Veterans Disability Law, An Overview

Disability Compensation

Disability compensation is money paid to veterans who are disabled by injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active military service. These disabilities are considered to be service-connected.

Disability compensation varies with the degree of disability and the number of dependents, and is paid monthly. Veterans with certain severe disabilities may be eligible for additional special monthly compensation. The benefits are not subject to federal or state income tax.

The payment of military retirement pay, disability severance pay, and separation incentive payments, known as SSB (Special Separation Benefits) and VSI (Voluntary Separation Incentives), may affect the amount of VA compensation paid to disabled veterans.

To be eligible, the service of the veteran must have been terminated through separation or discharge under conditions other than dishonorable.

Often-Used Abbreviations

RO (Regional Office) – Your local veteran affairs office.

NOD (Notice of Disagreement) – What you file when the regional office denies your disability claim.

SOC (Statement of the Case) – What the VA regional office sends back to you if they disagree with your NOD. This is usually a recap of their denial. To appeal to the Board you must file a VA Form 9 within 60 days after the SOC was mailed.

BVA (Board of Veterans’ Appeals) – Where you send your appeal when you’ve received an SOC. (For example: After your claim has been denied and your regional office also sent you a “Statement of the Case”.)

RBA (Record Before the Agency) – A collection of everything you’ve ever submitted to the regional office, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, every medical record, letters, and so on. Basically, every piece of communication you’ve had with the VA regarding your disability claim.

CAVC (U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims) – A national court outside of the Veteran Affairs system. If your VA office denies your claim at the Board level, you make your appeal here. Important Note: This court has nothing to do with the VA It is part of the federal court system.

EAJA (Equal Access to Justice Act) – This law requires the government to pay for your lawyer at the CAVC level. This is why lawyers say you can hire them at no cost to you. That’s true. The government pays for your lawyer.

Receiving Disability Benefit Payments

Most veterans receive their disability benefit payments by direct deposit to a bank, savings and loan or credit union account. Other veterans may still be receiving benefits by paper check. Compensation and pension beneficiaries can establish direct deposit through the Treasury’s Go Direct helpline. Call toll-free 1-800-333-1795, or enroll online at

Veterans also have the option of receiving their benefits via a prepaid debit card, even if they do not have a bank account. There is no credit check, no minimum balance required, and basic services are free. To sign up for the debit card program, call toll-free 1-888-544-6347.

Presumptive Service Connection for Certain Conditions

Prisoners of War

For former POWs who were imprisoned for any length of time, the following disabilities are presumed to be service-connected if they are rated at least 10 percent disabling anytime after military service: psychosis, any of the anxiety states, dysthymic disorder, organic residuals of frostbite, post-traumatic osteoarthritis, atherosclerotic heart disease or hypertensive vascular disease and their complications, stroke and its complications, residuals of stroke and, effective October 10, 2008, osteoporosis if the veteran has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For former POWs who were imprisoned for at least 30 days, the following conditions are also presumed to be service-connected: avitaminosis, beriberi, chronic dysentery, helminthiasis, malnutrition (including optic atrophy associated with malnutrition), pellagra and/or other nutritional deficiencies, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer disease, peripheral neuropathy except where related to infectious causes, cirrhosis of the liver, and, effective September 28, 2009, osteoporosis.

Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange and Other Herbicides

A veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in support of military operations.

Fourteen illnesses are presumed by VA to be service-connected for such veterans: AL amyloidosis, chloracne or other acne-form disease similar to chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma or mesothelioma), Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy, diabetes mellitus (Type 2), all chronic B-cell leukemias (including, but not limited to, hairy-cell leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia), Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease.

Veterans Exposed to Radiation

For veterans who participated in “radiation risk activities” as defined in VA regulations while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, the following conditions are presumed to be service-connected: all forms of leukemia (except for chronic lymphocytic leukemia); cancer of the thyroid, breast, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary tract (renal pelvis, ureter, urinary bladder and urethra), brain, bone, lung, colon, and ovary; bronchiolo-alveolar carcinoma; multiple myeloma; lymphomas (other than Hodgkin’s disease), and primary liver cancer (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated).

To determine service connection for other conditions or exposures not eligible for presumptive service connection, VA considers factors such as the amount of radiation exposure, duration of exposure, elapsed time between exposure and onset of the disease, gender and family history, age at time of exposure, the extent to which a non service-related exposure could contribute to disease, and the relative sensitivity of exposed tissue.

Gulf War Veterans with Chronic Disabilities

…may receive disability compensation for chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses and/or medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illnesses defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms. A disability is considered chronic if it has existed for at least six months.

The undiagnosed illnesses must have appeared either during active service in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations during the Gulf War period of August 2, 1990 through July 31, 1991, or to a degree of at least 10 percent at any time since then through December 31, 2011. This theater of operations includes Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the airspace above these locations.

Examples of symptoms of an undiagnosed illness and medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness defined by a cluster of signs and symptoms include: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, signs or symptoms involving the skin, skin disorders, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, neurological signs or symptoms, neuropsychological signs or symptoms, signs or symptoms involving the respiratory system (upper or lower), sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal signs or symptoms, cardiovascular signs or symptoms, abnormal weight loss, and menstrual disorders.

Presumptive service connection may be granted for the following infectious diseases: Brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella burnetti (Q fever), Malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral leishmaniasis, and West Nile virus. Qualifying periods of service for these infectious diseases include active military, naval, or air service in the above stated Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Gulf War period of August 2, 1990, to July 30, 1991, or active military, naval, or air service on or after September 19, 2001, in Afghanistan.

Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments (CRDP)

…restores retired pay on a graduated 10-year schedule for retirees with a 50 to 90 percent VA-rated disability. Concurrent retirement payments increase 10 percent per year through 2013. Veterans rated 100 percent disabled by VA are entitled to full CRDP without being phased in. Veterans receiving benefits at the 100 percent rate due to individual unemployability are entitled to full CRDP effective December 31, 2004.

Eligibility: To qualify, veterans must also meet all three of the following criteria:

  1. Have 20 or more years of active duty, or full-time National Guard duty, or satisfactory service as a reservist, or
  2. Be in a retired status.
  3. Be receiving retired pay (must be offset by VA payments). Retirees do not need to apply for this benefit. Payment is coordinated between VA and the Department of Defense (DOD).

Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC)

…provides tax-free monthly payments to eligible retired veterans with combat-related injuries. With CRSC, veterans can receive both their full military retirement pay and their VA disability compensation if the injury is combat-related.

Eligibility: To apply for CRSC, retired veterans with combat-related injuries must meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Active or Reserve component with 20 years of creditable service or medically retired.
  2. Receiving military retired pay.
  3. Have a 10 percent or greater VA-rated injury.
  4. Military retired pay is reduced by VA disability payments (VA Waiver).

In addition, veterans must be able to provide documentary evidence that their injuries were a result of one of the following:

  • Training that simulates war (e.g., exercises, field training)
  • Hazardous duty (e.g., flight, diving, parachute duty)
  • An instrumentality of war (e.g., combat vehicles, weapons, Agent Orange)
  • Armed conflict (e.g., gunshot wounds, Purple Heart)