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Disability Benefits (Service-Connected Compensation)

"...to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan"
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

Basics

Disability Compensation Basics

VA’s Service-Connected Compensation provides Disability Benefits to address the effects of disabilities, diseases, or injuries incurred or aggravated during military service. 

Understanding the application and claims process as well as your role as a provider will allow you to identify and guide your Veteran clients/patients who may be eligible for this benefit. 

Veterans who have disabilities, medical conditions, or injuries incurred or aggravated during active military service—no matter when or where they served—may be eligible to receive tax-free monthly monetary benefits. A Service-Connected Disability does not have to be a result of deployment or combat.

Both physical and mental health conditions may qualify Veterans for benefits.  Examples include:

  • PTSD
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Chronic back pain
  • Respiratory disease
  • Significant loss of hearing
  • Scar tissue
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Ulcers
  • Cancer (due to hazardous exposures)

Access the Complete Schedule of Disabilities

It is important for Veterans to understand that they must apply for certain VA benefits separately from health care benefits, as is the case with Service-Connected Compensation. This is because VA is comprised of three branches that administer different benefits for Veterans:

For Service-Connected Compensation benefits, Veterans, or appointed representatives, must apply directly through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which will determine eligibility based on a number of factors.  

There are many steps involved in processing a claim. But there is also a lot of help available to provide guidance throughout the process. Trained Veteran Service Organization (VSO) representatives and some attorneys are available to facilitate the process for free and others for a fee. VBA itself will help obtain certain records needed to process claims. The sections in this mini-clinic contain fast facts, FAQs and Cool Tools including videos that explain Service-Connected Compensation benefits, eligibility and the application process.

Sharing this information with your Veteran clients is another way to support their overall health and well-being.

For a Service-Connected Compensation claim, a Veteran will need a medical diagnosis and evidence that the condition is related to military service. As a provider you may be asked to fill out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire form (DBQ) by your Veteran client.

Learn more about other VA benefits that could improve the lives of Veterans:

Watch video: Compensation 101: What is Service Connection?

Eligibility

Veteran Eligibility

Service-Connected Disability Compensation applies to physical conditions, such as Lou Gehrig's disease, as well as mental health conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eligibility for compensation requires that:

  • The Veteran’s disability must be related to military service
  • The Veteran must have separated or been discharged from service under “other than dishonorable conditions”.

Learn more about Disability Compensation eligibility


Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

As with other injuries or disabilities incurred during service, Veterans, both men and women, can file a claim to receive compensation for any Military sexual trauma (MST) - related injuries or disabilities that began or got worse during their military service.

MST refers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. 

While Veterans are not granted compensation for the traumatic event itself, they can be granted disability compensation for conditions that result from MST.  For example, exposure to any trauma can potentially result in PTSD or another mental health disorder. PTSD is the most common mental health diagnosis related to experiencing MST.

  • Veterans can file a claim to receive compensation for any MST-related injuries or disabilities that began or worsened during their military service.
  • MST Specialists are available at every VA Regional Office to assist both male and female Veterans with filing claims related to MST.

It should be noted eligibility for MST-related health care treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process. At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. They may be able to receive this MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, they do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred.

Important Note

  • VBA and VHA conducted extensive nationwide re-training of staff in 2011 to address the complexity of MST-related PTSD claims processing.
  • VA encourages any Veteran whose MST-related PTSD claim was denied prior to the re-training to contact his/her Regional Office or Veteran Service Organizations VSO to request a re-evaluation of his/her MST-related claim.

 

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Disability compensation Fact Sheet Handout.

Learn more about Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Applying for Benefits

How to Apply for VA Benefits

Registering for eBenefits

Registering for eBenefits is helpful because it is the easiest and fasted way to apply for and receive benefits. Veterans can register at  eBenefits.

Locating and Compiling Key Evidence

Service records and medical information, referred to as “Key Evidence” by VBA are required during the application process:

  • Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)
  • Medical evidence (doctor and hospital reports)
  • Dependency records (marriage and children's birth certificates)

Gathering this information before starting a claim will expedite the application process.  However, if a Veteran cannot locate any or all of these documents, VBA is required to assist the Veteran. 

Learn more about Key Evidence Requirements.

Veterans can request Military Service records Online, by Mail or by Fax.  These include DD 214/Separation Documents, Personnel Records, and/or Medical Records.  These records are free to Veterans and their families.

Completing and Submitting the Application

Download and print VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.

There are a variety of ways for Veterans to apply for Service-Connected Compensation:

VBA Responsibilities in the Application Process

VBA has a duty to assist with obtaining evidence and help locate healthcare records.
VBA will also, if necessary, order a medical examination and/or obtain a medical opinion.
VA examiners are required to:

  • Review all evidence of record.
  • Evaluate the Veteran’s symptoms and determine if there is a mental health or physical health diagnosis.
  • Provide an opinion on whether the condition is related an event that occurred in service.

Checking the Status of a Claim

The length of time it takes to complete a claim depends on several factors, such as the type of claim filed, complexity and the availability of evidence needed to decide your claim. During this time Veterans may be contacted if the Veterans Service Representative needs more information.

Veterans who are registered on eBenefits can track the status of their claim.
Or by phone: at 1-800-827-1000

Help for Filing Claims

Assistance for Veterans Filing Claims

Veteran Service Organizations

Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) help facilitate the application process for Service-Connected Compensation. At no cost to Veterans they will:

  • Initiate and prepare disability compensation claims
  • Gather required medical records and evidence
  • Review and submit Veteran claims for disability compensation
  • Advocate for Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families

The Directory of Veterans Service Organizations lists both VA-recognized and non-recognized service organizations.

  • A recognized organization can legally represent Veterans before VA
  • A non-recognized organization can provide Veterans with information but cannot be their representative before VA

Watch Video: Partnering with a VSO to facilitate the claims application process


Accredited representatives, along with state, county, and other local Veteran service representatives are trained to help Veterans understand and apply for VA compensation benefits.

Fee for Service

In addition to VSOs, VA accredited claims agents and attorneys can help with applications and claims. The may charge a fee for their service.

How to find and appoint a VSO or Representative

Online: Veterans can find and appoint a VSO, an attorney or a claims agent to represent them or manage their applications and claims.

Mail: Veterans can request a VSO or representative by completing VA Form 21-22 and mailing it to their nearest VA regional benefit office.   

Telephone: Veterans can request a VSO by calling 1-800-827-1000

In addition to assisting Veterans and their families with VA disability claims, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) will help Veterans apply for these benefits:

VSOs also sponsor a range of Veteran-centric programs such as providing transportation to and from VA medical center appointments.

FAQs - Disability Benefits

FAQs - Disability Benefits

These FAQs provide an overview for Veterans and their Community Providers. Learn more about VA Compensation FAQs .

Veterans Service Organizations are experienced in the claims process and can provide guidance to Veterans and their providers. Find a VSO in your area.

Videos

Selected Videos

These VA produced videos explain Service-Connected Compensation benefits, eligibility and the application process.

Useful Resources



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