How Long Do Veterans Disability Benefits Last?

Veterans disability benefits can last a lifetime, but they don’t always. Learn how the process works.

Updated 5/02/2022

Most veterans of the United States Armed Forces who have a disability connected to their service are eligible for veterans disability benefits. Generally speaking, as a veteran, you can receive disability benefits for the rest of your life, as long as you remain disabled.

How Are Veterans Disability Benefits Determined?

First, you have to apply for veterans disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You'll need documentation (medical records, doctors' reports, and more) that supports your claim. (Learn how to fast-track your veterans disability claim.)

To qualify for benefits through the VA, you must be a veteran who served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. You also must currently have a medically diagnosed condition (illness or injury) that affects your body or mind. Your disability must be "service-connected," meaning at least one of the following must be true:

  • You were injured or became sick in the line of duty while serving in the military (called an "in-service disability claim").
  • While serving, you aggravated an illness or injury you had before you joined the military (called a "pre-service disability claim").
  • You have a disability caused by your active-duty service that didn't appear until after you were discharged (called a "post-service disability claim").

The VA will review your application and supporting documents and determine whether you qualify for veterans disability compensation. The VA will also determine the degree of disability you've suffered, rating it in 10% increments, ranging from 10% to 100% disabled.

How Long Does VA Disability Last?

Veterans disability benefits usually last many years. Once the VA has determined that you're eligible, your veterans disability benefits will last as long as your disability continues. If you don't get better, you'll keep receiving VA benefits.

Is VA disability for life? Sometimes. But in other cases, your disability might be reevaluated or reexamined.

A reevaluation can result in an increase, decrease, or no change in your disability rating. Changes to your disability rating can affect the amount of your monthly benefit. For instance, if the VA increases your disability rating, the amount of your benefit will likely go up.

If you're getting benefits and you develop a new disability or disease connected to your service, or if your current condition worsens, you can ask for a reevaluation. (You'd need to file VA Form 21-4138.)

When Does the VA Reevaluate Disability Cases?

The VA might require you to have a medical reexamination six months after leaving service and then again between two and five years later. The exam is used to verify the continued existence or the current severity of your disability. The VA will require a reexamination when:

  • it's likely that your disability has improved
  • evidence indicates there's been a significant change in your condition, or
  • there's reason to believe your current disability rating is incorrect.

If your health has improved significantly, the VA may choose to reevaluate your condition. If the VA lowers your disability percentage rating, the amount of your benefits will be lowered too. The VA might also determine that the condition that disabled you no longer exists and discontinue your benefits altogether.

Does the VA Require Exams for Permanent or Long-Term Disabilities?

In certain situations, the VA doesn't require examinations for VA benefits. The VA won't reevaluate you if :

  • the VA has determined your disability is "static" (permanent, like the loss of a limb)
  • your condition hasn't improved in five years and isn't likely to improve
  • you're over the age of 55, or
  • a reexamination wouldn't change your current disability rating.

Suppose you've had the same disability rating for five or more years. In that case, the VA generally won't lower your rating unless your medical records and history show a "sustained improvement" in your condition.

Are Ratings for Long-Term Disabilities Protected?

If you've been receiving veterans disability benefits for 20 consecutive years or more, your benefits fall into a protected category. If the VA has deemed you as permanently and totally disabled and you've been receiving disability benefits for at least 20 years, your benefits can't be reduced. Your VA benefits will last for your whole life.

Even if your disability is classified as less than total and not permanent, if you've been collecting benefits for 20 years or more, the amount of your benefit won't go down. For example, let's say you were classified as 40% disabled for 20 continuous years or more. Then, a reevaluation determines you're only 30% disabled. In that case, the amount of your benefit wouldn't drop below the 40% compensation rate.

Can the VA Reduce a Total Disability Rating?

A 100% disabled rating is also known as "total disability" under VA rules. If the VA finds you're totally disabled, your rating can only be reduced under a couple of specific circumstances. If a medical exam shows "material improvement" in your physical or mental condition, the VA can lower your disability rating.

Your rating of "total disability" can also be reduced based on your employability. The VA might lower your rating if:

  • you're able to work
  • you can hold onto a job for 12 consecutive months or more, or
  • there's clear and convincing evidence that you're employable.

But if your work is for vocational rehabilitation, education, or training, or if the job uses mental abilities rather than physical, when the disability is physical, then your rating might not be lowered.

Can You Lose Your VA Disability Benefits?

Yes, you can lose VA disability benefits. In addition to no longer being disabled, certain circumstances can cause you to lose your veterans disability benefits. First, if you lie or make a false statement, affidavit, or claim in order to obtain disability benefits, you forfeit all rights to receive such benefits. However, benefits can still be paid to your family. (Learn more about the benefits available for families of disabled veterans.)

If you receive or accept disability payments that you're not entitled to, with the intent to defraud the government, you're likely to lose your disability benefits. You can be prosecuted, and you could be fined or even sent to prison.

Any veteran who commits treason, mutiny, or sabotage, or assists an enemy of the United States, forfeits their right to all veterans benefits, including disability benefits.

Any veteran who goes to jail or prison can lose their benefits or have their benefits reduced until the veteran is released. For this to happen, a veteran must:

  • be convicted of a felony or other crime, and
  • spend more than 60 days in a federal or state prison (or another correctional facility).

Any veteran who flees to avoid prosecution or incarceration (making the veteran a "fugitive felon") won't receive disability benefits during the time they're on the run.

Can You Choose to Stop Receiving Veterans Disability Benefits?

As a veteran entitled to VA disability benefits, you may voluntarily renounce your right to benefits. And there are circumstances when that makes sense. For instance, you might choose to give up your veterans disability claim if your DOD retirement benefits would pay more. To opt out of veterans disability benefits, you'd need to do so in a written, signed application.

What If Your Veterans Disability Benefits Are Denied?

If the VA has denied or reduced the amount of your VA disability benefits, you can file an appeal. VA rules are complex, and winning an appeal can be difficult. Because of that, you might benefit from getting legal help with your appeal. Learn about Hiring a VA-Certified Veterans Disability Lawyer.

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