Are You Eligible to Receive VA Disability Benefits?
As long as you have a general discharge (or higher), you are eligible for VA disability benefits. (We’ll discuss your options if you have another type of discharge later in this article.) Thank you for serving our country. Now what?
You must have served on active duty or active duty training for reserve or national guard, AND have a disability rating for your service-connected condition. In addition, you must have either:
- Gotten injured or sick while serving in the military and be able to prove the link between this injury or illness and your military service
- Had an illness or injury before you joined the military that didn’t disqualify you; however, serving worsened or aggravated this condition
- Have a disability-related to your service that continued or appeared after your military service, or that you developed as a result of an already service-connected disability
The first step is getting an injury or illness ‘service-connected’ which is VA lingo for saying there is an established connection between your service and your disability.
One way to be service-connected is on a presumptive basis. If you are diagnosed with a chronic disease, such as arthritis or diabetes, within one year of your date of discharge, the military ‘presumes’ to be responsible for this condition. The link or nexus between injury and service is ‘presumed’ to be there. In some cases, you only need to have served 90 days.
Other military ‘presumptives’ have nothing to do with the injury or illness once it has been diagnosed. Instead, they relate to exposure to extreme conditions or toxins during service. This list is not comprehensive. Veterans may qualify for ‘presumptive’ disability benefits if they:
- Served in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange
- Served in the Republic of Vietnam between 1/9/1962 and 5/7/1975
- Were exposed to ionizing radiation via nuclear testing
- Occupied or were prisoners of war during the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki
- Served before 2/1/1992 at a diffusion plant in Paducah, KY; Portsmouth, OH; or Oak Ridge, TN
- Served before 1/1/1974 at Amchitka Island, AK
- Served in the Gulf War, Southwest Asia Theater of Operations, with a condition that is at least 10% disabling by 12/31/2021
- Any former prisoner of war with a condition that is at least 10% disabling
- Stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for at least 30 days between August 1st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987
Due to the nature of different types of exposure, some conditions can take years to develop. Others present with symptoms that are vague and difficult to diagnose. Therefore, each group (former prisoners of war, Vietnam Veterans, Atomic Veterans or Gulf War Veterans) have specific conditions they may suffer from which are ‘presumed’ to result from their exposure to radioactivity, Agent Orange, or other toxic contaminants. You can find a list of those conditions online at benefits.va.gov.
With presumptive conditions, eligible Veterans, along with their qualified dependents, may be eligible for VA disability coverage.
The hard truth is that not everyone who puts his or her life on the line to serve our country is eligible to receive VA disability benefits for the injuries or illnesses that occurred during service. If you received an ‘other than honorable’ discharge, bad conduct or a dishonorable discharge; you might not be eligible.
Still, there’s a chance you can receive benefits if you apply to upgrade your discharge or enter the VA’s Character of Discharge review process. If you have had multiple periods of service, you may be eligible for a service connection from your honorable period of service.
According to the va.gov website, all branches of the military consider one to have a ‘strong case’ for upgrading their discharge if there is enough evidence for PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or sexual orientation, including under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.
The Character of Discharge review process doesn’t change your type of discharge, but it may afford you some benefits if they review your record and determine your service was ‘honorable for VA purposes.’ The process takes about a year, and you should have a lawyer or a VA advocate like a VSO to help you.