If you’re one of those Veterans who have new shopping benefits on military bases, and wonder if you’ll be able to bring along your spouse .... it depends.
Defense officials maintain that these new shoppers are allowed to bring their spouses and others with them, if they follow screening and security procedures, with certain caveats based on security needs.
By law, and as DoD policy reflects, spouses and dependents aren’t authorized the new benefit, so for example, they can’t purchase anything in commissaries, exchanges, or in morale, welfare and recreation facilities. "However, they may accompany a member of the newly-eligible patron groups [eligible Veterans or caregivers] onto the installation and into authorized facilities,” said DoD spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell, in a response to Military Times’ questions.
But that doesn’t mean it’s happening at every installation. Since the new benefit began on Jan. 1, some Veterans have contacted Military Times asking why their spouses were not allowed to come with them on installations. These Veterans understand that their spouses don’t have the shopping benefit and can’t buy anything. But they questioned why bases are veering from DoD’s consistent statement that spouses are allowed to come on base with them, following required procedures.
The new benefits were authorized by law for all Veterans with VA service-connected disability ratings; Purple Heart recipients; Veterans who are former prisoners of war; and primary family caregivers of eligible Veterans under the VA caregiver program.
According to the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, these populations are now entitled to access to commissaries, exchanges and certain morale, welfare and recreation facilities on the same basis as military retirees.
There’s an important caveat. Maxwell noted that even if the accompanying guest provides the proper credentials to get onto the installation, installation commanders might still temporarily limit or restrict these guests’ access onto the base, depending on the situation. The installation commanders still have the responsibility and authority to take needed and lawful steps “in their best judgment to protect installation property and personnel,” she said.
Everyone understands the need for additional security measures, said one Veteran whose wife was denied access at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida. This new benefit for about 4.1 million potential new customers took effect just before military officials around the world were implementing heightened security measures as a result of tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
But many question why spouses aren’t even given the opportunity to undergo the credentialing and background checks required for all guests to enter the military installation.
One Veteran told Military Times that the procedure for getting access to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar was easy for him, but he was not allowed to bring his wife into the gate with him. This was on Jan. 2, before the heightened security measures took effect.
Miramar officials referred questions to Marine Corps Installations Command, who didn’t confirm what the policy is at Miramar or where it originated. “We are ensuring we abide by guidelines put forth by DoD, Veterans Affairs and other partnered agencies to properly welcome our new patrons,” said MCIC spokesman Jeku Arce. “We appreciate our new patrons’ patience as our installations adapt to the new policy changes and follow proper physical security procedures to ensure the safety of those who work and live on our installations.
”Please keep in mind that force protection measures can change at any time for various reasons which can impact access to DoD installations."
On Jan. 16, the Veteran contacted Military Times to say he was told the Miramar policy had changed, and his wife would be allowed to come on base with him.
While some bases have told Veterans their restriction is temporary, at least one other base has published a statement saying spouses and other guests don’t have the right to enter the base. “The new legislation does not grant escort or sponsorship privileges,” according to a press release issued by MacDill Air Force Base, Fla, home of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and dozens of other military tenants. It states that eligible Veterans and caregivers who are granted access to the installation and to base amenities “will not be able to bring family or members or guests with them them” unless those people have base privileges through their own Veteran or military-affiliated status.
Commissary, exchange and MWR officials have no control over security procedures at installation gates. Commissary and exchange officials allow guests to accompany authorized shoppers, and check IDs of those who make purchases.
Here are the current rules for these new customers who want to bring guests with them:
*Stop at the installation’s visitor control center for the required security check, including verification of identity through a document such as REAL-ID compliant driver’s license, passport, etc.; and an on-the-spot criminal history and terrorism checks.
* Guests must remain with their sponsoring Veteran or caregiver at all times, and in retail facilities, but they don’t have access to the benefits, such as making purchases.
*If the installation has credential enrollment capabilities and the guest presents a credential that can be enrolled, the guest can be enrolled for recurring access to avoid having to stop at the visitor center each time. However, the guest can only enter the installation when accompanying their eligible Veteran or caregiver.
COEUR d’ALENE — Don Walker has made it his mission to inform his fellow Veterans of the benefits and services they earned while serving their country.
For a year and a half, Walker has worked with Vietnam Veteran Bryan Bledsoe on The Veterans’ Press, a publication dedicated to providing information and resources to help those who served. It began as a “Did You Know?” in the Spokesman-Review and later became a monthly newspaper in The Press.
“It’s stirring things up,” said Walker, an Army Veteran who spent three years serving in Alaska. “This is exactly what we wanted to do.”
Even after a year and a half, Walker is still discovering little-known benefits that he wants to share with other Veterans.
“There are things that still surprise me — like this Vet Tix thing,” he said.
The Veteran Tickets Foundation — Vet Tix for short — provides free and discounted tickets to events that reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, make memories and encourage service members and Veterans to stay engaged with their communities.
The service is free — all Veterans have to do is provide proof of service or eligibility. Currently serving military, honorably discharged Veterans from all branches of service and family of those killed in action are eligible.
Walker learned about Vet Tix when he attended a football game with a fellow Veteran, who had acquired free tickets through the service.
