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VA Compensation and Pension Benefits

Veterans and their families may be entitled to various benefits that available to them through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

The difference between Veterans and Retired Military

Veterans are individuals who served our country in the armed forces who were honorably discharged and/or who became ineligible for active service due to a disability received during active service. Individuals who retired from the military after twenty or more years of service or who became totally and permanently disabled due to military service are Veterans in addition to qualifying as retired military (with a separate set of benefits).

Our country offers benefits to Veterans in honor of their service. These benefits may change from time to time. Veterans are eligible for certain Federal benefits and are also, in some cases, eligible for additional state benefits. In some cases, spouses and dependents of Veterans and retired military are eligible for certain benefits.

Benefits for Veterans and their families
Below are links to sites that will help Veterans and their families determine what benefits are available to them.

  • Veteran's Administration Homepage
    providing access to a wealth of information about Social Security and the various programs offered.

  • Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents
    a part of the VA website that gives direct links to the part of the VA site related to specific benefits, including information on local VA centers nationwide.

  • Contact the VA
    a part of the VA website where citizens can make an electronic inquiry directly to the VA. Questions are either answered directly or are referred to the appropriate office. This page also offers a long list of FAQs (frequently asked questions). Access to the VA's various toll-free numbers and regional offices is easy to access. This includes the Veteran's Benefits Administration, the Veteran's Health Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration.

  • Veteran's Health Administration
    provides medical and health care to Veterans nationwide through a network of local centers.

  • VA Program for Senior Vets
    the Geriatrics and Extended Care Strategic Healthcare Group is divided into the following areas: Community-Based Long-Term Care, Nursing Home Care, Geriatric Care, and Residential Rehabilitation Care. The shared purpose of all these programs is to prevent or lessen the burden of disability on older, frail, chronically ill patients and their families/caregivers, and to maximize each patient's functional independence.

  • Special Benefits for Certain WW II Veterans (Social Security)
    if a veteran meets a set of criteria such as being eligible for SSI, being over 65, and living outside the United States, he or she may qualify for "special benefits". This benefit is not available to the veteran's dependents or survivors.

  • National Cemetary Administration
    honors Veterans with a final resting place and memorials. For more information on burial eligibility, call 1-800-827-1000.

Veterans General Health and other programs

The VA offers many special programs for veterans, among which are the following:

  • Benefits for returning veterans:
       » Health care for 5 years following discharge
       » Dental care for service-related conditions
       » Coordination of services for the severely ill or disabled and their families
       » Various other services, such as home loans, vocational rehabilitation and education programs
  • Special programs and initiatives for homeless veterans
  • Special programs to assist minority veterans in obtaining benefits
  • Benefits for survivors of veterans who have died in service and after service
  • Special programs for women veterans and for veteran business owners.

Health care services are also provided through the Veterans Health Administration branch of the VA.

Monetary Benefit Programs
Monetary benefit programs are separated into benefits for (1) service-connected disabilities and (2) non-service-connected disabilities. The primary benefit for service-connected disabilities is the VA "compensation" benefit; the primary benefit for non-service- connected disabilities is the VA "pension" benefit. A veteran is prohibited from receiving compensation benefits and pension benefits concurrently.

1. Compensation for Service-Connected Disabilities.
2. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation –Dependent’s Benefits

Compensation for Service-Connected Disabilities
Veterans compensation is a disability benefits program that provides monthly monetary payments to compensate veterans for service-connected disabilities. Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. §1110,

For disability resulting from personal injury suffered or disease contracted in line of duty, or for aggravation of a preexisting injury suffered or disease contracted in line of duty, in the active military, naval, or air service, during a period of war, the United States will pay to any veteran thus disabled and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable from the period of service in which said injury or disease was incurred, or preexisting injury or disease was aggravated, compensation as provided in this subchapter, but no compensation shall be paid if the disability is a result of the veteran's own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

Thus, the general eligibility requirements for VA disability compensation are:

1.The veteran's injury or disease was suffered or aggravated in the line of duty;
2. The veteran was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable; and
3.The disability did not result from the veteran's own willful misconduct, or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

If the veteran is found eligible, basic benefits are paid based upon how severely the veteran is disabled, and on whether the veteran has a spouse, children or dependent parents. An additional compensation amount is given when the veteran's spouse is determined to require Aid and Assistance.

The VA assigns a disability "rating" to the disabled veteran, using a statutory ratings schedule, based on what it calculates is the impairment of a veteran's civilian earning capacity resulting from the disability. The Secretary adopts "a schedule of ratings of reductions in earning capacity from specific injuries or combination of injuries. The ratings shall be based, as far as practicable, upon the average impairments of earning capacity resulting from such injuries in civil occupations." The ratings range from 0% to 100%, in increments of 10%. The veteran's monthly compensation is based on this rating.

In addition to the basic disability compensation, a "special monthly compensation" ("SMC"), with a higher compensation rate than the compensation for a 100% rating, may be available for certain severely disabled veterans.

To begin the appeal process, you must have a final BVA decision and
Appeal within 120 days of the final BVA decision.

