Most United States Armed Forces veterans who were injured during service and have a mental or physical illness as a result are eligible for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
VA disability benefits consist mainly of monthly cash payments from the U.S. government to the veteran. The payment amount depends on the veteran's disability rating— a higher rating of disability means a larger monthly payment. Additional benefits may include reimbursement of travel expenses for rehabilitation or treatment. Federal or state governments aren't allowed to tax veterans disability compensation.
Disabled low-income veterans who are older than 65 are also eligible for a Disability Pension. This needs-based program supplements the veteran's income. To qualify for this benefit, the veteran must have served 90 days in active service and one day or more during a war (or longer, for those who entered service after September 1980).
To qualify for veterans disability compensation, you must be either:
You must also meet the following criteria:
When you're ready to apply for VA disability benefits, having the proper documents on hand is important. It may also be helpful to have a friend or relative nearby so you have a second pair of eyes to review the application instructions with you.
For a typical VA disability benefits application, you should expect to do the following:
The application and the evidence-gathering requirements are similar for active service members approaching discharge and applying for benefits through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program (BDD). But with BDD applications, veterans must be prepared to submit to a medical separation examination which will be scheduled 45 days from the date a claim is submitted.
Once the application has been submitted, the file will be reviewed by the VA's Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The BVA will determine whether you qualify for disability benefits by assigning you a percentage disability rating. Disability percentages are assigned in 10% increments, ranging from 10% disabled to 100% disabled.
The percentage rating determines your monthly disability payment amount. For example, in 2023, a veteran (with no dependents) found to be 10% disabled can receive $165.92 per month, while a veteran who is 50% disabled can receive $ 1,041.82 per month. A 100% disabled veteran can receive a $ 3,621.95 monthly payment.
If a veteran is found to be 30% or more disabled and has a spouse and/or dependent children, the monthly payment is higher. For more severe injuries or disabilities, such as blindness or loss of a limb, a disabled veteran may be entitled to receive additional monthly compensation through VA Aid and Attendance or the Housebound Allowance. These benefits are in addition to a veteran's regular monthly benefits. More information on this additional aid can be found here.
To determine how much your VA disability benefit would be, you can review the disability compensation rates table here. For more information on disability ratings and payments, see our article on how veterans disability ratings work.
Your illness or condition must be service connected to qualify for VA disability benefits. Service connection means that an injury or incident that happened while you were on active duty caused or contributed to your disability.
There are five types of service connections: direct service connection, presumed service connection, pre-existing injury aggravated by military service, secondary service connection, and service connection due to injury caused by treatment in the VA Health Care System.
A direct service connection occurs when the veteran's disability is caused by something that happened during military service, such as the loss of eyesight due to an in-combat injury. In such cases, the veteran will need to provide medical evidence establishing a link between their ongoing disability and the causal event on active duty.
A presumed service connection can be established for certain disabling conditions that are unlikely to arise outside of a military context. For veterans who've served at least 90 days and who have developed a condition with a 10% disability rating, the VA has a list of illnesses presumed to result from active military service. Some examples of conditions and illnesses presumed to be service-connected include:
The complete list of conditions varies depending on the nature and location of your service and whether you were a prisoner of war (POW). Some POWs are presumed to have service connections for disorders related to their captivity of 30 days or longer.
You can find the complete list of presumed service-connected disabilities at the VA.gov website here. (Please note that you'll need a PDF viewer to read the document.)
Veterans who enter service with a pre-existing condition (noted in their entrance medical exam) who later have the condition worsened by their time in active duty can establish an "aggravated service connection."
A secondary service connection happens when one service-connected disability is the cause of another disability. The second disability doesn't need to be directly related to military service but wouldn't have occurred without the first disability, which happened during military service. For example, a veteran who was diagnosed with depression after sustaining nerve damage due to Agent Orange exposure would have a secondary service connection for depression.
An injury is automatically treated as service-connected if a veteran is injured while receiving care at a VA hospital or VA treatment center.
For more information on the types of service connections and examples, please see our article on how to establish a VA service connection.
The VA has streamlined rules for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, so that a veteran applying for disability benefits in a PTSD claim no longer has to provide evidence of a specific traumatic event that caused the PTSD. Instead, they can provide more general evidence to support their claim and still be awarded benefits.
For more information, see our article on how to make a PTSD claim for veterans disability with the VA.
In certain circumstances, a veteran won't be eligible to receive disability benefits. These circumstances include:
See our article on Disability Benefits After an Other Than Honorable Discharge From the Military.
For more support, veterans service organizations (VSOs) can provide you with a representative to help you file a VA disability claim. Also, some veterans chose to hire an attorney to represent them during the application process. You can find a VSO on the VA's website or use our disability attorney locator in the tool below.
Updated March 6, 2023