The United States Department of Veterans Affairs Disability Compensation and Pension Program: The Compensation Link to VA Vocational Rehabilitation
The American public has long believed the United States is obligated to provide aid for veterans disabled in military service to their country. As a result, service-disabled veterans in the United States have access to the world's most comprehensive system of assistance. This includes access to the Compensation and Pension programs that are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
Disability compensation is a tax free monthly benefit paid to veterans who are disabled by injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active military service. Low income war-time veterans with permanent and total disabilities, may be eligible for tax-free monthly payments through the VA's pension program. The VA reports that during fiscal year 2003, approximately 2.8 million veterans received disability compensation or pension benefits.1 The Compensation and Pension program is important to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, and other veterans, who seek VA vocational rehabilitation services for the following reason: To qualify for vocational rehabilitation services a veteran must first be determined by the VA to have a compensable service-connected disability. This practice guide will introduce the VA's disability compensation program. For information on compensation payments available to dependents of certain veterans with service-connected disabilities, and disability pension program for veterans, contact your nearest VA office.
What is a VA disability Compensation payment?
Service-connected disability compensation is a monthly payment made by the VA to a veteran with a physical or mental disability that was incurred in or aggravated by military service. Compensation, which provides access to other important VA benefits, is similar to a workers compensation program; however, it evaluates disability resulting from all types of diseases and injuries encountered as a result of military service.2 Under this program the VA rates a disability, as far as is practicable, upon the average impairments of earning capacity resulting from such injuries in civil occupations. The rating schedule provides for ten grades of disability, from 10 percent to 100 percent, upon which compensation payments are based.3 The amount of compensation is based on the veteran's level of disability; the greater the disability, the greater the compensation the veteran receives. For example, in 2004, the VA pays a veteran with a 10% service-connected disability $106.00 per month. A veteran with a 100% service-connected disability is paid $2,239.00 per month.4 Veterans with eligible dependents receive additional allowances, and veterans with severe disabilities may qualify for Special Monthly Compensation (SMC).
Who may be eligible?
For a veteran to be entitled to disability compensation he/she must be discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable,5 his/her disease or injury was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty,6 and the disability is not the result of his/her own willful misconduct or the abuse of alcohol or drugs.7
How is the VA Compensation program linked to VA vocational rehabilitation?
For a veteran to participate in VA vocational rehabilitation programs he/she must have a compensable service-connected disability. Such a veteran receives disability compensation payments. To be eligible for vocational rehabilitation benefits a veteran must have a VA established service-connected disability rated as 10 percent disabling with a serious employment handicap or at least a 20 percent service-connected disability with an employment handicap. Individuals presently in the military with pending medical separation from active duty may apply; however, the disability rating must be at least 20 percent.
What happens during the application process?
A veteran must file the Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension, Form 21-526, with a local VA regional office. Upon receipt the VA regional office uses a four-step process to determine claims for disability compensation: 1) The regional office determines if the veteran is eligible to receive benefits including whether the veteran was discharged or separated under other than dishonorable conditions; 2) if so, the regional office next determines whether the veteran qualifies for disability compensation; 3) if so, the regional office next determines the severity of the disability and assigns the percentage rating; and 4) the regional office sets the effective date for the award of service connected disability.8 In Fiscal Year 2003 the VA's average disability claims rating process was 182 days.
The VA's duty to assist the veteran:
The VA benefit claims process is designed to be helpful to veterans. This means when a veteran submits a disability compensation claim the VA has a duty to assist in the development of the claim. Federal law states this assistance includes requesting service records, medical records, and other pertinent documents from sources identified by the claimant. Furthermore, if necessary, the VA must provide medical examinations to diagnose or evaluate physical and mental conditions for a disability compensation claim.9
Additionally, upon receipt of a complete or substantially complete application the VA must notify the veteran of what additional information, and medical or lay evidence is needed to support the claim.10
The veteran's right to appeal:
Veterans who are dissatisfied with claims decisions by the VA's regional office have the right to appeal the VA's decision. The Board of Veterans Appeals is the branch of the VA that reviews regional office decisions regarding veterans' benefits claims. Following Board review there are three levels of court review for VA administrative actions. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reviews decisions of the Board of Veterans Appeals. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) reviews decisions of the CAVC. The U.S. Supreme Court reviews decisions of the CAFC.
