of course I am mobilized or activated (in which I would suspend it). I am not trying to hide my ‘disability’, as it obviously affected me. But I am still competent to serve.

    I know ratings and injuries are completely subjective to the individual. Maybe I just need to find a recruiter that is actually willing to step up and help. Thanks for everything you do, Cheers.


    • says

      Harrison, Thank you for contacting me. This is not a redundant question at all – every situation is unique.

      To the best of my knowledge, there is no limit for a disability rating that will force you to be removed from service. The “30% rating” has often been mentioned, but it refers to the military disability rating in a military Performance Evaluation Board (PEB), which is different than a VA disability rating. Here is a reference as it pertains to the Guard.

      Personally, I’ve known many people with higher ratings than 30% who have served in either the Guard or Reserves. The most important thing is whether or not you are physically able to perform your job.

      That said, Traumatic Brain Injuries are receiving a lot of scrutiny right now, and the military may not let you in due to the history of a TBI, not because you have a specific disability rating. (this applies to prior service members, as well as anyone applying from the civilian ranks). To get in, you would almost certainly require a medical waiver.

      With that, you would need to get a letter from an independent medical specialist stating you are fit to serve in the military and you aren’t a danger to yourself or anyone else. This needs to be on the medical professional’s letterhead. You would need to submit that with your application for a medical prescreen at MEPS, and yes, you would need to have a recruiter who is willing to work with you through the process.

      Regarding pay – I wouldn’t recommend waiving your military pay. In almost all cases, you will earn more through the VA. It may seem like the “noble” thing to do to prove you are willing to serve, but it won’t increase your odds of getting in, and by law you can choose. So electing to waive your VA pay for the period you serve would be the way to go. I hope this helps, and best of luck in your journey toward joining the military again!

  21. Tasha says

    With in the last few weeks this has actually changed and they no longer allow you to double dip va and drill pay, if you waive va for drill pay, you are waiving all of your va (according the the VA rep we spoke to today) (this is at the assumed 60% rating…) It sounds like they no longer do it as broken down by day?? Maybe someone can find better info, none of this is making sense anymore

    • says

      Tasha, I haven’t heard anything about this, and the VA Rep I spoke with two weeks ago did not mention this (June 2015). Can you please send me a regulation or a reference for this? I will be happy to update this site with the correct information if something has changed. Thanks.

      • Tasha says

        I’m trying to find the same thing, my SO was in his re evaluation I waited outside so it’s what he was told by the rep, I will try to get a hold of her tomorrow and see if I can get more clarification since you’re explanation makes perfect sense but hers (it’s a lump some all of none) is far more confusing. It was an email the rep was sent on July first. I’ll try to find more info

  22. Tuichan says

    Hi Ryan,

    I hope all is well? Like many questions on here, it may be the same. I am a currently at 60 percent from VA and not PEB, but I don’t have to many conditions that would disqualify me at the moment, as I can function normally as I was before I got the rating. I still have no criminal record and I am discharge honorable with a RE 1. I have called guard Army recruiters all over this country and they all tell me you can only waive up to 30 % disability, regardless if it is PEB or VA? I had even one talk to his recruiter boss MSG and he even said it had to be at 30 % or less. Are they any regulations or references that I can show a recruiter that it is only PEB and that you can have more 30 % collecting from VA? I was told that the Army Reserve doesn’t even waive any disability period, no matter where it comes from? I am just at a loss after reading your website, how to go about this with the recruiters to prove their are wrong? I even called the Army National Guard Recruiting Center and they just like the recruiters? Some advice or help, would be much appreciated!

    • says

      Tuichan, Thank you for contacting me.

      This is the reference I used, which states:

      “In accordance with NGR 600-200, Table 2-1, an enlistee must not have more than a “30% disability” to meet enlistment criteria. NGR 600-200, table 2-1 clearly states that a 30% or greater Physical Exam Board rating is not waiverable. A PEB is a military service designation, not a VA disability rating. The two are very different items and are not interchangeable.” – (source)

      As I’ve mentioned, I have known many people with higher ratings than 30% who have served in either the Guard or Reserves. The most important thing is whether or not you are physically able to perform your job and do not pose a risk to yourself or anyone else.

