How to Qualify and Enroll for Veterans Disability Benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) exists to provide healthcare and other services to military veterans. In addition to services like medical benefits, job training, home loans, educational assistance, and memorial benefits, the VA offers eligible veterans disability compensation. Here’s how military veterans can qualify and enroll for those benefits.

VA disability benefits come in the form of monthly payments from the U.S. government. The amount received depends on the service member’s level of disability. Benefits can also include coverage for travel expenses and extra costs for rehab or special treatments.

The first level of qualifications applies for anyone looking to receive healthcare benefits through the VA. These general benefits satisfy the government’s requirement for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. To qualify, a person must have served on active duty at some point. If a person has served in the National Guard or reserves, to receive benefits, he or she must have been called up for active duty.

Resources at the VA are limited, so the levels of benefits are determined on a priority basis. The two main contributing factors that determine priority are disability and income. Veterans who have sustained a severe service-connected disability will receive benefits at the highest level. At the middle range are veterans with less severe service-connected disabilities, or a low income combined with a non-service-connected disability. At the lowest level of benefits are those veterans with a low income or no disability.

To qualify for disability benefits specifically, a veteran must have a professionally-diagnosed disability or disease. For a service-level disability, it must be shown that the disabling event occurred while serving on active duty. The VA recognizes three levels of service connection: direct, aggravated and presumed. The first two categories are comprised of disabilities that can be shown to be a direct result of, or pre-existing and aggravated by, military service, respectively. Presumed service connection, on the other hand, is determined by consulting a list of disabilities and illnesses that can be presumed to be the result of active military service. The list includes chronic illnesses, tropical illnesses, cancer and complications resulting from exposure to certain chemicals such as Agent Orange.

An extension of the VA’s disability program is called Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployment (TDIU), and it’s available for veterans who have been rendered completely unable to work due to their service-connected disability. While a veteran’s disability rating must exceed a higher threshold to receive TDIU, they’re compensated at the 100% disability rate. Maintaining TDIU over time requires that the disability is either permanent or shown to still exist and prevent gainful employment. For more information, check out what’s required for continued TDIU eligibility.

To enroll, veterans can apply online, in person at a VA clinic or center, by phone or by filling out and mailing in a VA Form 10-10EZ. To complete the application, veterans must provide proof of discharge papers, such as DD Form 214, as well as any information on existing health insurance, wages, and other financial information.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.