In order to qualify for most VA benefits, a person must be a veteran or dependent or survivor of a veteran. VA defines veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” 38 U.S.C. § 101(2); 38 C.F.R. § 3.1(d).
VA disability benefits are available for any person who served on full-time active duty. There are also other categories that apply. A veteran, dependent or survivor is eligible for disability benefits if they can tie a death or disease to a period of active duty for training—such as when a reservist is on orders for an event like basic training, or schooling for an MOS.
VA also considers inactive duty for training periods eligible if a person was disabled or died from an injury occurring or aggravated in the line of duty. Such examples from the case law include a reservist hit by lighting during drill weekend. This definition also appears to mean, under the right circumstances, that a reservist who is severely injured in a car accident on their way home from drill weekend may be eligible.
We all understand that a veteran who served in a war zone and suffered physical or mental injuries will be eligible for veterans’ disability benefits. But what other veterans are eligible?
For some veterans’ benefits, such as the G.I. Bill or VA loans, you may need a minimum service time of up to 24 months of active service. But for service-connected disability benefits, you only need to show a connection to your service, whether it be short term active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training. VA disability benefits can be thought of as workers' compensation benefits, tied to injuries related to service, regardless of how long you served, or whether it was in a deployed environment.
Generally speaking, if you received an other than honorable discharge separation administratively, or if you were discharged with a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge from a court-martial, you may not be eligible for VA disability benefits.
If you have applied for VA disability benefits and have been denied service-connection due to your characterization of service, then you can apply for a discharge upgrade or apply for the discharge review process, where VA will determine if your service was honorable for VA purposes.
VA’s website has a list of some of the diseases or injuries covered from disability. But neither their list, or one I could come up with here, would be exhaustive. Generally speaking, if you have a long-term mental or physical infirmity that you believe was caused or aggravated by your military service, you should file a claim.
That’s hard to say in a particular case, without knowing all the facts. But please reach out for a consultation, and we can talk about your case, whether you have already applied and been denied, or are thinking of applying for VA benefits.
To illustrate how confusing the VA disability process can be. I like to share my personal experience.
I served on active duty from 2009-2017. In March 2015, I was diagnosed with melanoma on my face. To remove the melanoma, I underwent a procedure that cut into the skin in my face, that resulted in a facial scar. That scar was an event that took place during active duty, resulting in a VA disability rating related to service. Surprising to me at the time, there was no inquiry to determine the extent to which the melanoma could be tied to service, or my activities before service.
I probably would not have applied for VA benefits at all had I not been told by a treating physician at Walter Reed Hospital that facial scars are usually compensable, when I was being seen for a follow-up visit related to my melanoma. That one comment is all anyone had explained to me at that point, shortly before I left active duty, that I should seek benefits related to this event. And it meant me receiving a monthly stipend for the rest of my life that I would not otherwise have received.
I’m sure there are many others like me out there, who are not aware of what constitutes a compensable rating or not. I also know that even applying for VA benefits seemed overwhelming at the time, in terms of how to fill out the forms correctly, how to gather supporting evidence, etc. Again, I know from experience — both personally, and now professionally. So please reach out for any questions or assistance.