If you were injured or became seriously ill while serving in the military, you may be eligible for certain veterans benefits, including VA disability compensation, which is a benefit paid to certain military veterans based on illnesses or injuries received while serving on active duty. Certain veterans may also be eligible for VA health care benefits.
There are many factors which go into determining compensation eligibility and levels, most of which are outside the scope of this article. Treat this article as a primer for VA disability benefits as we show you the VA’s definition of a service-connected disability, where to apply for benefits, and the current VA disability compensation rate tables, as provided by the VA.
What is a Service Connected Disability?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Disability Compensation is:
a benefit paid to a veteran because of injuries or diseases that happened while on active duty, or were made worse by active military service. It is also paid to certain veterans disabled from VA health care. The benefits are tax-free. Source.
If you are considered to have a service-connected disability, then you may be eligible to receive a monthly compensation payment, and under certain circumstances, you may be eligible to receive additional compensation, usually if you have a service-connected rating of 30% or higher and have dependents (spouse, children, and/or parents under your care), if you have missing limbs, or if you have a severely disabled spouse.
Applying for VA Compensation Benefits
Detailed instructions for applying for VA disability benefits are outside the scope of this article, but in general, it is best to supply as much supporting information as possible, including how the injury or illness occurred, any medical treatment you received, current health status, and how your life has been affected by the injury or illness. You will need to fill out VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension or apply online using VONAPP. Also be sure to have a copy of your DD Form 214.
Disability Ratings are Made on a Case by Case Basis
The VA rates each disability claim on a case by case basis. The VA first determines whether or not the illness or injury was sustained while the servicemember was in the military, then they assign a rating for each illness or injury. If the VA determines the injury or illness isn’t related to your military service, or didn’t happen while you were in the military, they will deny your claim. If the VA approves your claim, they will assign it a rating between 0% – 100%.
A 0% rating shows there is an illness or injury that is connected to your military service, but it doesn’t warrant compensation at this time. It is still good to get a 0% rating compared to no service-connected link because if the condition worsens at a later date, you can apply to have your disability rating upgraded.
Multiple disability ratings: Multiple disability ratings are a little tricky to calculate, and are beyond the scope of this article. But we’ll give a brief overview. In short, the VA uses a special method for calculating multiple disabilities. Here is a simplified example:
Example: If you have a 30% disability rating, the VA would multiply that against 100%, which is assumed to be good health. This gives you 30%. Subtract that from 100% which leaves you with 70% (consider this your new starting point for your health rating). Then subtract 70% from 100% and you are left with 30%. If that is your only disability, then your final VA Service-Connected Disability Rating is 30%.
If you have multiple ratings, you continue with the process, using your final number each time as your starting point. Continuing with our example, if your next rating is 10%, you would multiply 10% against 70%, which is 7%. You subtract that from 70%, which leaves you with 63%. Subtract 63% from 100% and you get 37%. Your disability rating is 37%, which rounds up to 40%.
It can get complicated quickly, so I have an in-depth article and podcast that explain how the VA calculates combined disability ratings. I highly recommend reading and/or listening to get a good idea how the process works!
VA Disability Ratings Are Not Always Permanent
Many disability ratings are temporary and the VA retains the right to reexamine the disability rating at any time. If they wish to reexamine you, you will receive a Notice of Reexamination letter in the mail which will include a scheduled appointment date. Make sure you attend this appointment or reschedule, as the VA can reduce or terminate your benefits rating if you fail to attend this scheduled appointment. After the VA reexamines your condition(s), they will make a recommendation to increase, decrease, or leave your benefit at its current rating. There are times when your ratings may be protected, based on the type of disability, how long you have held the rating, your age, or other factors. Here is more information about VA Disability Reexaminations and Benefits Reductions.
A Change in Your Family Status Can Change Your VA Disability Payment
Remember to contact the VA whenever you have a change in family status as your rates may change as well. If you have a 30% disability rating or higher and you are also supporting qualified dependents such as a spouse, child, or parent, you may be eligible to receive a higher VA disability payment. If your disability rating is 20% or lower, changes in your family status should not affect your VA disability payment rates.
The VA will not know when there is a change in your family status, so you will need to inform them immediately when something changes – such as a birth, wedding, a parent moving in with you, divorce, child coming of age, or the death of a qualified dependent. It is always best to inform the VA of a change as soon as possible, however, in some cases you won’t be able to do so until you have more information (such as when a child is born, as you can’t do anything with the VA until your child has received his or her Social Security Number). Keep in mind that the VA will sometimes backdate payments to make up for any shortfalls, or in the case of the loss of an eligible dependent, your payment may decrease. Be sure to contact the VA disability center for more information.