There are many advantages in hiring an attorney experienced in Veteran's law to represent you. Government statistics show that disabled veterans with attorney representation have a higher rate of successful outcomes on appeal than those without attorney representation. An attorney may give a disabled veteran the following crucial help:

  • Gathering medical evidence.
  • Gathering evidence, such as work records.
  • Obtain the C-file and review it.
  • Compare the C-file to the regulations.
  • Requesting written confirmation from private physicians as evidence of a service connected disability.
  • Reviewing prior applications, to determine if the case can be re-opened.
  • Preparing a written brief, providing proof of disability.
  • Appeal the case if denied.

2. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation –Dependent’s Benefits

This compensation paid to a veteran's surviving spouse, children and parents, where the veteran is deceased as a result of service-connected conditions. A monthly payment made by the Secretary to a surviving spouse, child, or parent (A) because of a service-connected death occurring after December 31, 1956, or (B) pursuant to the election of a surviving spouse, child, or parent, in the case of such a death occurring before January 1, 1957.

Improved Pension / Special Monthly Pension ("SMP")
The Special Monthly Pension is a disability benefits program available to compensate veterans for non-service-connected disabilities. Like the VA compensation program, the pension program is based upon disability. However, unlike the VA compensation program, the pension program is also based on income and need, and the veteran's disability must be total and permanent (but need not be "service-connected"). The VA "improved pension" provides a "Special Monthly Pension" ("SMP") to veterans or their Surviving Spouse.

There are three (3) types of SMP:

(1) The basic pension
(2) Housebound benefits and
(3) Aid and Attendance benefits

(1) Pension:
The pension is a monthly benefit paid to veterans (or eligible surviving spouses ) who have limited or no income. A veteran cannot receive both a pension and service-related compensation simultaneously. If the veteran is eligible under both programs, the VA will pay whichever of the two benefits is the greater amount.

To qualify for the pension the veteran must;:

1. been in the service for at least 90 days, with at least 1 day of service during wartime;
2. be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions;
3. have limited or no income, and
4. be age 65 or older, or, if under 65, be permanently and totally disabled."

To qualify for the income requirements, the veteran's countable family income must be below a yearly limit set by Congress. "Countable" income includes income from most sources, including "earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and net income from farming or business."

However, exclusions to "countable" income include public assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Although the VA presumes that a veteran's child's income is available to or for the veteran, it may grant an exception to this presumption in cases of hardship.

The veteran's net worth, or the net value of the assets of the veteran and his/her dependents, is also considered by the VA and, although there is no specified resource limit, net worth cannot be "excessive."

Veterans who do not initially qualify may reapply if they have unreimbursed medical expenses that bring their countable income below the annual income limit

A person is considered "permanently and totally disabled" if the person is any one of the following:

  1. A patient in a nursing home for long-term care because of disability.
  2. Disabled, as determined by the Commissioner of Social Security for purposes of any benefits administered by the Commissioner.
  3. Unemployable as a result of disability reasonably certain to continue throughout the life of the person.
  4. Suffering from —
    A) any disability which is sufficient to render it impossible for the average person to follow a substantially gainful occupation, but only if it is reasonably certain that such disability will continue throughout the life of the person; or
    B) any disease or disorder determined by the Secretary to be of such a nature or extent as to justify a determination that persons suffering therefrom are permanently and totally disabled.

The veteran's net worth, or the net value of the assets of the veteran and his/her dependents, is also considered by the VA and, although there is no specified resource limit, net worth cannot be "excessive."

Once pension eligibility is established, the monthly pension amount is calculated as the difference between the veteran's countable family income and the annual pension limit (the MAPR), payable in monthly installments.

In addition to the basic pension, more severely disabled veterans may also qualify for Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits. Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits are not available to those who are not eligible for the pension. Although Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits are available in addition to the basic pension, a veteran cannot receive both Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits concurrently.

(2) Housebound Benefits:

Housebound benefits are paid in addition to the monthly pension for a veteran (or eligible surviving spouse ) who qualifies for the pension and who:

1. has a total permanent disability and, as a result, is permanently and substantially confined to his/her premises; or
2. has a total permanent disability plus another disability or disabilities that are 60% or more disabling.

The requirement of being "permanently housebound" is met where the veteran "is substantially confined to such veteran's house (ward or clinical areas, if institutionalized) or immediate premises due to a disability or disabilities which it is reasonably certain will remain throughout such veteran's lifetime."

Once housebound eligibility is established, the monthly pension amount is calculated as the difference between the veteran's countable family income and the annual pension limit (the MAPR), which limit is increased above the regular pension rate for those eligible for housebound benefits, payable in monthly installments.

(3) Aid and Attendance Benefits:

Aid and Attendance ("A&A") is a benefit that is paid in addition to the monthly pension. A&A is available to a veteran (or eligible surviving spouse ) who qualifies for the pension and who:

1. is bedridden, or
2. requires the aid of another person to perform activities of daily living, or
3. is a nursing home resident, as a result of mental or physical incapacity, or
4. is blind or nearly blind in both eyes.

A person is considered in need of regular aid and attendance if the person is "(1) a patient in a nursing home or (2) blind, or so nearly blind or significantly disabled as to need or require the regular aid and attendance of another person."

For additional information regarding VA Compensation and Pension Benefits,