      Now it is possible there is a directive or reg that came down that specifies the Army National Guard will not allow anyone with a VA disability rating above 30% to join, but I am not aware of it.

      I recommend calling the phone number on the page I linked to. The gentleman who put together this brief was very helpful when I called him before I joined the Air National Guard. Another option is to look into joining a different branch of service if you cannot get into the Army.
      I hope this helps. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  23. Kim Kase says

    Hello, how are you?

    I’m a spouse of an Air Force member. He’ll be separating under high year tenure. He gave me his GI Bill and I was able to get my Bachlors of Information Technology Degree. I decided I want to join the Air Force as Officer, but the thing holding me back is my weight. I had two c-sections from both my kids. I want to get a tummy tuck to meet waist requirements with it involves liposuction.

    I have been working out and dieting. The weight is going down, but I would like to join before my husband gets out.

    I hear about people getting tummy tucks / lipo as long they get commander’s approval. If I want to get a tummy tuck with lipo before I join, will I be disqualified? By any chance would you know what the reg/AFI is for it?

    Thank you very much!

    • says

      Kim, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t know if there is a reg regarding a tummy tuck before you join the military. The DODI (mentioned in the article) lists the items the folks at MEPS look at when you join. If you go through with the surgery, you would have to list your surgery on your medical pre-screen form, and most likely get a note from a surgeon stating the surgery, reason for it, your current condition, and whether or not (in their opinion) you are fit to serve at this time.

      That said, most people would recommend hiring a fitness instructor and nutritionist before undergoing surgery. This will be more cost-effective and will work better in the long run. Liposuction is painful and while it will reduce your waist size, it doesn’t do anything to improve your fitness, and it only removes the girth from that specific area of your body. In some cases it can leave people looking disproportionate. A good fitness regimen and supporting diet will help you shed the weight and girth, and help you make it through Office Training School. And if you maintain the diet and fitness routine, it will be easier to pass your required annual fitness test.

      So that was a long answer for: I don’t know if this is a disqualifying surgery, but I don’t think it would be, provided you are otherwise qualified to serve. I hope this helps, and I wish you the best.

      • Chris Covington says

        Hi Ryan,

        First off, great information! I would like you to clarify something for me though, if you could please. I understand how it works if you simply have a VA rating and want to join the Guard/Reserves. What if you were actually medically retired? Would it still be the same? Get cleared by a doctor and take the proper steps to make sure you don’t mess yourself up financially between military pay/VA benefits?

        Either way, thank you for your time!

        • says

          Chris, Thank you for contacting me. To be honest, I am not aware if it is even possible to serve in the military again after a medical retirement. The military and VA disability rating systems are entirely different. The military sends members through a Performance Evaluation Board (PEB) and returns a disability rating. Members can either receive a permanent disability rating, or a temporary rating, in which members are placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL). Members with a temporary rating can be reevaluated and can return if the military deems them fit to serve. Members who are given a permanent military disability rating cannot return to duty. I am unsure if there are exceptions or waivers for this.

          My recommendation is to contact a recruiter and have all pertinent documentation available during your call, including your DD214 (your RE code is important), and any relevant medical documents stating your medical retirement rating, reason for medical retirement, etc. The recruiter will be able to tell you if a waiver is possible, and what the required steps will be. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  24. Benny says

