Veteran’s disability benefits go back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. In 1636, Plymouth Colony ordered that any disabled soldier wounded while defending the colony would be maintained by the Colony for life. Other colonies followed this lead. In 1776, the Continental Congress established disability pensions (now called Disability Compensation) for veterans who became disabled during military service.
Disability compensation was originally based on the military rank of the veteran. In 1862, the General Pension Act allowed disability payments to union troops to be based on rank and degree of disability. In 1873, the Consolidation Act revised pension policies, paying on the degree of disability rather than the service rank. The Dependant Pension Act of 1890 expanded benefits to eligible dependents under certain conditions.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses a rating schedule to evaluate the degree of disability. In 1917, The War Risk Insurance Act called for the first rating schedule and authorized disability compensation for veterans. The schedule was created in 1919 and it has provided the foundation for the current VA compensation and pension programs for disabled veterans. In 1945, the VA rating schedule underwent major changes allowing the VA to reevaluate a veteran and change the disability rating.
WHO ADMINISTERS THE PROGRAM
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers the Disability Compensation benefits.
The VA Disability Compensation program is federally funded.
Summary of VA Disability Compensation
Disability Compensation provides a monthly tax-free cash benefit to veterans and his/her eligible dependents. The benefit is for veterans, who are disabled by an injury or illness that happened while on active duty, was made worse by active duty, or incurred while on active duty and became disabling after leaving the service. The amount of the Disability Compensation benefit is determined by the degree of disability. Veterans receive additional compensation for dependents when the disability is rated at 30% or more. Claimants may file a claim for benefits by completing the required application at any VA regional office or via the Internet at https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/vonapp.asp.
Other Benefits under VA Disability Compensation Program
DEPENDENCY AND INDEMNITY COMPENSATION
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monthly tax free cash benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans who died during active military service, or veterans whose death resulted from a service-connected condition. For more information, see below, Additional Benefits, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
SPECIAL MONTHLY COMPENSATION
Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is a higher monthly allowance in addition to the regular Disability Compensation to eligible veterans with certain injuries, such as loss of an extremity or an organ, extreme deafness, or immobility of a joint. See below, Additional Benefits, Special Monthly Compensation.
AID & ATTENDANCE AND HOUSEBOUND BENEFITS
Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits are extra monthly payments available to veterans and their surviving spouses who are in need of aid and attendance, or who are very limited in their ability to leave their home because of a disability, or is a patient in a nursing home. See below, Additional Benefits, Aid & Attendance and Housebound Benefits.
VA TRAVEL REIMBURSEMENT
Veterans with a service-connected disability rated at 30% or more, veterans who are traveling for treatment of a service-connected injury or disease, veterans whose income does not go above the maximum VA pension rate, or veterans traveling for a scheduled VA medical exam may be reimbursed for mileage or public transportation. Veterans can complete Veteran/Beneficiary Claim for Reimbursement of Travel Expenses, VA Form10-3542, to apply for travel coverage. Veterans who require special transportation should complete the VA’s Authority and Invoice for Travel by Ambulance or Other Hired Vehicle, VA Form 10-2511. For more information on travel for health care or compensation and/or pension exams, call 877-222-VETS (8387) or go to https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/314.
Veterans who have a service-connected disability that requires the use of a prosthetic device or if a doctor has prescribed medication for a serviced- connected skin condition, and the medication causes irreversible damages to his/her outer garments may qualify for an annual clothing allowance. The application for the Annual Clothing Allowance, VA Form 10-86781, should be submitted to the Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service (PSAS) at the VA Medical Center. A list of the PSAS representatives can be found at: https://www.prosthetics.va.gov/psas/StaffDirectory.asp..
VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM
The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program is available to veterans who have a service-connected disability rating of at least 20% , or 10% with a serious employment handicap. The VA provides training and in some cases a subsistence allowance to the veteran. More information is available at: https://www.va.gov/housing-assistance/disability-housing-grants.
SPECIALLY ADAPTED HOUSING GRANTS
The VA provides two types of grants to veterans who need to modify their existing home or build a new home to meet their disability-related requirements. A veteran must be rated with a permanent and total service-connected disability and must also have certain conditions, such as a loss of extremities, severe burns, or blindness. More information on the available grants can be found at https://www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans/sah.asp.
The VA provides one-time payments towards the purchase of a vehicle or adaptive equipment for the safe operation of a vehicle. A service member or veteran must have a service-connected disability (or one treated as such under 38 U.S.C. § 1151), such as the loss of extremities or immobility of certain joints. More information is available at https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/special-claims/automobile-allowance-adaptive-equipment.