Veterans Disability Info Blog

How To Calculate Your VA Disability Back Pay

Veterans who have filed for VA disability benefits know all too well the delays involved in getting disability payments. Months or years can pass before a veteran receives a correct disability rating and a benefits check. Meanwhile, the veteran has been living with a disability that prevents them from earning a gainful income.

Retroactive disability pay is a lump sum, tax-free payment that veterans receive to cover this gap in time. VA disability back pay is essential to veterans and their families. It is a critical part of the VA benefits all servicemembers are promised in exchange for protecting and defending our nation.

How does the VA calculate back pay? What is the effective date for retroactive VA benefits? When do veterans receive back pay for disability benefits? Continue reading to get the answers to these questions and more.

Estimate your VA disability back pay amount using our VA Disability Retro Calculator

What Is VA Disability Back Pay?

VA disability back pay is a lump sum payment veterans receive to cover any period of time that they were disabled and not receiving benefits for that disability.

Various scenarios exist for which a veteran might collect retroactive disability payments. For example, a veteran may receive back pay to cover any payment delay after the following:

  • A disability rating increase
  • A new disability rating decision
  • A secondary disability
  • A worsened disability
  • New laws enacted surrounding VA benefits
  • Previous denials for a now presumptive service-connected condition

In many cases, new laws will be enacted or the VA will add health conditions to the presumptive service-connected conditions list as new research unfolds. For example, veterans who were denied benefits for decades due to Agent Orange exposureburn pit toxin exposure, or contaminated water exposure at Camp LeJeune are now eligible to collect benefits. These veterans are often awarded years or decades of back pay once their condition is added to the presumptive list.

In short, any change to your disability benefits status will take time—whether on your or the VA’s end. It takes time to get a diagnosis, prepare and submit a claim, process a claim, appeal a denied claim, or discover that a veteran’s disability is service related. The longer it takes to begin collecting monthly payments, the more retroactive pay you will get.

What is the VA Retro Pay Effective Date?

Just how far back will the VA pay? Does the VA pay a veteran from the day they were first exposed to a toxin? From the day they were diagnosed with an illness? From the day they filed a claim?

The VA calculates the amount of back disability pay a veteran will receive using the time span between the “effective date” and the date of back pay approval. Generally, the effective date is when the veteran was entitled to receive benefits or VA received the claim, whichever is later.

For most VA disability claims, the effective date is the date the VA received your claim or intent to file. But for retroactive pay, there may be exceptions. If you file for benefits to cover a service-connected disability within one year of your discharge, your effective date could go back to the day of your discharge. If you get a Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) rating, your effective date may go back to the date of an underlying increased rating appeal that you had in existence.

For veterans whose disability has worsened, the effective date might be the day you submitted a claim for a higher rating. Importantly, if you file a claim within one year of your worsened diagnosis, the effective date could be the date of this new worsened diagnosis.

For example, say a veteran has had a 50% disability rating for psychiatric problems across the past five years. Lately, the psychiatric problems have become worse. The veteran goes to the doctor, who documents severe symptoms like suicidal or homicidal ideations. The veteran files a claim to increase their rating to 70%. If this new claim was filed within one year of the documentation/diagnosis of the worsened symptoms, the VA might assign the date of the diagnosis as the effective date. Since the date of diagnosis is further back than the date the veteran submitted their new claim, any retroactive payment amount would be higher than if the veteran waited over a year to file a claim.

Remember, the effective date is usually the day you first filed a claim for that disability so long as the original claim stream remained uninterrupted by a failure to timely appeal.  But be cautious about a common scenario.  Sometimes a veteran will file a claim that gets denied, and then waits more than a year to appeal it.  By letting the appeal period lapse, the original claim becomes final, and any new claims later filed, if granted, would receive an effective date as of the date of the second claim, not the first.  Some appeals can take decades, and the veteran will receive decades of retroactive pay once they finally win that appeal. It always pays to keep fighting for the benefits you deserve!

How Does the VA Calculate Back Pay?

A veteran is owed back pay for any time that has passed between the effective date and the current date. The more time that passes, the more back pay you will receive. But how much money will you collect in that lump sum payment?

Retroactive disability pay amounts depend on the following:

  • Any changes to your dependents during this time period
  • The disability rating of your unpaid disability
  • The number of months that have passed since your effective date

Your unpaid disability benefits amount (the amount the VA owes you) will be based on the pay rate charts from the months or years you should have received payment. So, if you are collecting back pay for 1983-2023, the VA won’t use the 2023 pay rates to calculate your back pay amount. Instead, they will use the rates paid during those years to veterans with your same disability rating. In other words, the VA will take into account any Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA), inflation, and other factors they used to set the rates for each year in calculating your retroactive payment amount.

Next, the VA will add up the number of payments you missed out on. If you are collecting back pay for January 1983 to February 2023, you will receive a lump sum payment equaling 481 months of missed VA benefits payments (at the corresponding rates for those years).

Next, the VA will consider any changes in dependents you have experienced during the time you should have been paid. More dependents mean higher VA disability payment rates. If you were married, divorced, had children, or became a caretaker for a parent, the payment rates will be adjusted accordingly.

If your disability worsened over the years, the VA will also consider this in calculating your VA payments, offering an increasing disability rating over the years you were not receiving payments.

How to Calculate Your VA Disability Back Pay Amount

Calculating your VA disability retro pay can be challenging. Particularly when the back pay spans multiple years, your condition has worsened over those years, or you have changed dependents during those years. But there are easy and fast ways to estimate how much you will receive in VA disability back pay.

Using our VA Disability Retro Calculator is the fastest way to get an estimate of your payment. Just fill out the short form, and the calculator will automatically show your estimated payment amount.

To learn more about your retroactive VA disability pay or how much VA disability back pay you may be eligible for, contact Veterans Disability Info at 888.878.9350 or online.

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If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.