VA Compensation Benefits

What Is VA Compensation?

VA Disability Compensation is a tax free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that are a result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service.  Compensation may also be paid paid for post-service disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service.  Generally, the degrees of disability specified are also designed to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses.

What VA Compensation Is Not

VA Compensation is not income.  It is not a replacement or substitution for civilian employment, and it is not a military retirement. The VA does not pay veterans to not find or hold civilian unemployment.  VA Compensation is meant to assist the veteran post service for any wages that may be lost due to their service-connected disabilities.

However, VA Compensation is also an acknowledgement from the federal government that what happened to a veteran while serving on active duty can or may affect you after your service. Thus, VA Compensation makes up for the potential loss of civilian wages or civilian working time a veteran would miss as a result of his or her service-connected injuries or medical conditions.

Who Is Eligible For VA Compensation? 

To be eligible for VA Compensation an individual must have served with the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released from service under conditions that were other than dishonorable.  Additionally, National Guard and members of the reserves can qualify as veterans if they were called up to active duty under title 10 of the of the US Code by the President of the United States for active duty service.  Since the Gulf War in 1990, 64% of all 1.2 million National Guard and reserve troops have been called up to active duty - some more than once.  

To be eligible for veterans benefits, members of the guard or reserves have to have completed their active duty obligation or have completed at least 24 months on active duty - whichever comes first.  National Guard or reserve members who have not been called up to active duty are generally not eligible for veterans benefits.  But there are exceptions.  If one of these individuals was injured or contracted certain diseases while engaged in basic training for inclusion in the guard or reserves, they could be eligible for disability compensation.  Last, if a member of the guard or reserves was injured traveling to or from their monthly weekend training, or an injury that was sustained while training is found to be in the Line of Duty are also eligible for VA Compensation benefits.

There Are 5 Paths to Receive VA Compensation

Veterans are ultimately trying to prove to the VA their current disability is related to their military service.  Most veterans do not have difficulty proving to the VA that they have a disability, and most veterans do not have any difficulty proving what happened to them in service.  Where most veterans run into trouble with the VA is when they try to show the relationship between their current disability and what happened to them in service.  In fact, the VA won't tell veterans all the avenues available to them to prove to the VA that the veteran has a service connected disability.  The VA has established five paths for a veteran to prove that his or her disabilities, injuries, or other health conditions are related to their military service.

Direct Service Connection

Direct service connection is the most common way that a veteran is able to establish a service connection for his or her disability. Using this method, the veteran must show that he or she currently suffers from a disability that began during service. You can generally show this through evidence like service medical records. Direct service connection can also be established by showing that the veteran currently suffers from a chronic condition that began in service or that the veteran showed symptoms of, or was diagnosed with, a condition during service which developed into a current disability. A medical opinion from a doctor which states that it is as likely as not that the current disability is linked to service, which is supported by reason and references the veteran’s medical record, is very helpful. The VA is required to give a veteran the benefit of the doubt is there is equal evidence for both sides.

Service Connection Through Aggravation

The second way that service connection can be established is by service connection through aggravation. Under this theory, a veteran can be awarded service connection for a preexisting condition that was noted in his or her military entrance examination and that was aggravated during active military service unless the VA is able to show that the condition is worsening because of the natural progression of the disease.

The veteran must show that the aggravation of the medical condition is a non-temporary increase in the severity of the underlying condition. Again, the best evidence for this type of service connection is a medical opinion from a doctor which states that the aggravation of the condition was caused by service and not by the natural progression of the disease.

Presumptive Service Connection

Service connection can also be established by a presumptive service connection. There are some disabilities that are presumed to be service-connected under certain circumstances. These disabilities must appear within a certain period of time, which ranges from one year to any time after service depending on the disability, and some require the veteran to have served for a specific length of time, during a specific time period, or at a specific location. There are special rules for a presumptive service connection for Agent Orange exposure and Gulf War veterans.

In order to establish a presumptive service connection, it is necessary to show that either the disability was diagnosed during the presumptive period or that symptoms of the disability manifested during that time, even if the diagnosis did not come until years later. A medical opinion from a doctor who states that the symptoms during the presumptive period were a manifestation of the disability is essential, especially when combined with lay evidence from friends or family establishing that they observed such symptoms during that time period.

Secondary Service Connection

The fourth way that service connection can be established is through secondary service connection. This is applicable where a service-connected disability causes an additional disability or aggravates a non-service-connected disability. For instance, a veteran may have a service-connected back condition that results in a knee condition. That knee condition may be considered secondarily service-connected. Again, a medical opinion from a doctor linking the two disabilities is the best evidence for this type of service connection.

Service Connection Caused by VA Medical Care

The fifth way that service connection can be established is through a service connection based on VA medical care. This type of service connection exists where there has been an injury or aggravation to an injury caused by VA hospitalization, VA medical surgery or treatment, a VA exam, or VA vocational rehabilitation. With this type of service connection, the veteran (or eligible surviving family members if the veteran died as a result of VA medical care) can receive compensation benefits through a section 1151 claim or may pursue an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

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