The VA offers two disability programs. Disability compensation is available only for veterans with service-connected disabilities, while the disability pension benefit is available to anyone who served during wartime and has a disability. The disability does not have to be related to military service.
Disability compensation benefit
If you have an injury or disease that happened while on active duty or if active duty made an existing injury or disease worse, you may be eligible for disability compensation. The amount of compensation you get depends on how disabled you are and whether you have children or other dependents. To determine your disability rating, which is used to calculate compensation, you may use this disability calculator. Click here to see the current compensation rates. Additional funds may be available if you have severe disabilities, such as loss of limbs, or a seriously disabled spouse.
Disability pension benefit
The VA pays a pension to disabled veterans who are not able to work. The pension is also available for surviving spouses and children. This pension is available whether or not your disability is service-connected, but to be eligible you must meet the following requirements:
You must not have been discharged under dishonorable conditions.
If you enlisted before September 7, 1980, you must have served 90 days or more of active duty with at least one day during a period of war. Anyone who enlisted after September 7, 1980, however, must serve at least 24 months or the full period for which that person was called to serve.
You must be permanently and totally disabled, or age 65 or older. You will need a letter from your doctor to prove that you are disabled.
In addition, your income must be below the yearly limit set by law, called the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR). The MAPR for 2021 is below:
Veteran with no dependents: $13,931
Veteran with a spouse or a child: $18,243
Housebound veteran with no dependents: $17,024
Housebound veteran with one dependent: $21,337
Additional children: $2,382 for each child
Your pension depends on your income. The VA pays the difference between your income and the MAPR. The pension is usually paid in 12 equal payments.
Example: John is a single veteran and has a yearly income of $8,015. His pension benefit would be $5,916 (13,931 – 8,015). Therefore, he would get $493 a month.
Your income does not include welfare benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). It also does not include unreimbursed medical expenses actually paid by the veteran or a member of his or her family. This can include Medicare, Medigap, and long-term care insurance premiums; over-the-counter medications taken at a doctor’s recommendation; long-term care costs, such as nursing home fees; the cost of an in-home attendant that provides some medical or nursing services; and the cost of an assisted living facility. These expenses must be unreimbursed. This means that insurance must not pay the expenses. The expenses should also be recurring this means they should recur every month.
Aid and attendance
A veteran who needs the help of an attendant may qualify for additional help on top of the disability pension benefit. The veteran needs to show that he or she needs the help of an attendant on a regular basis. A veteran who lives in an assisted living facility is presumed to need aid and attendance.
A veteran who meets these requirements will get the difference between his or her income and the MAPR below (in 2021 figures):
Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has no dependents: $23,238
Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has one dependent: $27,549
How to apply
You can apply for both disability benefits by filling out VA Form 21-526, Veteran’s Application for Compensation or Pension. If available, you should attach copies of dependency records (marriage & children’s birth certificates) and current medical evidence (doctor & hospital reports). You can apply online at https://www.va.gov/disability/how-to-file-claim/.
Veterans of the United States armed forces may be eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In addition, their dependents and survivors may also be eligible for benefits. For more information about all the benefits available from the VA, see the VA booklet Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors.