Veterans Disability FAQs

What is Veterans Disability Compensation?

Veterans disability compensation is administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Compensation is a benefit paid to a veteran for a disability sustained or aggravated during service in the U.S. military. Such a disability is considered to be "service-connected." The amount of the monthly benefit depends on the veteran's disability rating, which is expressed as a percentage of total disability. These ratings range from 0% to 100% and are assigned in 10% increments. A veteran who is unemployable because of service-connected disabilities will be paid at the 100% rate, even if his or her actual rating is less than 100%.

HOW DOES A VETERAN QUALIFY FOR DISABILITY COMPENSATION?

To qualify for disability compensation, a veteran must have

1) a current disability,

2) a disease, injury, or event that occurred or began while serving in the military, and

3) a link, or "nexus," between the current disability and the in-service disease, injury, or event

How Does VA Assign Disability Ratings?

For each service-connected disability, VA assigns a rating based on medical criteria in the VA Rating Schedule for Disabilities. The ratings range from 0% to 100% and are assigned in 10% increments. Generally, the more severe the disability, the higher the rating. If you have service-connected migraine headaches, for example, your rating depends on the severity and frequency of the headaches.

What are the Benefit Rates for Service-Connected Disabilities?

Rates can be found in the Veterans Compensation Benefits Rate Tables. For a single veteran with no dependents, benefits in 2018 ranged from $136.24 per month for a 10% rating to $2,973.86 for a 100% rating. Veterans with a 30% rating or higher receive additional benefits for dependents.

Veterans with especially serious disabilities or combinations of disabilities, such as the loss of use of specific organs or extremities, may be entitled to additional benefits called Special Monthly Compensation (SMC). SMC rates can be found in the Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) Rate Table. At the highest level of SMC, a single veteran receives more than $8,500.00 per month.

What if I Have More Than One Service-Connected Disability?

If a veteran has more than one service-connected disability, VA uses the Combined Ratings Table to calculate an overall or "combined" disability rating. This combined disability rating, which ranges from 0% to 100%, determines the amount of the monthly disability payment from VA. Theoretically, the combined rating is intended to reflect the reduction in earning capacity caused by all of the service-connected impairments. It is important to remember that the combined rating is NOT calculated by simply adding all the individual ratings together. So, for example, if a veteran has a 70% rating for depression and a 50% rating for migraines, the combined rating would be 90%, not 120%.

This is how VA reaches the 90% combined rating. VA assumes that a veteran with no service-connected disabilities has 100% of his or her earning capacity. In our example, the depression (rated at 70%) reduces the veteran's earning capacity by 70%. If this were the only service-connected disability, the veteran's rating would be 70%.

Because there is another service-connected disability, VA calculates the additional reduction of earning capacity resulting from the migraines. Since the depression reduces the veteran's earning capacity by 70%, the remaining earning capacity is 30% (100% -70%).

VA then calculates the effect of the migraines on the veteran's remaining earning capacity of 30%. Because the migraines are rated at 50%, they reduce the veteran's remaining earning capacity of 30% by that proportion. This means the migraines reduce the total earning capacity by an additional 15%: 50% (rating for migraines) of 30% (remaining earning capacity) = 15%.

VA adds this 15% additional reduction in earning capacity caused by the migraines to the 70% reduction in earning capacity resulting from the depression to reach a total reduction of earning capacity of 85%. Ratings are assigned in multiples of 10, so VA then rounds up and assigns a combined rating of 90%.

WHAT IS TOTAL DISABILITY FOR INDIVIDUAL UNEMPLOYABILITY (TDIU OR IU)?

If you cannot sustain substantial gainful employment because of your service-connected disabilities, you may be entitled to total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU or IU). In most cases, to be eligible for TDIU, a veteran must also have either 1) a single, service-connected disability rated at least 60%, OR 2) two or more service-connected disabilities with one rated at least 40% and a combined rating of at least 70%.

TDIU is paid at the rate of a 100% rating, even if the overall combined rating is not 100%. For example, if a veteran has a 70% rating for post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to work because of the PTSD, he or she is paid at the 100% rate, rather than the 70% rate. In 2018, the 100% rate for a single veteran is $2,973.86, whereas the 70% rate is $1,365.48.

How Do I Apply for VA Disability Compensation?

There are several ways to apply for benefits, including:

  • Go online using an eBenefits account
  • Complete and submit the VA Form 21-526EZ, "Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits"
  • Go to a VA Regional Office (VARO or RO) and have a VA employee assist you. To find the VA Regional Office nearest you, use the Veterans Affairs National Facilities Locator
  • Call VA toll free at 1-800-827-1000
  • Work with an accredited representative or agent

What is Secondary Service Connection?

If a veteran has a condition that is service-connected, and that service-connected condition causes another condition to develop, then the second condition qualifies for service connection as well. For example, if a veteran with a service-connected knee problem develops a back condition as a result of walking awkwardly for many years, that back condition may also be rated as a compensable disability.

What is a Rating Decision?

A Rating Decision is the decision issued by the VA Regional Office (RO or VARO). It will address service connection, percentage of disability, and date of eligibility.

What is a Notice of Disagreement (NOD)?

Currently, if a veteran wants to appeal a Rating Decision, he or she files a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). However, VA is in the process of implementing new appeal options. The new appeal process is described in the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which is expected to go into effect in February 2019.

What is a Statement of the Case (SOC)?

Currently, when a Notice of Disagreement is filed with the Regional Office (RO or VARO), the RO issues a Statement of the Case, which can be appealed to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). However, VA is in the process of implementing new appeal options. The new appeal process is described in the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which is expected to go into effect in February 2019.

What is the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA)?

The Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) is an administrative board that considers appeals of decisions made by the Regional Office. These appeals are decided by Veterans Law Judges (VLJs). The VLJs at the BVA can consider new evidence that was not considered by the Regional Office. The veteran may also request a hearing before the VLJ. If the veteran is not satisfied with the BVA decision, he or she can appeal it to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. As part of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, the VA is also changing the appeal process at the BVA.

What is the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)?

The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) is the federal court that hears appeals of decisions issued by the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The court's judges are appointed by the president to fifteen-year terms. The court hears no new testimony, conducts no trials, and considers no new evidence. Instead, it considers the BVA decision, evidence used by the BVA to make its decision, and legal arguments from the veteran's representative and the VA attorney. Decisions issued by the CAVC may be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

What is VA's Duty to Assist?

Federal regulations require VA to make reasonable efforts to assist a claimant in obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate a claim. For federal records, VA must make continued, reasonable efforts to get those records. VA can stop pursuing the records only if it becomes reasonably clear that the records do not exist or that a continued effort to get the records would be futile. If VA stops trying to obtain federal records, VA must notify the claimant and inform him or her of possible alternatives that might substantiate the claim.

For non-federal records, such as private doctor records, VA must make reasonable efforts to obtain them and keep a record of its attempts to do so.

What Can I Do to Decrease the Amount of Time it Takes to Have My Claim Resolved?

In 2017, Congress passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. This law and related regulations will be changing the way appeals are handled and may result in faster processing of some claims. You should seek professional advice on the way this law may affect your claim. In general, when dealing with VA, there are a few things that you can do to avoid delays:

  • If VA requests something from you, submit it as quickly as possible. Do not rely on VA to get everything. Be proactive and get what you need to win your case
  • Know what you have to prove to win your case and get the evidence you need to do so. If you do not understand the process and what you need to substantiate your claim, we suggest getting advice from a lawyer
  • Do not miss deadlines
  • Do not miss VA medical exams

What is the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act?

VA recently changed the way it will be processing appeals. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 is expected to go into effect in February 2019. Under this law, a veteran dissatisfied with a Rating Decision will have three options for review:

Option 1: Higher-Level Review

This review is performed by a "higher-level" VA employee. Here's what's involved:

  • The higher-level reviewer will re-evaluate the evidence on which the first decision was based.
  • The higher-level reviewer considers only the "closed record." New evidence cannot be submitted.
  • The higher-level reviewer can overturn previous decisions based on a difference of opinion or on clear and unmistakable error in a prior decision.
  • If the higher-level reviewer identifies a duty-to-assist error, he or she can instruct the Regional Office to provide the required assistance.
  • The veteran or the veteran's representative can request an informal conference by telephone to identify specific issues or errors.

Option 2: Supplemental Claim Lane

This option allows the veteran to submit new evidence to support the claim. The VA may provide assistance in developing the evidence.

Option 3: Appeal Lane for Appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals

This lane allows the veteran to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The veteran will have the ability to choose among three options for review at the BVA:

  • Direct review: This option should be chosen if the veteran does not have additional evidence to submit and does not want a hearing.
  • Evidence submission: This option should be chosen if the veteran has additional evidence to submit but does not want a hearing.
  • Hearing: This option should be chosen if the veteran wants to testify before a Veterans Law Judge and submit additional evidence.

What is RAMP?

The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) is a pilot program designed by VA to test the new appeals system (described above), which is expected to go into effect in February 2019. Most veterans with currently pending appeals may opt into RAMP.

You are eligible for RAMP if you have a disability compensation appeal pending (i.e. waiting for a decision) in one of the following stages:

  • Notice of Disagreement (NOD) has been filed
  • Appeal to Board of Veterans Appeals (Form 9) has been filed
  • The claim has been certified to the BVA, but not yet activated for a BVA decision
  • The BVA has remanded the claim to the Regional Office

Previously, veterans needed an invitation (RAMP letter) to enroll. Now, a veteran in any of the legacy appeals stages listed above may opt-in to RAMP, even without an invitation.

If a veteran disagrees with the initial RAMP decision, he or she will have one year to appeal to another lane, and the effective date will be protected.

Can a Veteran Work and Still Receive VA Disability Compensation?

Yes, a veteran may work and still receive compensation for any service-connected disabilities. However, if the veteran receives Total Disability for Individual Unemployability (TDIU or IU), he or she may not engage in substantially gainful employment. Marginal employment, such as odd jobs, is not considered substantial gainful employment for VA purposes.

What Benefits May a Veteran's Dependents Be Entitled To If the Veteran Dies Because of Service-Connected Conditions?

Dependents may be entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). If a veteran's death results from a service-connected condition, the DIC benefit may be provided to a surviving spouse, dependent children, and certain dependent parents of veterans who died on active duty.

How Does Veterans Disability Compensation Differ From Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability is only paid if a person cannot work. It is an all-or-nothing system. VA disability compensation, on the other hand, is paid for any service-connected disability that meets the VA's rating criteria. The amount of the payment depends on the severity of the disability.

Can I Get Social Security Disability Benefits and Veterans Disability Compensation at the Same Time?

If you have been found to be disabled by the Social Security Administration and are receiving disability insurance benefits based on your social security earnings record, you can also receive veterans disability compensation. If you are receiving disability payments through the means-tested Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, however, your SSI benefits may be reduced or eliminated if you become eligible for VA disability compensation.

Why Should I Consider Hiring an Attorney?

Veterans law is complex. An experienced attorney who practices in this area understands how VA regulations and policies apply to your particular situation. At McGill & Noble, we know how to develop the evidence necessary to satisfy VA's legal requirements. We stay abreast of the frequent changes in VA law and can adjust your case strategy as needed.

At McGill & Noble, we will

  • Talk to you in detail about your symptoms and the connection between your disabilities and your military service
  • Communicate with you regularly about your case throughout the appeals process
  • Obtain your claims file (C-file) and determine what necessary documents are missing
  • Gather medical evidence
  • Gather other necessary evidence such as military records, "buddy statements," and work records
  • Analyze your case applying VA law and regulations
  • Obtain medical reports from your doctors that support your claim
  • Retain other doctors or vocational experts to provide evidence to support your claim, as appropriate
  • Prepare you to testify at hearings
  • Protect your right to a fair decision by objecting to improper evidence and procedures
  • Research complicated and unusual legal issues
  • Review prior applications and decisions to determine if an earlier effective date is appropriate
  • Prepare oral and written legal arguments
  • If you win, make sure that VA correctly calculates your benefits
  • If you lose, file appeals, if appropriate

How Much Does it Cost to Hire the Attorneys at McGill & Noble?

We don't charge a fee unless we help you obtain or increase your VA disability benefits. If we are successful in getting VA to recognize your disability as service-connected or getting your rating increased, you will be awarded backpay for benefits that have accrued pending the appeal. Our fee would be 20% of that backpay award.

What are Veterans Pensions?

Veterans Pensions are needs-based benefits for wartime veterans with limited or no income who are age 65 or older or who have a permanent and total non-service-connected disability. More information about the VA Pension program can be found on VA's website.


Where Can I Find the Regulations and Procedures that Govern VA's Processing of Disability Claims?

Title 38, Chapter 1, Part 3 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations governs VA's adjudication of compensation, pension, and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) claims. The M21-1 Adjudication Procedures Manual is used by the Regional Offices for further guidance in processing claims.

Is Injury or Illness Resulting From Substandard Care at a VA Hospital Compensable?

Yes, substandard care at a VA hospital that causes an injury can be the basis of a claim for benefits. In such cases, Section 1151 of VA's governing statutes allows VA to pay compensation for death or disability "as if service-connected." More information about Section 1151 claims can be found on VA's website.

To discuss your specific situation and VA disability benefits needs, contact an attorney at McGill & Noble, LLP Attorneys At Law. Call 919-493-8876 or contact us online.