Disability Benefits

VA’s Service-Connected Compensation provides Disability Benefits to address the effects of disabilities, diseases, or injuries incurred or aggravated during military service. Understanding the application and claims process as well as your role as a provider will allow you to identify and guide your Veteran clients/patients who may be eligible for this benefit.

Overview

Veterans who have disabilities, medical conditions, or injuries incurred or aggravated during active military service—no matter when or where they served—may be eligible to receive tax-free monthly monetary benefits. A Service-Connected Disability does not have to be a result of deployment or combat.

Both physical and mental health conditions may qualify Veterans for benefits. Examples include PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, anxiety disorder, traumatic brain injury, chronic back pain, respiratory disease, significant loss of hearing, scar tissue, loss of range of motion, ulcers, cancer (due to hazardous exposures).

At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. They may be able to receive this MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, they do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. See the link for additional information about MST: Military sexual trauma (MST)

Veterans who received an Other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharge may also be eligible to receive VHA health care benefits. Veterans with an OTH discharge may be eligible if they 1) were on active duty for more than 100 days and served in a combat role, or 2) experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault while serving. See the links for additional information about OTH discharge eligibility:

This site contains fast facts, and FAQs that explain Service-Connected Compensation benefits, eligibility and the application process. Sharing this information with your Veteran clients is another way to support their overall health and well-being.

Learn more about other VA benefits that could improve the lives of Veterans: Service-Connected Compensation for general and special circumstances.

View a guide for Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors: Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors

Videos

These VA produced videos explain Service-Connected Compensation benefits, eligibility and the application process.



Eligibility for Benefits

Service-Connected Disability Compensation applies to physical conditions, such as Lou Gehrig's disease, as well as mental health conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eligibility for compensation requires that:

  • The Veteran’s disability must be related to military service
  • The Veteran must have separated or been discharged from service under “other than dishonorable conditions”
  • Veterans who received an Other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharge may also be eligible to receive VHA health care benefits

Learn more about Disability Compensation eligibility and Access the Complete Schedule of Disabilities.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. MST refers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. As with other injuries or disabilities incurred during service, Veterans, both men and women, can file a claim to receive compensation for any MST - related injuries or disabilities that began or got worse during their military service.

While Veterans are not granted compensation for the traumatic event itself, they can be granted disability compensation for conditions that result from MST. For example, exposure to any trauma can potentially result in PTSD or another mental health disorder. PTSD is the most common mental health diagnosis related to experiencing MST.

  • Veterans can file a claim to receive compensation for any MST-related injuries or disabilities that began or worsened during their military service.
  • MST Specialists are available at every VA Regional Office to assist both male and female Veterans with filing claims related to MST.

It should be noted eligibility for MST-related healthcare treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process. At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. They may be able to receive this MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, they do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred.

Important Note

VBA and VHA conducted extensive nationwide re-training of staff in 2011 to address the complexity of MST-related PTSD claims processing.

VA encourages any Veteran whose MST-related PTSD claim was denied prior to the re-training to contact his/her Regional Office or Veteran Service Organizations VSO to request a re-evaluation of his/her MST-related claim.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Disability compensation Fact Sheet Handout.
Learn more about Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

It is important for Veterans to understand that they must apply for certain VA benefits separately from healthcare benefits, as is the case with Service-Connected Compensation. This is because VA is comprised of three branches that administer different benefits for Veterans: VHA – Veterans Health Administration, VBA – Veterans Benefits Administration, NCA – National Cemetery Administration.

For Service-Connected Compensation benefits, Veterans, or appointed representatives, must apply directly through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which will determine eligibility based on a number of factors.

There are many steps involved in processing a claim. But there is also a lot of help available to provide guidance throughout the process. Trained Veteran Service Organization (VSO) representatives and some attorneys are available to facilitate the process for free and others for a fee. VBA itself will help obtain certain records needed to process claims.

Applying for Benefits

Registering for eBenefits is helpful because it is the easiest and fasted way to apply for and receive benefits. Veterans can register at eBenefits.

Locating and Compiling Key Evidence

Service records and medical information, referred to as “Key Evidence” by VBA are required during the application process:

  • Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)
  • Medical evidence (doctor and hospital reports)
  • Dependency records (marriage and children's birth certificates)

Gathering this information before starting a claim will expedite the application process. However, if a Veteran cannot locate any or all of these documents, VBA is required to assist the Veteran.

Learn more about Key Evidence Requirements.

Veterans can request Military Service records Online, by Mail or by Fax. These include DD 214/Separation Documents, Personnel Records, and/or Medical Records. These records are free to Veterans and their families.

Completing and Submitting the Application

Download and print VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.

There are a variety of ways for Veterans to apply for Service-Connected Compensation:

VBA Responsibilities in the Application Process

VBA has a duty to assist with obtaining evidence and help locate healthcare records.

VBA will also, if necessary, order a medical examination and/or obtain a medical opinion.

VA examiners are required to:

  • Review all evidence of record.
  • Evaluate the Veteran’s symptoms and determine if there is a mental health or physical health diagnosis.
  • Provide an opinion on whether the condition is related an event that occurred in service.

Checking the Status of a Claim

The length of time it takes to complete a claim depends on several factors, such as the type of claim filed, complexity and the availability of evidence needed to decide your claim. During this time Veterans may be contacted if the Veterans Service Representative needs more information.