Applying for Compensation and Pension benefits:
An American Indian or Alaska Native veteran, or other veteran, who wishes to file a claim for disability compensation or a disability pension must file the VA's Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension, Form 21-526, with a local VA regional office. The compensation application requires many different dates and facts including the disabling condition, name of condition, treatment dates, etc. This process may be confusing to many veterans; therefore, assistance from a veterans service officer is recommended. Information and assistance is available from any VA office or Veterans Assistance Center. Additionally, local representatives of veterans service organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans will be able to assist.
The VA also allows veterans to apply for disability compensation or pension benefits on its Internet based Veterans On-line APPlication website (VONAPP). Advocates, however, are advised to discourage veterans from applying for benefits using VONAPP. The VONAPP system will guide veterans through the application process, provide help topics, and edit some items to reduce typing errors. However, VONAPP forms cannot be signed electronically. Signatures required for original claims and other forms may complicate the application process for many veterans. Therefore, it is recommended that veterans, with the assistance of a veterans service officer, file standard paper applications with the nearest VA office.
Forms and Resources for American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans
Veterans Benefits & Services, Compensation and Pension Benefits information is available at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/
Veteran's Application for Compensation or Pension Form 21-526 is available on the web at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/
Veterans On-line application website (VONAPP) is available at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp
VA Regional Office addresses are available at http://www.va.gov/oro/page.cfm?pg=99
Veterans Service Providers are available at http://www.va.gov/vso/index.cfm?template=view
Disabled American Veterans, Department of Alaska is available at http://www.ptialaska.net/~akdav
Federal Inter-Agency Native American Website is available at http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/ih/codetalk/
Veterans Benefits Administration: 810 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC 20420
Important Phone Numbers
VA Benefits (Compensation, Pension, and Vocational Rehabilitation questions) 1-800-827-1000
VA Health Benefits 810 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC 20420 1-877-222-8387
Alaska VA Benefits Office (PO Box 20069, Juneau, Alaska 99802) 1-907-586-7472
Alaska VA Regional Office (2925 DeBarr Rd, Anchorage, Alaska 99508) 1-800-827-1000
3 38 U.S.C.S. 1155 (2004).
538 U.S.C.S. 101(2) (2004).
6 38 U.S.C.S. 1110 (wartime), 1131(peacetime); 38 C.F.R. 3.4(b)(1) (2004).
7 38 U.S.C.S. 1110 (wartime), 1131 (peacetime); 38 C.F.R. 3.301 (2004).
8 The Traditional Four-Step Adjudication Process at the VA Regional Office Level. In B.F. Stichman, R. G. Abrams & D.F. Addlestone (Eds.), Veterans Benefits Manual 2000 Supplement. (p.18). Charlottesville: Lexis.
9 38 U.S.C.S. 5103(A) (2004).
10 38 U.S.C.S. 5103 (2004).
Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). VA History. Retrieved August 16, 2004 from http://www.va.gov/about_va/
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2004). Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents (4th ed.). Retrieved August 2, 2004 from http://www1.va.gov/opa/vadocs/current_benefits.asp
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2000). Understanding the Appeals Process. Retrieved August 17, 2004 from http://www.va.gov/vbs/bva/pamphlet.htm
Stichman, B. F., Abrams, R. G. & Addlestone, D. F. (Eds.). (1999). Veterans Benefits Manual. Charlottesville: Lexis.
Stichman, B. F., Abrams, R. G. & Addlestone, D. F. (Eds.). (2000). Veterans Benefits Manual 2000 Supplement. Charlottesville: Lexis.
This practice guideline is supported by a cooperative agreement (#H235K00002)
with the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. This practice guideline was developed by Alan P. Fugleberg