Members of the Guard or Reserves are eligible to serve if they have a VA service-connected disability, provided they are physically cleared. However, there is one big caveat: they are not able to receive VA compensation on the same day they receive military pay. To serve again, you will be required to waive either your VA pay or your military compensation.
How the pay works: The law states you cannot receive both forms of payment for the same day or work. However, both payments are actually made at the same time. You will receive your VA disability payment around the first of the month, and you will receive your drill pay at the normal payment schedule.
At the beginning of the year (usually around February), you should receive VA Form 21-8951, Notice of Waiver of VA Compensation or Pension to Receive Military Pay and Allowances (pdf). You will use this form to elect which pay you want to waive – your VA pay, or your military pay.
We’re going to cover the information on this form, what it means, and how to fill it out.
Notice: Annual Waiver Required. This form is now an annual requirement. The VA previously offered a one-time waiver of disability benefits that was to remain in effect until your Guard or Reserve status changed or you withdrew the waiver. That form is no longer valid.
Information Found on Form 21-8951
Your form 21-8951 will show the fiscal year and the number of training days you performed during the year. A normal drill year would be approximately 63 military training days: 48 drill days (12 months times 4 drill periods per month), and 15 active training days.
Your form 21-8951 will also include information on:
- Instructions on how to complete the form,
- your VA File number & Social Security Number,
- a check box to verify the information is correct, or
- a check box to mark that the information is incorrect and a space to mark the correct number of days served.
- a section to elect which pay to waive (note: waiving military pay and allowances will most often result in LESS money for you; this is clearly marked on the form),
- a section to verify the information and sign it,
- a section for your unit Commander to sign the form.
Filling out Form 21-8951
There are only three sections where you can take any action. If the information on your form is correct, then check the first box in the first section. Next determine which pay to waive (see below section), then sign and date.
According to the VA, M21-1MRIII_v_4_secC (Word Doc):
- The Veteran must always sign VA Form 21-8951.
- The Veteran’s unit commander must sign VA Form 21-8951 only if the Veteran reports fewer training days than the Hines ITC printed on the form.
If your information is correct, then you do not need to have your unit Commander sign it. However, the veteran is always required to sign and return the form.
Should you get your Commander to sign the form if there are no errors on your form? I’m not going to tell you to do it or not to do it. But think of it this way: most Commanders are very busy. Do you want to interrupt their schedule to sign something that isn’t necessary? And do you want to call attention to yourself for having a service-connected disability? I’ll let you answer those questions.
Note on VA Form 21-8951-2. This form is essentially a blank version of Form 21-8951. It will not have the number of training days listed and you will need to self-report the number of days for which you received pay. The VA always requires both the Veteran and the Veteran’s unit commander to sign VA Form 21-8951-2.
What if there are Errors on Your Form 21-8951?
If there are errors on your form 21-8951, you need to get the correct information from your unit personnel or finance department. Then you will need to write in the corrected information in the section on the back.
Important: If there are errors on your form, you will need to get your Unit Commander or Designee to verify the correct number of training days, and sign your form.
How to Decide Which Pay to Waive
In most cases, you will be better off keeping your military pay and waiving your VA pay for the time period involved. But you should always run the numbers to verify. Start with looking up your VA service-connected disability compensation rate. Then compare it to your Drill Pay using the Drill Pay Calculator.
Tips for calculating pay: Each day counts as 1/30th of a month’s rate. So if your VA disability compensation were $300 a month, each day of VA disability compensation is worth $10 per day. Determine your daily rate, then multiply it by the number of training days listed on your Form 21-8951. Then compare that to how much military compensation you received for the year. You can do this by using the Drill calculator or looking at your W-2 from myPay.
It should be quick and easy to determine which pay is better to waive. All you need to do is determine which pay is lower, then opt to waive that pay. (Hint: it will almost always be your VA pay). The only time your VA pay will be higher than your military pay is if you have a very high VA disability rating, and you are a low or mid ranking military member.
What Happens After You Waive Your Pay?
The government will simply withhold future payments. So if you have 63 days of military pay and elect to waive your VA compensation, then you would have roughly the next two months of disability payments withheld. You can run the numbers to determine exactly how much will be withheld. Remember, each day counts as 1/30th of a month’s rate. So if your VA disability compensation were $300 a month, each day of VA disability compensation is worth $10. If you have 63 days of military pay and waive your VA compensation, you would have $630 withheld, $300 in each of the first two months, then $30 from the next month. After that, your full compensation payments would resume.
Form 21-8951 includes the following statement: “If we do not receive a waiver from you, we will assume that you wish to waive VA compensation or pension for the number of days printed on the front of the form. However, we will not adjust your award until we have advised you of the specific changes we propose to make.”
That said, everything I have read states completing this form is a requirement if you receive both VA disability compensation and payment from the military. Training days can include all forms of military service while in the Guard or Reserves, including Inactive Duty Training (IDT), Active Training (AT), Active Duty Special Work (ADSW), Readiness Management Assemblies (RMA), activation for training, mobilization, etc. However, you should also note that if you are called to active duty for an extended period of time, you should contact the VA to suspend your VA compensation payments until you return to inactive status.