Disability Compensation and Pension -- The Department of Veterans Affairs administrates two major disability benefits programs for veterans: the disability compensation program and the pension benefits program. In 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) spent over $173 billion to run a wide variety of benefits programs from healthcare to vocational rehabilitation. In that same year, Indiana’s veterans received around $1.3 billion from the compensation and pension benefits programs. The eligibility for these programs depends upon a large and complex set of laws, regulations, and cases from different federal courts. Navigating these rules is difficult, and maximizing the benefits available is even more difficult.
Differences Between Compensation and Pension – Compensation payments are designed to offset the occupational impairment lost from a disability incurred during military service. A pension is based on the veteran’s income, inability to work, and time of service during war. If a veteran, or the veteran’s survivors, receive income that exceeds a certain limit, then the veteran or the survivor is not entitled to financial assistance.
A veteran’s eligibility for the pension program is based on five basic requirements:
The veteran must be discharged under other than dishonorable conditions;
An individual who enlisted in the military service for the first time on or after September 8, 1980, is required to complete a minimum period of service, either twenty-four months of continuous active duty or the full period of service to which the veteran was called or ordered to active duty. The veteran must also have served at least 90 days of that period during war.
The veteran’s income must be limited and the net worth cannot provide adequate maintenance.
The veteran must be permanently and totally disabled. The total disability must not be due to misconduct. Furthermore, the veteran may have incurred the total disability anytime after service in the military.
These legal requirements are very different from the requirements needed for compensation.
Compensation and the Schedule of Disability Ratings -- Different disabilities impose different limitations on veterans earning capacity. The DVA uses a schedule of ratings that lists hundreds of different kinds of injuries and illnesses. Based on that schedule, the DVA decides how much money a veteran, in the DVA’s judgment, should receive. Arguments often arise about whether that level of compensation is fitting and proper. Applying the schedule of disabilities may be complex and difficult even for people familiar with the rating system. An attorney can be very helpful by applying the rating schedules to medical evidence and by raising a case that aims to achieve an accurate compensation rate for lost earning capacity.
Total Disability – Individual Unemployability – One way to reach a 100% disability rating is to show the DVA that a veteran cannot work as a result of disabilities incurred during service. Although the disabilities may not amount to a 100% rating under DVA’s schedule in Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, the veteran still may be paid a 100% rate if the disabilities prevent substantially gainful employment. The rules for this type of rating are complex, and the veteran should file a VA Form 21-8940, Application for Total Disability Based on Unemployability. If you have any questions about how the VA compensation system functions in general, or if you have any questions about your own case, then do not hesitate to schedule a phone call. Andrew has work with different vocational experts, psychologists, psychiatrists, orthopedists, oncologists, and medical researchers to resolve hundreds of cases in favor of veterans.