    Hi Ryan,

    I think your information is beneficial. I do know a former Marine who has 50% VA serving in the Army National Guard, but he got the rating after he processed through MEPS in the Guard. I need some advice Ryan. I am prior service Navy. I am 60 % VA. I contacted a Army National Guard recruiter and he already knows that VA and Guard have nothing to do with each other. I got lucky with him, since he whiling to work with me. I don’t have a PEB or medical discharge. I have RE-1 code and Honorable discharge, he telling me I should not disclose any VA information or disability at MEPS. Since MEPS doesn’t seem to know the difference between a VA and PEB rating. I also assume I won’t have to go through loops with waivers either. I am sure that a battle with MEPS and Guard that applicant and recruiter don’t have to fight for, since I have a high rating of VA. I hear all this stuff and stories about how MEPs can or will give you a dishonorable if you lie or don’t disclose any information. I don’t know how those punishments usually occur or span out. The recruiter seems to know what he’s doing. A former Army Ranger turned Guard recruiter, he been doing this for about 5 years. I ask him what if MEPS or when I get to AIT or my Guard unit finds out I didn’t disclose it at MEPS. I don’t want to get a dishonorable for not being honest. The recruiters assuring me they won’t. I did talk to that gentleman on that site from the Wisconsin Air National Guard, he told me I should admit I receive VA but don’t disclose my rating. My recruiter told me I think he mentioned something about creating two different packets of my information through the process as I go through MEPS and Guard. I kind of confused on that as well(I have to ask him), as that may help my situation. I been calling like 10 other Guard recruiters in the past like crazy and they told me that I would have to get the disability down to 30 % VA even though I think it only for PEB. I couldn’t find anything in Army National Guard regulations or Army information regarding 30 % VA or PEB. I was shock he knew the difference of VA and the Guard, I don’t know if more informed or what. I don’t think he stick his neck out and chance it if he didn’t know the inside and outs of MEPS, even though he is a recruiter. Sorry for this being long Ryan, I need some advice on how to go about this. Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Benny, Thank you for contacting me. The individual I spoke to from the Wisconsin Guard was also very helpful when I was going through this process. I would follow his advice here and disclose that you do have a VA service-connected disability, but not disclose the actual rating percentage. Here is why this is important:

      The paperwork you fill out requires you to disclose your medical history and at some point in the application process, I had to sign a form stating I had a VA service connected disability (I don’t recall exactly where in the process this was, but I recall having to state I had the disability rating). I do not recall ever having to list or state the rating percentage. Failing to disclose the rating, then signing a document stating you do not have any such rating could get you into trouble, up to an including dishonorable discharge for fraudulent enlistment. It’s simply not worth it.

      But your recruiter is also right – some MEPS officials will only look at that rating percentage and deny your ability to serve based only on that number, regardless of whether the rating is from a PEB, or from the VA. So far as I’m aware, veterans with a PEB rating of 30% or higher are not allowed to serve in the military regardless of whether that is active duty, Guard, or Reserve. But I haven’t seen any official documentation regarding limitations based VA disability ratings.

      Regarding waivers: You may need a waiver, even if you don’t think you will. Fill out the Form 2807-2 Medical Prescreen of Medical History Report. Then read this article, which discusses the waiver process.

      In short – anything you check “Yes” on in section 2 requires additional information. The more complete the information you submit, the better. You may or may not need a waiver based on the information provided and the condition. Be thorough, but as concise as possible. Finally, be very organized with your documentation – the easier you can make this on the doctor who reviews your forms, the better.

      To wrap this up – I cannot recommend lying on your application. This can get you in a lot of trouble and just isn’t worth it. But I also don’t recommend volunteering any information not necessary for the doctor to review your form 2807-2. Do the MEPS folks need to know you have a VA disability rating? Yes. It’s a question they ask, and you have to sign an official government document attesting everything you filled out on your form is correct. But I don’t recall there being a section for the exact disability rating. And if it isn’t required, I wouldn’t volunteer that information. I hope this helps. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  25. Jesse Rios says


    Hopefully this has not been covered and I just missed it, but if I were to re-enlist into an ANG unit and eventually retire, would I receive my retirement pension and disability pay concurrently then?

  26. John Tate says

    Hello Ryan, I have a 40% rating from the VA and I have been trying to get into the Guard or Reserves since I got out in 2012. I keep hitting brick walls with recruiters saying that it just isn’t possible to join. I do not know if it’s just because they do not want to do any paperwork or if its because I just need to lower my rating. Any response is greatly appreciated.

    • says

      John, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have a specific answer here, because there are many moving parts. It can be difficult to join the Guard or Reserves with a disability rating – sometimes because of the rating itself, but often because of the underlying medical issues that give the rating.

