Many benefits are available to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you are a veteran with a disability, you should be aware of all of these benefits and their eligibility requirements.
Basic Eligibility for VA Benefits
There is a threshold level of eligibility that must be met for a veteran to be considered for any VA benefit. To be eligible for VA benefits, a person must have:
- been on active service, and
- received a discharge under conditions other than dishonorable.
After meeting these basic requirements, specific benefits programs will have additional eligibility requirements that must be met.
Active Military Service
Active military service includes:
- full-time service in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard
- service in the Reserve or Air or Army National Guard when service is activated by the federal government, or
- cadets at the U.S. Military, Air Force, and Coast Guard academies and midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.
In some cases, for some VA benefits, the following counts as active service:
- enrollment at a preparatory school at the Military, Coast Guard or Air Force academies
- service in certain national organizations outside the Armed Forces, and
- engaging in training for the Armed Forces.
Discharge Under Conditions Other than Dishonorable
Even if a veteran meets the active military service requirement above, the VA will not consider a person a veteran for benefits purposes unless they were discharged "under conditions other than dishonorable." Qualifying discharges include:
- honorable discharges
- discharges under honorable conditions, and
- general discharges.
Veterans discharged under other than honorable conditions, with undesirable discharges, or with bad conduct discharges may or may not be eligible for benefits, depending on the particular benefit (details are available in our articles on the specific benefit; see below for links to these articles).
Veterans with dishonorable discharges cannot receive benefits of any kind from the VA.
Veterans who are seeking a VA benefit based on a disability whose disability was caused by their own willful misconduct will be barred from receiving benefits for that disability. However, the VA will have to prove that willful misconduct caused the disability. Willful misconduct is “"an act involving conscious wrongdoing or known prohibited action.”
Types of Veterans Benefits
The following are the various benefits that veterans with disabilities can receive.
Service-Connected Disability Compensation
Service-connected disability compensation is a monthly cash benefit payable to disabled veterans. Eligibility for Service-Connected Disability Compensation requires, in addition to the basic eligibility requirements described above, an illness or injury incurred during service that caused a disability or aggravated an existing disability.
For certain severe disabilities, such as loss of vision or a limb, Special Monthly Compensation is also available.
For more information, see Nolo's article on Service-Connected Disability Compensation.
VA Pension is a monthly cash benefit that assists disabled or retired veterans.
Eligibility for a VA Pension requires:
- low income and assets
- 90 days of service, including at least one day of service during wartime, and
- total and permanent disability (or a being deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration) or age 65 or older.
In addition, some veterans can qualify for Housebound Benefits and Aid and Attendance (A&A), improved pension programs.
For more information about the definition of wartime service, the financial requirements for VA pension, and the improved pensions, see our article on VA pensions for disabled veterans.
Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments (CRDP)
Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments (CRDP) is a program allowing certain military retirees to receive retirement benefits and disability payments at the same time.
Eligibility for CRDP requires a military retiree to have:
- service of 20 or more years, and
- a service-connected disability rated 50% or more.
For more information, see Nolo's article on Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments (CRDP).
Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSP)
Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSP) is a special program providing compensation to certain military retirees for combat-related injuries and illnesses.
Eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSP) generally requires military retirees to have:
- at least 20 years of service or a medical retirement
- combat-related service-connected disability, and
- a disability rating that is 10% or higher.
For more information, see Nolo's article on Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSP).
VA Health Care
You do not need to have a disability caused by service or to have served in combat operations or during wartime to be able to get VA health care, though in some cases there are copays for medical treatment depending on your type of service.
For veterans who enlisted after September 7, 1980 or entered active duty after October 16, 1981, eligibility for VA health care requires continuous service for at least two years. Veterans who were discharged for a service-connected disability or due to hardship may not have to meet this minimum service requirement. Also, veterans who served prior to September 7, 1980 do not have to meet a minimum service requirement.
For more information, see Nolo's article on Veterans' Eligibility for VA Health Care.
VA Nursing Home Care
While priority for VA nursing home care is given to veterans with service-connected disabilities rated at 60% or higher, any veterans who meets the basic eligibility requirements for VA benefits can be eligible for VA nursing home care. Read Nolo's article on Veterans' Eligibility for VA Nursing Home Care for more information.
Other VA Benefits
Other VA benefits include education benefits and home loan guarantees. For further information about all VA benefit programs, as well as detailed eligibility requirements, visit the Veterans Benefits Administration website.
How to Apply for VA Benefits
Veterans can apply for VA benefits online, by calling or visiting their local VA office, or by completing an Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension.
If you go through the whole application process and are denied veterans benefits that you think you qualify for, you may want to contact a disability lawyer.