What Legal Rights Do Disabled Veterans Have?

Federal laws protect the rights of military veterans in employment, VA compensation, health care, and more.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law

As a disabled veteran, you have many legal rights, and you may not be aware of all of them. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) might not have informed you of all the benefits you're eligible for, which can include health care, disability compensation, and education benefits, housing assistance, and more.

VA Health Care

If you had active military service and you were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, you might qualify for VA health care benefits. To be eligible for health care (if you enlisted after September 7, 1980, or began your active duty after October 16, 1981), at least one of the following must be true:

  • You served the full period for which you were called.
  • You served 24 continuous months.

Members of the Reserves or National Guard are sometimes eligible for VA health care benefits as well. You can qualify as a reservist or guardsman if both of the following are true:

  • You were called to active duty by a federal order.
  • You served the full period for which you were called.

Under certain conditions, you'll be automatically enrolled in VA health care. In other cases, you'll have to apply for health care. Complex rules determine what priority you'll 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 might qualify for service-connected disability compensation. For more information, see our article on getting service-connected VA disability compensation.

VA Disability Pension

If you aren't eligible for disability compensation, the VA might consider awarding you a monthly pension. You must have served at least one day during wartime and have a low income to qualify. But keep in mind that in calculating your income, the VA will first deduct all of your medical expenses. Learn more about the eligibility requirements for a VA pension at va.gov.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Veterans

If you're a disabled veteran, you're also eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. For more information, see our article on getting Social Security and veterans disability at the same time.

Education and Training Benefits for Veterans

Depending on when you served and how long you've been out of the service, you might be eligible for education and training benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill. For more information, see About the GI Bill on the VA's website or call the GI Bill Hotline at 888-GI-BILL-1 (888-442-4551).

VA Home Loan Guaranty

The VA provides home loan guarantees to help eligible veterans with the following:

  • buying or building a home
  • purchasing a condominium
  • buying a manufactured home or lot
  • refinancing a home loan, or
  • making home repairs or improvements

For additional information, see VA Home Loans on the VA's website.

VA Life Insurance Programs

The VA also offers various life insurance benefits. For example, with Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI), you might be able to keep the life insurance you had in the service indefinitely—if you keep paying the premiums.

And if you're a disabled veteran, you can get up to $40,000 in whole life insurance coverage (in $10,000 increments) through the Veterans Affairs Life Insurance (VALife) program (which replaced Service-Disabled Veterans' Insurance in 2022).

VALife is guaranteed-acceptance whole life insurance—meaning you don't have to prove you're in good health to get it. You only need to meet two eligibility requirements:

  • You must have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
  • You have a service-connected disability.

If you're age 80 or younger, there's no time limit to apply for a VALife policy. And once you're approved, you can keep your coverage for as long as you pay the premiums.

Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) is available to severely disabled vets (under 70) who've 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. You can qualify for up to $200,000 of Mortgage Life Insurance, which pays off your mortgage should you die.

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.

Help for Homeless Veterans

If you're a veteran and you're homeless, the VA has programs that can help you. Call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (NCCHV) at 877-4AID VET (877-424-3838) to learn about these programs. You can call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and get connected with resources in your community.

Information is also available on the VA resource page for Homeless Veterans.

Employment Protections for Veterans

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. And the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects you from discrimination based on your military service.

How the ADA Protects Disabled Veterans

The ADA requires employers to treat all people with disabilities fairly when applying for jobs. An employer can't refuse to hire you solely based on your disability. And the law prohibits employers from discriminating against you regarding:

  • how much you're paid
  • on-the-job training opportunities
  • promotions
  • termination, and
  • other conditions of employment.

The ADA also requires that your employer provide you with "reasonable accommodations" that will allow you to continue to do your job. Reasonable accommodations include things like the following:

  • special equipment to help you perform your job
  • frequent rest breaks
  • time off to go to counseling or medical appointments
  • bringing your service animal to work, and
  • providing work instructions to you in writing or orally, depending on your needs.

But employers aren't required to make accommodations that create an "undue hardship" on the business (meaning changes that are too expensive or burdensome or disrupt your employer's business). For more information, see our article on reasonable accommodations.

Veterans' Workplace Protections Under the USERRA

If you take leave from your civilian job to perform military service, the USERRA protects your job rights. Under the USERRA, you have the right to return to the job you would've had if you hadn't left for military service. Under the law, an employer also can't discriminate against you because of your military service in any of the following:

  • hiring
  • termination
  • promotion, or
  • any benefit of employment.

Some states offer even more protection. Learn more about the military leave laws in all 50 states.

Transition and Vocational Assistance for Veterans

The VA provides assistance to veterans seeking to reestablish their employment following their discharge from service. See the VA's web page on VA Transitional Assistance for information about services like:

  • job counseling
  • preferential hiring of veterans
  • assistance with small businesses, and
  • other job-related assistance.

If you have a service-connected disability that limits your ability to work, the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program (formerly Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment). Through VR&E, you can explore your employment options and get additional training and education. Learn more about VR&E on the VA website.

If you've recently been discharged from service, remember that you're 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 any denial of benefits, including:

  • disability compensation
  • VA pension
  • education benefits
  • coverage for medical services, or
  • other VA benefits.

You have one year from the date of the notification of a VA decision to file an appeal. To appeal, you'll need to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA office or medical center that made the decision.

The VA doesn't have an official NOD form, but you can use VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, to file a 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 appeal a denial, see our article on appealing a VA decision.

Where Can Veterans Get Help?

You can get help finding the VA services and benefits you need by speaking with a local Veterans Service Officer (VOS). To locate the VA offices and facilities in your community, use the VA's find location tool.

To find a VA disability attorney in your area, use the tool below to request a consultation with a local attorney specializing in veterans compensation.

Updated June 22, 2023

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