You were injured during your military service and it is keeping you from living a full and productive life. If you have served in the military and have a current injury or condition that is connected to that service, you may be eligible for disability benefits.
The entire process can be confusing and overwhelming, but here are a few answers to common questions that can help you determine if you qualify for disability benefits.
What Kind of Discharge Did You Receive?
In general, to receive veterans disability benefits, you must have received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge. If you were discharged due to bad conduct, typically through a dishonorable discharge, you may be barred from receiving disability benefits.
If you did not receive an honorable or general discharge, there is a procedure for requesting that your discharge be “upgraded.” If there were circumstances that, upon additional review, could excuse the conduct that led to the dishonorable discharge, you can apply to the Discharge Review Board to get your discharge upgraded.
Although an upgrade is not impossible, it is a difficult process and you should contact your Veterans Services Officer (VSO) for assistance. Together with your VSO, you can complete the application online or by mail. You will need to request your military records and any medical records that may support your claim. It is also helpful to submit:
- A personal statement
- Statements from others you served with (“buddy statements”)
- References from your employer
- Credit reports
- Any other information relevant to your character
Your VSO will help you determine which information is appropriate and helpful to your claim. Just remember that, while your VSO will help you with the process, it is your responsibility to gather the supporting materials for your claim.
If the VA decides that an upgrade is appropriate, you will be notified of your eligibility for benefits and then you can continue with an application for veterans disability benefits.
Did the injury occur during active duty or training for active duty?
An injury or disability that occurred during active duty is presumably covered, including injuries that occurred during travel to and from active duty. This question becomes a little more difficult to answer for those who served in the National Guard or Reserve. In this case, it is important to talk to your VSO in order for them to help you determine the best course of action. Often, injuries that occurred during a period of training for active duty or inactive duty are covered, but it depends on the specific circumstances.
Is your injury or condition “Service-Connected”?
You must show a “nexus” or connection between your physical or mental disability and an injury, disease, or event that occurred during your military service. To demonstrate this connection, you can provide medical records or you can request an opinion from your doctor or medical care provider.
It is helpful to get an opinion from a doctor (often called a “nexus letter”) that is familiar with the VA and its requirements for determining service connection. Your doctor should use VA-recognized language when describing your condition, stating that it is “at least as likely as not” that your current condition is a result of your “in-service” injury. You can also use statements from other veterans (“buddy statements”) who may have witnessed the injury or disease to help prove your claim.
Severity of Disability
Although your disability is affecting your life and your ability to function, the VA may determine that your symptoms are not severe enough to warrant disability compensation or a higher benefit rate.
It is important to consistently document your disabilities and resulting limitations. When you are discussing your conditions with your doctor, you should report ALL issues that you are experiencing on a regular basis. The medical records are the best support for your claim, so make sure that they tell the right story.
The most important thing is to not get discouraged. The VA Disability Benefits Process can be lengthy, overwhelming, and frustrating, but finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz today to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.