Disabled Veterans

Updated: July 25, 2021
In this Article

    Over the past two decades of fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones, the United States has experienced a massive increase in disabled veterans. Between physical and mental injuries, many American veterans now struggle with the wounds of war. But, confusion still exists about who qualifies as a disabled veteran. As such, we’ll use this article to provide information regarding disabled veterans.

    Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:

    • Who Is Considered a Disabled Veteran?
    • Disabled American Veterans
    • Benefits for Disabled Veterans
    • Final Thoughts

    Who Is Considered a Disabled Veteran?

    VA Definition

    In a somewhat confusing fashion, the Department of Veteran Affairs defines disabled veteran as any veteran receiving VA disability compensation. In an expanded definition, the VA states that a veteran: may be eligible for VA disability benefits or compensation if you have a current illness or injury (known as a condition) that affects your body or mind and […], both of these must be true. You:

    • Served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, and
    • Have a disability rating for your service-connected condition

    Furthermore, the VA mandates that at least one of these must be true. You:

    • Got sick or injured while serving in the military—and can link this condition to your illness or injury (called an inservice disability claim), or
    • Had an illness or injury before you joined the military—and serving made it worse (called a preservice disability claim), or
    • Have a disability related to your active-duty service that didn’t appear until after you ended your service (called a postservice disability claim)

    Simply put, to qualify as a disabled veteran, the VA must have actually designated you a disabled veteran. Unfortunately, this means that veterans with legitimate, service-connected injuries who do not file disability claims with the VA won’t qualify as disabled veterans.

    Filing a Disability Claim

    Fortunately, the VA recognizes this problem and offers veterans a process to file a VA disability claim. In other words, if you meet most of the above service and injury criteria but haven’t filed a disability claim, you still have the opportunity to receive disabled veteran designation.

    Broadly speaking, to file a disability compensation claim, you must 1) gather supporting documents and evidence, and 2) complete the disability compensation claim application (online, by phone, or in person).

    To support your claim, the VA will need to see evidence of:

    • A current physical or mental disability (damage to your body or mind that makes you less able—or totally unable—to do everyday tasks, including meaningful work), and
    • An event, injury, or illness that happened while you were serving in the military to cause this disability

    Supporting documentation of the above includes:

    • Your DD214 or other separation documents
    • Your service treatment records
    • Any medical evidence related to your illness or injury (like doctor’s reports, X-rays, and medical test results)

     NOTE: The VA’s website includes far more thorough recommendations to include with your disability claim depending on A) which claim you’re filing (e.g. original, increased, new, etc.), and B) specific disability-related issues you’re facing. Bottom line, the more evidence you can provide, the more likely the VA will approve your disability claim.

    Get Help with Your Disability Claim

    Filing a disability claim with the VA can be an overwhelming process. It requires a significant amount of paperwork, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Fortunately, help for veterans exists. According to the VA: If you need help filing a claim or appeal, you may want to work with […] a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). We trust these professionals because they’re trained and certified in the VA claims and appeals processes and can help you with VA-related needs. VSOs work on behalf of Veterans and service members—as well as their dependents and survivors.

    More precisely, VSOs pass a rigorous screening process, to include:

    • Pass an exam
    • Pass a background check
    • Take continuing-education courses to make sure they’re providing the most up-to-date information

    NOTE: VSO stands for both Veterans Service Officer and Veterans Service Organization.

    Disabled American Veterans

    Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, serves as one of the most well-respected VSOs in the United States. Organized as a non-profit charity in 1924 and formally chartered by Congress as a VSO in 1996, DAV embraces the following mission: empowering veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. We accomplish this by ensuring that veterans and their families can access the full range of benefits available to them; fighting for the interests of America’s injured heroes on Capitol Hill; and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life.

    How DAV Supports Disabled Veterans

    As part of this mission, DAV provides veterans free, high-quality assistance in filing disability claims with the VA. According to the DAV website: Your local DAV service officer will help you file a claim and stick with you all through the process, because no veteran should have to go at it alone. All services provided by DAV are free of charge. Military members separating from active duty should talk to a Transition Service Officer.

    And, DAV has an outstanding record of success assisting veterans with the disability claim process. In 2020, the organization helped veterans file over 160,000 benefit claims, resulting in more than $23 billion in earned disability benefits.

    Donating to the Organization

    Due to its non-profit, charitable status, DAV depends on the donations of generous Americans to continue its mission. If interested, you can make one-time or recurring donations to support this mission online at the DAV website.

    Benefits for Disabled Veterans

    Disability Compensation

    From a financial perspective, disability compensation provides disabled veterans the most significant benefit. This compensation provides a monthly tax-free payment to veterans who got sick or injured while serving in the military and to veterans whose service made an existing condition worse.

    More precisely, the VA assigns disability ratings from 0% to 100% (in increments of 10%) based on the severity of a service-connected disability. Veterans with ratings of 10% or higher will receive disability pay on a monthly basis. Higher ratings mean higher monthly disability pay.

    VA Health Care

    Your disability rating also directly affects another major disabled veteran benefit: VA health care. According to the VA, when you apply for health care: we’ll assign you to 1 of 8 priority groups. This system helps to make sure that Veterans who need care right away can get signed up quickly. It also helps to make sure we can provide high quality care to all Veterans enrolled in the VA health care program.

    The highest health care priority group includes those veterans with disability ratings of 50% or higher. As ratings decrease, so too does health care priority.

    Other Federal-, State-, and Local-level Benefits

    Disabled veterans can also potentially receive a long list of other benefits. At the federal level, disabled veterans can receive certain preferential hiring treatments for federal jobs. Additionally, service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses can potentially receive advantages in the bidding process for federal contracts.

    State- and local-level benefits will depend on where you live. But, it’s not uncommon for disabled veterans to receive excise and/or property tax exemptions, public transportation discounts, and preferential hiring treatment. A basic internet search will provide detailed information on the benefits available to disabled veterans in your location.

    Final Thoughts

    Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs acts as the “gatekeeper” to disabled veteran status. If the VA assigns you a disability rating, you qualify as a disabled veteran. While this disability application process can seem overwhelming, A) VSOs can help you navigate it, and B) the benefits disabled veterans receive more than justify the paperwork.

    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.

    Written by Veteran.com Team