Receive your disability check faster. When you file your disability claim, be sure to give the VA the routing number to your bank so you can enroll in direct deposits. This is faster and more secure – and a requirement as of March 1, 2013. I recommend using a high yield savings account so you can earn more money on any interest that your money earns.
Current VA Disability Compensation Pay Rates
Increases in VA Service-Connected Disability Rates are tired to the same Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) the government uses for determining cost of living increases for Social Security recipients, military retirees, and federal civilian retirees.
No rate increase for 2016: There was no increase to the VA disability compensation rates for 2016, because there was no change in the Cost of Living Adjustments used by the Social Security Administration.
The most recent rate increase was in 2015, when VA Disability rates increased by 1.7%. 2014 was the first year the VA has included amounts above a flat dollar amount. In previous years, the amount was rounded down to the nearest dollar. This change won’t make a huge difference now, but if this policy remains in place, it will compound over time.
You can view the current VA Disability rates here, but for your convenience, we have included them in this article as well.
2015 – 2016 VA Disability Rates
VA Disability Rating: 10% – 20% (No Dependents)
VA Disability Rating: 30% – 60% Without Children
|Veteran with Spouse Only||$455.75||$651.36||$917.13||$1,156.09|
|Veteran with Spouse & One Parent||$494.75||$703.36||$982.13||$1,234.09|
|Veteran with Spouse and Two Parents||$533.74||$755.36||$1,047.13||$1,312.09|
|Veteran with One Parent||$446.75||$639.36||$901.13||$1,137.09|
|Veteran with Two Parents||$485.75||$691.36||$966.13||$1,215.09|
|Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)||$44.00||$59.00*||$74.00||$89.00|
VA Disability Rating: 70% – 100% Without Children
|Veteran with Spouse Only||$1,447.71||$1,680.48||$1,888.48||$3,068.90|
|Veteran with Spouse & One Parent||$1,538.71||$1,784.48||$2,005.48||$3,198.96|
|Veteran with Spouse and Two Parents||$1,629.71||$1,888.48||$2,122.48||$3,329.02|
|Veteran with One Parent||$1,425.71||$1,655.48||$1,860.48||$3,036.89|
|Veteran with Two Parents||$1,516.71||$1,759.48||$1,977.48||$3,166.95|
|Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)||$104.00||$118.00||$133.00||$148.64|
VA Disability Rating: 30% – 60% With Children
|Veteran with Spouse & Child||$491.75||$699.36||$976.13||$1,227.09|
|Veteran with Child Only||$439.75||$630.36||$890.13||$1,124.09|
|Veteran with Spouse, One Parent and Child||$530.75||$751.36||$1,041.13||$1,305.09|
|Veteran with Spouse, Two Parents and Child||$569.75||$803.36||$1,106.13||$1,383.09|
|Veteran with One Parent and Child||$478.75||$682.36||$955.13||$1,202.09|
|Veteran with Two Parents and Child||$517.75||$734.36||$1,020.13||$1,280.09|
|Add for Each Additional Child Under Age 18||$24.00||$32.00||$40.00||$48.00|
|Each Additional Schoolchild Over Age 18 (see footnote a)||$78.00||$104.00||$130.00||$156.00|
|Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)||$44.00||$59.00||$74.00||$89.00|
VA Disability Rating: 70% – 100% With Children
|Veteran with Spouse & Child||$1,530.71||$1,775.48||$1,995.48||$3,187.60|
|Veteran with Child Only||$1,409.71||$1,637.48||$1,840.48||$3,015.22|
|Veteran with Spouse, One Parent and Child||$1,621.71||$1,879.48||$2,112.48||$3,317.66|
|Veteran with Spouse, Two Parents and Child||$1,712.71||$1,983.48||$2,229.48||$3,447.72|
|Veteran with One Parent and Child||$1,500.71||$1,741.48||$1,957.48||$3,145.28|
|Veteran with Two Parents and Child||$1,591.71||$1,845.48||$2,074.48||$3,275.34|
|Add for Each Additional Child Under Age 18||$56.00||$64.00||$72.00||$80.52|
|Each Additional Schoolchild Over Age 18 (see footnote a)||$182.00||$208.00||$234.00||$260.13|
|Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)||$104.00||$118.00||$133.00||$148.64|
If you have specific VA benefits related questions, it is always best to call or visit your regional VA medical center, as they will be able to access your file and answer your specific questions.