Who are Disabled Veterans?
Some disabled veterans run Fortune 500 companies; some disabled veterans will never be able to work again. Some disabled veterans run in marathons; some disabled veterans need help performing daily life functions, like eating or bathing. In other words, disabled veterans come in all ranges of abilities. Many disabled veterans do not consider themselves disabled, nor do they meet our society's definition of disabled. The stereotype of someone in a wheelchair or missing a limb isn’t an accurate description of the vast majority of our nation’s disabled veterans.
Specifically, a disabled veteran is someone who has applied for disability benefits from the VA and had their application approved. A veteran can have obvious disabilities, be receiving VA healthcare for those disabilities, and still not be a “Disabled Veteran” unless they go through the steps necessary to have their conditions officially recognized by the VA.
What Disability Programs Does the VA Provide?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has two disability programs, which are described below. At the bottom of the page is a chart comparing the two.
Disability Compensation is for veterans who have conditions that were caused or aggravated by their service in the military. These conditions cover the full range of human physical and emotional experience. Has your ankle bothered you ever since you twisted it at boot camp? Have your ears rung ever since you spent a year driving a tank in a combat zone? Have you felt anxious ever since going on patrol in hostile territory? The bottom line: If you have a current physical or mental condition, and it is related to your military service, then apply for Disability Compensation. Even if the condition seems minor now, don’t wait to apply. When you’re 25, that “bum” left knee may just be a minor inconvenience; when you’re 55, the early onset arthritis you developed in that knee because of your service may mean you can barely walk. You should apply regardless of your income and regardless of your ability to find work. In short: if the military broke it, the VA owns it.
Non-Service Connected Pension (Also Called Improved Pension)
Pension is for low income veterans who are disabled because of conditions that came about after their military service. It is only for veterans with severe disabilities, and veterans must have served during a federally recognized period of war to receive it. Veterans must also have very little income, as the income cap for eligibility is not very high.
Who Processes VA Disability Applications?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest federal department, with only the Department of Defense larger. Like DoD, the VA is also broken into different branches, each with their own role in serving veterans.
Veterans Health Administration
Healthcare is provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The doctors you visit at the White River Junction VA Medical Center or its various clinics work for VHA, and their purpose is to provide medical care to you. They do not process applications for benefits, including VA disability benefits.
Veterans Benefits Administration
Benefits are provided by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and they process applications for VA disability benefits. The only VBA location in Vermont is at the White River Junction VA Regional Office, which is located at the same campus as the hospital. White River Junction is one of only four locations across the nation where VBA and VHA work in the same complex. Usually they maintain completely separate facilities.
Don’t let their geographic proximity fool you. They are separate and distinct operations, each with their own mission and chain of command. This is why a veteran can see a VHA doctor for their service connected conditions, but not be a “Disabled Veteran” unless VBA approved their disability application.
Are There Different Levels of Disability?
Yes for Disability Compensation. For Disability Compensation, the range is from 0% to 100%. A veteran with a 0% rating may have a service connected condition, but it doesn’t interfere with normal life functions. A veteran with a 100% rating will have one or more disabilities that significantly interfere with normal life functions. There is a full range between the two, with the majority of Vermont’s disabled veterans rated at 10%, 20%, or 30%.
No for Non-Service Connected Pension. Pension is provided only to veterans who the VA determines to be 100% disabled.
Do Veterans Have to be Injured in Combat to Receive Disability Compensation?
No. Disability Compensation covers any conditions that came about while the individual was on active duty, so long as the conditions are not a result of the misconduct of the individual. Veterans who hurt themselves in car accidents, while exercising, while walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night in base housing... they're covered. Serving in the military is a 24 hour a day job, and Disability Compensation covers all those hours.
Can Working Veterans Receive Disability Benefits?
Yes. Most veterans receiving Disability Compensation continue to work, as they have no prohibitions on obtaining and/or maintaining employment. Only those few who receive a higher rating because they are considered “Unemployable” would run into problems by working. Some veterans receiving Disability Compensation can even continue their military service, although they can not receive military pay and disability payments at the same time (in these cases, disability payments are temporarily suspended during periods of military service).
Veterans receiving Non-Service Connected Pension can also work part-time so long as their income does not exceed the income cap for the program. If they are capable of working full-time, they would not meet the 100% disabled requirement for this benefits.
Can Veterans Receive Both Compensation and Pension?
No. Veterans cannot receive both disability compensation and improved pension; it is one or the other. The VBA awards the veteran the higher parying benefit.
How Long do I Have to Apply?
For most claims there are no time limits. Although World War II ended in 1945, World War II veterans continue to apply for disability benefits for the first time. As mentioned above, age has a way of magnifying the severity of both physical and mental conditions.
