Overview of All VA Benefits for Disabled Veterans

Many benefits are available to injured or ill veterans—sometimes even for medical conditions that aren't service-connected.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides many benefits for United States military veterans. If you're a veteran with a disability, you should be aware of all these benefits and their eligibility requirements.

Read on to learn about the VA benefits you can get and what can affect your eligibility—including when you can get priority with a 60% or higher VA disability rating.

Basic Eligibility for VA Benefits

A veteran must meet a threshold level of eligibility to be considered for any VA benefit. To be eligible for VA benefits, you must have:

  • been on active service, and
  • received a discharge under conditions other than dishonorable.

After meeting these basic requirements, you'll need to meet additional requirements of the specific benefits programs.

What Does the VA Count as Active Military Service?

For the sake of qualifying for most VA benefits, active military service includes the following:

  • full-time service in the United States armed forces, including the following branches:
    • Army
    • Navy
    • Marine Corps
    • Air Force
    • Coast Guard, or
    • Space Force
  • service in the Reserve or National Guard (Air or Army) when activated by the federal government
  • cadets at a U.S. service academy, including the following:
    • U.S. Military Academy (West Point)
    • U.S. Air Force Academy
    • U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and
  • midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.

For some VA benefits, in some cases, the following also counts as active service:

  • enrollment at a service academy preparatory school, including the following:
    • U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS)
    • U.S. Coast Guard Academy Scholars Program (CGAS), or
    • U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School
  • service in certain national organizations outside the Armed Forces, and
  • participation in training for the Armed Forces.

What Is a Discharge Under Conditions Other than Dishonorable?

Even if you meet the active military service requirement above, the VA won't consider you a veteran for benefit purposes unless you were discharged "under conditions other than dishonorable." Discharges that qualify for benefits include:

  • honorable discharges
  • discharges under honorable conditions, and
  • general discharges.

Veterans with dishonorable discharges can't receive benefits of any kind from the VA. And you might not be eligible for certain VA benefits if you:

  • were discharged under other than honorable conditions
  • received an undesirable discharge, or
  • received a bad conduct discharge.

(Details are available in our articles on the specific benefit linked below.)

But you might be able to get your record changed to give you a character of discharge that will qualify for benefits by applying for a discharge upgrade or military records correction.

How Willful Misconduct Affects Your VA Benefits

Under VA rules, "willful misconduct" is "an act involving conscious wrongdoing or known prohibited action."

If you're a disabled veteran and you're seeking a VA benefit based on a disability that was caused by your own willful misconduct, you likely won't get benefits for that disability. But to bar your benefits, the VA has to prove that your willful misconduct caused your disability.

What Kind of Veterans Benefits Can You Get?

Disabled veterans can get many benefits through the VA, including cash payments and medical benefits. The following are the various benefits that veterans with disabilities can receive.

Service-Connected Disability Compensation (VA Disability)

Service-connected disability compensation (also called VA disability) is a monthly cash benefit payable to disabled veterans. To be eligible for service-connected disability compensation, in addition to the basic eligibility requirements described above, you must be disabled due to one of the following reasons:

  • you had a debilitating illness or injury caused by your military service
  • your time in the military aggravated an existing disability, or
  • you have one of the medical conditions that are automatically presumed to be service-connected (like a disease related to exposure to Agent Orange).

Once the VA determines that you have a service-connected disability, the agency assigns a disability rating from 10% to 100%. The higher your disability rating, the more severe the VA considers your disability, and the higher your monthly compensation will be.

For example, let's say you have residual effects after a knee replacement because of a service-connected injury, and the VA has rated you 60% disabled. With a 60% VA disability rating, your monthly benefits would be at least $1,319.65 (in 2023).

Veterans with spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents will receive more. And for certain severe disabilities, such as loss of vision or a limb, Special Monthly Compensation is also available.

Learn more about the VA benefits you can get for a service-connected disability.

VA Pension

The VA pension is a monthly cash benefit for disabled and retired veterans. To be eligible to receive a VA pension, you must have:

  • a low income and few assets
  • 90 days of service, including at least one day of service during wartime, and
  • an other-than-honorable discharge.

If you have a total and permanent disability (or were deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration), you can receive the disability pension. If you're age 65 or older, but not disabled, you can receive the basic pension.

In addition, some veterans can qualify for "improved pensions" with Housebound Benefits or Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits.

Learn more about your eligibility for a VA pension, including what qualifies as wartime service and how to meet the financial requirements.

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. To qualify for CRDP, you must be a military retiree with the following:

  • 20 or more years of service 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. If you're a military retiree, you might qualify for CRSP if you have:

  • at least 20 years of service or a medical retirement
  • a combat-related, service-connected disability, and
  • a VA disability rating of 10% or higher.

Learn more about how to qualify for Combat-Related Special Compensation.

VA Health Care

You don't 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. But in some cases, you'll pay copays for medical treatment—depending on your type of service.

If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, or entered active duty after October 16, 1981, you'll need continuous service for at least two years to be eligible for VA health care. If you were discharged for a service-connected disability or due to hardship, you might not have to meet this minimum service requirement.

If you served before September 7, 1980, you don't have to meet a minimum service requirement.

For more information, see Nolo's article on how to qualify 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 veteran who meets the basic eligibility requirements for VA benefits can qualify for VA nursing home care. Learn more about the qualification and types of nursing home care available through the VA.

Other Veterans Benefits You Might Qualify For

Other VA benefits you might be eligible to receive include education benefits and home loan guarantees. And if you're a war veteran, you could get hiring preferences for federal jobs. And most disabled veterans can qualify for a special student loan forgiveness program.

Most states offer disabled veterans license plates that allow you to park in accessible parking spots. But many states have other benefits available to veterans too.

And if you served at least 24 consecutive months or completed your term of service, you're likely eligible for burial in a VA cemetery. If you're a disabled veteran, your family might also receive a burial allowance.

For more information about all VA benefit programs and detailed eligibility requirements, visit the Veterans Benefits Administration website.

How to Apply for VA Benefits

You can apply for VA benefits online or by calling or visiting your local VA office. You can also complete the appropriate forms and mail them to the VA:

If you go through the whole application process and the VA denies you the veterans benefits you think you qualify for, you can appeal the VA denial. You might benefit from talking with a VA-certified disability lawyer.

Updated June 26, 2023

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