VA Disability Eligibility

Military veterans who suffered an injury or illness connected to their service may be eligible for VA disability benefits. Sometimes, dependent spouses and children may also receive benefits. However, VA disability claims have conditions and are awarded based on individual circumstances.

Many military veterans suffered injuries while enlisted that have left them unable to live independently, earn a living, or have diminished their quality of life. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides disability benefits for veterans who incurred their disability while enlisted. 

The amount awarded to each individual is based on a sliding scale and includes the severity of the disability, its impact on the person’s life, and whether there is more than one disability.

What is Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits eligibility?

The Chapter 31 Program, Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), is a program for eligible military service members and veterans that allows them to prepare for, obtain, and hold employment — or as much independent living as they’re capable of. 

If a vocational handicap prevents the individual from pursuing or maintaining gainful employment, then the VR&E program will provide training and rehabilitation to help them find jobs they’re able to do.

To qualify for this program, the veteran must have a service-related Disability Evaluation System (DES) rating of at least 20% and have been discharged from service under other than a dishonorable circumstance. 

Or, they may procure a referral from the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) for the VR&E program through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).

Each recipient receives a personalized rehabilitation plan, which considers their disability, level of independence and mobility, and mental capacity. Veterans work with a Vocational Rehabilitation Center (VRC) to pursue one of five employment tracks. 

The Five Tracks to Employment provides several benefits, such as:

  • Emphasis on considering employment options early in the rehabilitation program
  • Informed choices with regard to employment and occupational options
  • Faster employment placement for veterans who have transferrable or identifiable skills related to a particular job or field
  • Options for veterans who are unable to work but will benefit from rehabilitation therapy to enjoy a higher level of independence

The eligibility period for the VR&E benefit is either 12 years from the separation from active service or from the date that the VA notified the veteran they qualify with a service-connected disability.

What conditions are covered for VA disability?

VA disability benefits cover a wide range of service-related conditions, including:

VA disability benefits may also cover mental health disabilities as well, including:

These are some of the most common service-related injuries the VA covers, but this isn’t an exhaustive list. 

If you’re not sure whether your service-related injury qualifies for VA disability benefits or if you had a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that was exacerbated by your experience as a servicemember or while on active duty, you may be able to receive full or partial disability from the VA. 

Each case is different, however, so you may want to speak with a VA representative in your area.

Are dependents covered for VA disability?

Spouses, dependent children, and adult children who meet the “helpless child” requirements may be eligible for benefits associated with the veteran receiving VA disability benefits. 

Veterans Affairs dependent benefits can help provide income, medical care, and educational aid for the spouse and any dependent children (and in some cases, income support for the parents of the VA benefit recipient).

While the veteran is alive, the VA will increase their benefit compensation if:

  • Their disability rating is more than 30%
  • They have a spouse or dependent children

The award considers the degree of the disability (the rating) and the number of dependents. When the veteran passes away, their surviving spouse, children, and sometimes parents may be entitled to benefits under the Dependency Indemnity Compensation program.

The spouse and children of disabled veterans may qualify for educational benefits under the Chapter 35 program or the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance benefit

It provides up to 36 months of education for the children and spouses of 100% service-connected disabled veterans (or the equivalent benefit) and can include covering the cost of:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • College, business school, technical school, or vocational education course fees
  • Distance learning or independent study
  • On-the-job training, apprenticeships, or journeyman training
  • Correspondence courses (limited to spouses only)

The education assistance benefit may also cover refresher or remedial training for spouses or children to prepare for more advanced courses or the costs of certifications or licenses necessary to secure a job in certain fields (such as teaching or nursing licenses or CPA certifications). 

Children may use the benefit between the ages of 18 and 26, while spouses have ten years from the original eligibility date set by the VA for their dependent benefits.

The CHAMPVA medical benefit offers medical care coverage for spouses and dependent children of veterans with a 100% service-connected disability. This includes treatments, medications, and supplies for both medical and psychological conditions. 

Eligibility for dependent children ends at 18, unless they are enrolled in school, in which case benefits end at 23. The spouse’s eligibility ends with either divorce from the qualifying veteran or if the veteran dies.

A Veteran Service Officer can help spouses and children of disabled veterans apply for benefits and determine their eligibility.

What if I was other than honorably, dishonorably, or bad conduct discharged?

If you were discharged from service under one of these conditions, you may not be eligible for VA benefits. However, you may be able to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If your discharge was connected to a few specific circumstances, you may have a case for a discharge upgrade. 

These circumstances may include:

  • Mental health disorders, including PTSD
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Military sexual trauma (MST), sexual assault, or harassment
  • Discharged for sexual orientation

Each case is different, so applying for a discharge upgrade doesn’t guarantee that you’ll receive one. If you seek a discharge upgrade to become eligible for VA disability benefits, then you may want to consult a lawyer specializing in this field.

How do I know if I am eligible? When am I eligible?

Veterans may be eligible for VA disability benefits if they meet two criteria:

  • Served in active duty, or active or inactive duty training
  • Have a current injury or illness that affects their mind or body

They must also meet one of these conditions:

  • The illness or injury occurred while serving in the military (must prove causation)
  • Serving in the military made a pre-existing condition worse
  • A disability that was related to active-duty service but didn’t present until the term of service ended (post-service disability claim)

Illness or injury incurred due to being a prisoner-of-war (POW) may also fall under the acceptable criteria for VA disability.

Determining Eligibility and Handling Appeals

If you aren’t sure whether you qualify for VA disability benefits, your local VA Center representative can help. If the VA denied your disability claim, you may be able to file an appeal. A VA benefits attorney can represent your case.
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