Even though there is no time limit, however, veterans should still apply as soon as possible. First and foremost, they should receive benefits as soon as they are eligible. Just as significantly, however, disability applications can be more difficult to process over time, as the veteran must prove to the VA that their condition is a result of military service and not injuries that occurred after their separation.
How Does Having my Disabilities Recognized by the VA Help Me and My Family?
Below are the reasons you should take the time to apply, even if you don’t want deal with the “red tape” involved or don't feel like you are disabled.
Regular Financial Support
Most veterans who have their applications approved receive additional monthly income. For Disability Compensation, this income is tax free. Even if a veteran is rated at only 10%, that is still an extra $115 every month, probably for life. If they live another 50 years, that’s an extra $69,000 to help pay the mortgage, buy a car, or put kids through school.
Increased Access to VA Healthcare
Just as importantly, the VA provides free care for every service connected condition. If the veteran with a bad knee above needs to have knee replacement surgery, the VA pays for it. In many cases veterans receiving either Disability Compensation or Non-Service Connected Pension can also use the VA to receive care for conditions not related to their military service. This may not seem like a big benefit to a veteran who is currently working and has health insurance, but it can be a more significant benefit when they are between jobs or after they retire.
Access to More Robust VA Benefits
Many veteran benefits have been created to care specifically for disabled veterans, so having your service connected conditions recognized may grant eligibility to other more robust benefits, such as:
- VA Vocational Rehabilitation to retrain into a new career
- Using the VA Guaranteed Home Loan without having to pay the normal funding fee
- Increased options for long term care
- Possible property tax exemption
- Preference in government hiring
- Additional support in starting a business
- For business owners, preference in obtaining government contracts
Access to VA Benefits for Survivors
Finally, apply for VA disability benefits to care for your family after you are gone. The surviving spouses and children of deceased disabled veterans may be eligible for various pensions and education benefits that can have a profound impact on their lives.
Should I Apply for VA Disability Benefits on my Own?
No. In 2005, the VA tasked the Institute for Defense Analysis to study the distribution of VA disability across the nation. The results indicated that veterans who applied for VA disability on their own were less likely to have their application approved.
Veterans have the option of applying on their own, and can even do so online. However, we do not recommend this. The application is very technical and difficult to complete correctly unless you have been trained to do so. This isn't a criticism of the VA... it’s an acknowledgment that the VA needs a lot of information in order to process your application. If your application is incomplete or incorrect, it will either slow it down or result in a disapproval.
Veterans shouldn't apply on their own because free assistance is readily available to help them apply. There are numerous accredited veteran service officers in Vermont who have been trained on the disability application process and are available to represent you with your claim. These service officers are fellow veterans who will complete all or nearly all of the paperwork required for your claim on your behalf. They will also explain the process to you and help you decipher any correspondence sent to you by the VA. Veterans who use a service officer don't have to deal with "red tape", because the "red tape" is handled by an expert for them. This also helps the VA, as it ensures that the applications they review have been prepared properly, which will take less time for them to process.
Below is contact information for the VA, if you would like to apply on your own, and for the accredited service officers working in Vermont.
- VA Nationwide Benefits Number to Request an Application - (800) 827-1000
- The VA's Online Application System - VONAPP
- American Legion Veteran Service Officer (Office at White River Junction) - (802) 296-5166
- Disabled American Veterans Veteran Service Officer (Office at White River Junction) - (802) 296-5167
- Veterans of Foreign Wars Veteran Service Officer (Office at White River Junction) - (802) 296-5168
- Vietnam Veterans of America (Various Locations Statewide - (603) 903-1257
- Vermont Veteran Service Officer Program (Travels Statewide) - (888) 666-9844
What Disability Programs Does the Social Security Administration Provide?
If compensation or pension isn’t right for you, you should consider the disability programs offered by the Social Security Administration. They include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). We recommend you work with your local Area Agency on Aging to help with SSI and SSDI applications.
- Social Security Administration - (800) 772-1213
- Area Agency on Aging - (800) 642-5119
What Help can the State Provide?
Disabled veterans should also visit the State Division of Disability and Aging Services to find learn more about the what resources are available to help them and their family.
Comparing Disability Compensation and Pension
Below are shown the basic differences between Disability Compensation and Non-Service Connected Pension.
- Levels of Disability - 0% to 100%
- Income Cap - No
- Payment Range - $0 to $2,527/month for single veterans with no dependents (higher with dependents) depending on disability level
- War Time Service Required - No
- Payments Taxable - No
Non-Service Connected Pension (Improved Pension)
- Levels of Disability - 100% only
- Income Cap - Cap for a single veteran with no dependents is $931.75/month (higher with dependents)
- Payment Range - $0 to 931.75/month for a single veteran with no dependents (higher with dependents) depending on income level
- War Time Service Required - Yes
- Payments Taxable - Yes