      To the best of my knowledge, there is no set limit for a VA service-connected disability rating that will prevent you from joining the Guard or Reserves. The “30% rating” has often been mentioned, but it refers to the military disability rating in a Performance Evaluation board, which is different than a VA disability rating. Here is a reference from the Wisconsin Guard.

      Personally, I’ve known many people with higher ratings than 30% who have served in either the Guard or Reserves. The most important things are whether the medical conditions are waiverable for military service and whether or not you are physically able to perform your job. This is where your individual medical conditions are important. There are some conditions that may prevent you or anyone else from being able to serve again. And some of those conditions are not waiverable. Here is a reference on how to get a medical waiver to join the military. You may find this helpful if you need to get a waiver.

      As for the recruiters – be sure to tell them you have a VA disability rating but no rating from the military or a Performance Evaluation Board. You can also spend some time on your own filling out the medical pre-screen form and obtaining a statement of health from your doctor for each item you highlighted in section 2 of the pre-screen form. Doing the work in advance will save you a lot of time.

      Finally, you may have to contact recruiters at several locations before you find someone willing to work with you. This isn’t a common situation, and some recruiters either aren’t aware that you can join with a VA disability rating, or aren’t willing to put in the work. So be patient and explain that you are willing to do as much on your end as possible. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  27. Jo says

    Hi Ryan,

    Just submitted all my paperwork to my recruiter and they advised to put a sleep study I had done at TAMC.

    It is for sleep apnea and I did not get rated for it from the VA. I do have the CPAP

    Do you think a waiver is possible? It goes up to USAREC after the DQ from MEPS.



    • says

      Joe, Thank you for contacting me. I can’t make any guesses for waiver approvals for individual medical conditions. I’m not a doctor and I don’t work at MEPS, so I don’t know enough to research these conditions and make any guesses as to whether the waiver will be approved or not. The only thing I can comment on is the process, which is where my experience lies. Here is an article that covers more information about getting a medical waiver to join the military.

      The best thing to do is speak with your recruiter and ask for their opinion, and if they have additional information or if they have a contact at MEPS they can put you in contact with.

      Sorry I don’t have a better answer, but I would hate to give incorrect or incomplete response and give false hope or lead you in the wrong direction. I wish you the best, and I hope you will be able to join the military!

  28. mary says

    My husband currently receives a 90 percent va service connected disability rating . He is still in contract with the marine corps irr. He was once in and got out, now he is thinking about joining the corps as a reservist under his irr since he has two years left under IRR. Can he still receive va compensation while giving up his drill just to serve in the marine corps reserves. he wants to one day retire in the marine corps reserves

    • says

      Hello Mary, I answered this via email with more detail. In regard to joining, it may be difficult to join the service again with a 90% disability rating. He should contact a recruiter and go through the process to find out if he is eligible. The email contained more details. Best wishes to you both!

  29. Levi Lucas says

    I am wanting to re enlist in guards or reserves and I have 60% service connected…I guess my question is would it be easier to re enlist without saying anything to the recruiter about the disabilities?

    • says

      Levi, Thank you for contacting me. I wouldn’t recommend doing that if you have to go through MEPS, as you are required to disclose everything when you apply for the Guard or Reserves. The 2807-2 (Medical Pre-screen form for MEPS) requires you to disclose certain medical conditions. Lying about them, or not disclosing, them would be fraud and could get you kicked out of the military if you are caught.

      That said, if you are recently separated and don’t have to go through MEPS again, then you may not be required to disclose the VA disability rating when you join. However, you will be required to inform the personnel section at your unit once you join. This is required for tracking purposes, and won’t prevent you from joining. They just need to have it for record keeping purposes.

      The best option is to give your recruiter full disclosure and go from there.

      Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  30. Justin says

    Hi I am in the AF Reserves and am an E-6 with 17 years the majority of it has been as a reservist with several deployments. I have recently been awarded 40% service compensation and have received back pay payment totaling a little more than $5000. I am wanting to know how I should go about totaling up what I need to return to the Gov’t for the duty days performed while this compensation was being determined and how to determine which payment to defer from this point and into the future? Thanks in advance…

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