Veterans who are registered on eBenefits can track the status of their claim.

Or by phone: at 1-800-827-1000

Help for Filing Claims

Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) help facilitate the application process for Service-Connected Compensation. At no cost to Veterans they will:

  • Initiate and prepare disability compensation claims
  • Gather required medical records and evidence
  • Review and submit Veteran claims for disability compensation
  • Advocate for Veterans, Service members, and their families

The Directory of Veterans Service Organizations lists both VA-recognized and non-recognized service organizations.

  • A recognized organization can legally represent Veterans before VA
  • A non-recognized organization can provide Veterans with information but cannot be their representative before VA

Accredited representatives, along with state, county, and other local Veteran service representatives are trained to help Veterans understand and apply for VA compensation benefits.

Fee for Service

In addition to VSOs, VA accredited claims agents and attorneys can help with applications and claims. They may charge a fee for their service.

How to find and appoint a VSO or Representative

Online: Veterans can find and appoint a VSO, an attorney or a claims agent to represent them or manage their applications and claims.

Mail: Veterans can request a VSO or representative by completing VA Form 21-22 and mailing it to their nearest VA regional benefit office.

Telephone: Veterans can request a VSO by calling 1-800-827-1000

In addition to assisting Veterans and their families with VA disability claims, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) will help Veterans apply for these benefits:

VSOs also sponsor a range of Veteran-centric programs such as providing transportation to and from VA medical center appointments.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These FAQs provide an overview for Veterans and their Community Providers. Learn more about VA Compensation FAQs. Veterans Service Organizations are experienced in the claims process and can provide guidance to Veterans and their providers. Find a VSO in your area.



A DBQ is a recognized method to collect medical evidence for evaluation of disabilities. DBQs are forms that simplify the documentation of medical conditions because they use check-the-box answers rather than generating a long narrative summary.

There are 70 unique conditions that have corresponding DBQ forms. Veterans who are filing a disability claim can ask their providers to complete a DBQ, which will be submitted to VBA.

Providers with active medical licenses must sign and attest to a medical condition on completed DBQs. A DBQ can be completed by either:

  • Private providers in the community
  • Veterans Health Administration (VHA) clinicians

Note that it is not required for a provider to complete a DBQ. In fact, for Mental Health conditions, VHA Mental health providers are actively encouraged not to complete DBQs for their patients in order to maintain the integrity of the patient/provider relationship.

In order to conduct an initial examination for mental disorders, the examiner must meet one of the following criteria:

  • a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist;
  • a licensed doctorate-level psychologist;
  • a doctorate-level mental health provider under the close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist;
  • a psychiatry resident under close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist; or
  • a clinical or counseling psychologist completing a one-year internship or residency (for purposes of a doctorate-level degree) under close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist.

In order to conduct a review examination for mental disorders, the examiner must meet one of the following criteria:

  • any criteria from above; or
  • be a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a nurse practitioner, a clinical nurse specialist, or a physician assistant, under close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist

The answer to this is both yes and no. There are certain DBQs that are not able to be authorized by Community Providers. However, a DBQ form can be filled out and presented by a Veteran as supporting evidence to his/her claim.

It is important to note that PTSD and TBI fall under this category. Private providers are not able to complete an initial PTSD or TBI DBQ.

A Veteran who files a disability claim for PTSD can submit medical records and evidence just as with any other condition. The medical evaluation will be completed by a VA clinician who is not formerly associated with the Veteran. This is known as a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. This exam is scheduled when a Veteran files a compensation or pension claim. It is a part of the claim review process and helps VA determine if a disability is service connected, the level of the disability, or if the condition should receive an increased rating due to it worsening.

No. However, submitting a complete DBQ may shorten the time it takes to process the claim. Of note, VHA Mental health providers are encouraged not to complete DBQs for their patients in order to maintain the integrity of the patient/provider relationship.

DBQs can be found on the VA website.

No. There is no requirement for a Veteran to be in treatment to file a claim for any disability, including PTSD.

A Veteran with a service-connected disability may file a claim for an increased evaluation at any time. An increase is filed if a Veteran believes that a condition for which he/she is already Service-Connected has worsened since the last rating examination and the Veteran is now seeking additional benefits for the claimed condition.

The VA rates all Service-Connected disabilities, according to the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD). Depending on the condition, VA ratings are generally available in 10% increments from 0 to 100 depending on the severity of symptoms. VA disability benefits are tax-free.

A Review exam involves an evaluation of a disability that has already been determined as Service-Connected. Unlike an “increase” request, Review exams are scheduled to determine whether or not the current disability rating is still appropriate. For certain disabilities that are not static, VA is required to periodically re-evaluate their disabling effects on the Veteran. Upon review, it may be determined that the disability has worsened to the extent that additional compensation is provided; or it may be determined that the disability is essentially unchanged and no further review examinations are needed; or in some cases, the disability has improved and a rating reduction is made.

No. The provider’s participation in a veteran’s claim process is voluntary. However, if in your professional opinion, the Veteran’s disability is at least as likely as not related to an event or exposure in service, then a medical nexus opinion can be a valuable piece of evidence when deciding the claim. Of note, VHA Mental health providers are encouraged not to complete DBQs for their patients in order to maintain the integrity of the patient/provider relationship.