Legal Rights of Disabled Veterans
As a disabled veteran, you have many legal rights, and you may not be aware of all of them. The Department of the Veterans Affairs (VA) may not have informed you of all the benefits and and you are eligible for. The purpose of this article is to provide you with an overview of your rights and benefits as a disabled veteran.
VA Health Care
If you had active military service and you were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, you may qualify for VA health care benefits. If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, or began your active duty after October 16, 1981, to be eligible for heath care you must have served either the full period for which you were called, or served 24 continuous months. Members of the Reserves or National Guard who were called to active duty by a federal order who served the full period for which they are called may also be eligible for VA health care benefits.
Under certain conditions, you will be automatically enrolled in VA health care, and in other cases you will have to apply for health care. Complex rules determine what priority you will be given for access to VA health care. For more information, see VA Health Care Benefits and the Veterans Health Administration (both on the VA's website).
Veterans' Disability Benefits
If you were injured during service, or a pre-existing condition was aggravated by your service, you may be eligible for service-connected disability compensation. For more information, see our article on veterans service-connected disability compensation.
VA Disability Pension
If you are not eligible for disability compensation, the VA may consider awarding you a monthly pension. This will depend on your having a low income, but keep in mind that in calculating your actual income, the VA will first deduct all of your medical expenses. For more information, see the VA's information on VA Pensions.
Social Security Disability Benefits
If you are a disabled veteran, you are also eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. For more information, see our article on getting Social Security and veterans disability at the same time.
Education and Training
Depending on when you served and how long you have been out of the service, you may be eligible for education and training benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill. For more information, see VA Education and Training on the VA's website or call 888-GI-BILL-1 (888-442-4551).
Home Loan Guaranty
The VA provides home loan guarantees to help eligible veterans to:
- buy or build a home
- purchase a condominium
- buy a manufactured home or lot
- refinance a home loan, or
- make home repairs or improvements
The VA also offers various life insurance benefits. For example, Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance for up to $10,000 is available to you if you were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions, depending on the overall state of your health. You must apply within two years from the date you receive service-connection for a disability. If you are totally disabled, you can receive supplemental coverage up to $30,000.
Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance is available to severely disabled vets who have been approved for a Specially Adapted Housing Grant (SAH). These grants are available to disabled veterans who require modifications to their homes due to the severity of their disabilities. Mortgage Life Insurance, payable to the mortgage company, can be obtained for up to $200,000.
For more information about all of the VA life insurance programs, see the VA's web page on VA Life Insurance Programs or call the VA’s Insurance Center at 800-669-8477.
If you are homeless, the VA has a number of programs that can help you. Call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (NCCHV) to find out about these programs at 877-4AID VET (877-424-3838). You can call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and get connected with resources in your community. Information is also available at the VA web page for the Homeless.
As a disabled veteran, you have the right not to be discriminated against in your employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from employment discrimination on the basis of your disability.
The ADA requires employers to treat you fairly when you apply for jobs. The law prohibits discrimination in terms of how much you are paid, on the job training opportunities, promotions, termination, and other conditions of employment. An employer cannot refuse to hire you solely on the basis of your disability.
ADA also requires that your employer provide you with “reasonable accommodations” that will enable you to complete your job. Reasonable accommodations include frequent rest breaks, time off to go to counseling or medical appointments, special equipment to help you perform your job, and providing work instructions to you in writing or orally, depending on your needs. However, employers are not required to make accommodations that are unduly expensive or present a significant difficulty. For more information, see Nolo's article on reasonable accommodations.
The VA provides assistance to veterans seeking to reestablish their employment following their discharge from service. For information about job counseling, preferential hiring of veterans, assistance with small business, and other job-related assistance, see the website VA's web page on VA Transitional Assistance.
If you have recently been discharged from service, remember that you are eligible for unemployment assistance. Contact your state unemployment office for information.
Appealing VA Decisions
You have the right to appeal decisions made by the VA. You can appeal when you are denied disability compensation, pension, education benefits, coverage for medical services, or other benefits. You have one year from the date of the notification of a VA decision to file an appeal. To appeal, you will need to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA office or medical center that made the decision.
The VA does not have an official NOD form, but you can use VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, to file an NOD. You can also write a letter to the VA to state that you disagree with the VA's decision. For more information on how to do it, see our article on appealing a VA decision.
Where to Get Help
To locate VA offices and facilities in your community, see the VA Directory. To locate a disability attorney in your area, fill out our request for a consultation with a disability attorney.