“You join their organization, which doesn’t cost anything, and they send you notices — everything from concerts to sporting events,” he said.
Free and discounted tickets aren’t the only benefit that has recently come to Walker’s attention.
In 2019, disabled Veterans became eligible for Space Available Travel, also known as “Space-A” or “military hops,” which allows eligible passengers to fill unused seats on Department of Defense-owned or controlled aircraft. Authorized disabled Veterans can travel for free in the continental United States or directly between the continental United States and Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa.
The Veterans’ Press exists to tell Vets about benefits they didn’t know about or didn’t realize they were eligible for. Walker said it’s working — he’s heard reports of folks walking into the Veterans Services office with a copy of The Veterans’ Press in their hand and a particular item circled.
“They say, ‘That’s me — this says I can get some help,’” Walker said. “It’s nice to hear that. We’ll just keep passing the information out and getting it to the right people.”
Walker said he wants Veterans to know that it doesn’t matter if they previously applied for certain benefits and were discouraged by the experience. He hopes to encourage Veterans to explore all the benefits that are available to them.
“These benefits are yours,” he said. “You earned them. Go check them out. You owe it to yourself and your family.”
As the spouse or dependent child of a Veteran or service member, you may qualify for certain benefits, like health care, life insurance, or money to help pay for school or training. As the survivor of a Veteran or service member, you may qualify for added benefits, including help with burial costs and survivor compensation. If you’re caring for a Veteran with disabilities, you may also qualify for support to help you better care for the Veteran—and for yourself. Find out which benefits you may qualify for and how to access them.
Benefits for spouses, dependents, and survivors
Find out if you may qualify for health care through our CHAMPVA program, the Department of Defense's TRICARE program, or one of our programs related to a Veteran's service-connected disability. If you already have health care through VA, learn how to manage your health and benefits.
Find out if you may be eligible for help paying for school or job training through our Survivors' and Dependents' Education Assistance Program (also called Chapter 35) or the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. And learn about how a Veteran may transfer their unused Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to you.
Apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for VA home loan programs to buy, build, repair, or refinance a home. Or, if you're having trouble making mortgage payments on a VA-backed loan, get help to avoid foreclosure and keep your house.
Learn how to apply for Family Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) coverage, explore other coverage options, and manage an existing policy. If you're the beneficiary of a Veteran's or service member's policy, find out how to get free financial advice and will preparation services.
Apply in advance for eligiblity to be buried in a VA national cemetery. This can help you plan ahead to make the burial process easier for your family in their time of need.
Get step-by-step guidance on how to plan a burial in a VA national cemetery, or in a state or tribal government Veterans cemetery. You can also apply for help paying for burial costs, request memorial items, and learn about bereavement (grief) counseling and transition support.
If you're the surviving spouse or child of a Veteran with wartime service, find out if you're eligible for monthly pension benefits.
If you’re the surviving spouse, child, or parent of a service member who died in the line of duty, or the survivor of a Veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness, find out how to apply for this tax-free monetary benefit.
Decades after tens of thousands of troops were exposed to agent orange in the Vietnam War, many Veterans are now able to qualify for benefits. But that doesn't mean the process is easy for those who suffer.
Prior to January 1, 2020, only those who were stationed on land in Vietnam qualified for benefits. But during the war, agent orange was sprayed using helicopters and planes, which meant there was no controlling where it ended up, and impacted those on ships.
“There’s evidence that what would happen is that it would drain into rivers then drain into bays and then boats would pick it up. The ships would pick it up and use it for a drinking water,” said attorney Matthew Hill.
And while the new law helps, to get the benefits, Hill said the Veteran must prove their ship was in Vietnamese territory. It's a process that can be quite difficult.
“It’s a little tricky to figure out where the ship was, a person would have to say, I was on this ship for year and know if it ever reached a specific point in the water. The only way they can tell that is with deck logs. That’s the logs that showed where the ships were” added Hill
But, to make things even harder; many of those records are no longer public. And unless the Veteran has their own ship logs, there is little to no evidence to support the claim for benefits.
“The VA is developing their internal technology, but there is two challenges to that. One, they're not sharing it. Veterans can’t just go and say this was where I was. And two, what they did is, they took all the deck logs from the national archives and they won’t let anyone else see them,” said Hill.
To help, the law firm of Hill & Ponton created an interactive crowd-sourcing map where Veterans can upload their logs to help other Veterans find their ship and it’s all in hopes of assisting those who need it the most get the benefits they deserve.
“It’s a game changer for these people most of them individuals are not wealthy they need these benefits. They’re dealing with such awful diseases, they need healthcare top-tier healthcare” added Hill.
The military has failed to meet deadlines set by Congress for rulings on Veterans' requests to correct records blocking them from receiving benefits, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed last month.
The suit brought by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) charges that delays in processing the requests by the Boards for Correction of Military Records of the service branches amount to a denial of the due process rights of thousands of Veterans.
In an interview and in statements, Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP, said that rulings on "lifetime benefits" for disability and retirement are at stake in the lawsuit, which names Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly as defendants.
"Veterans who seek a correction of an erroneous less-than-honorable discharge or a wrongful denial of disability retirement benefits are paying a high price for the ongoing delays at the Correction Boards," he said.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 16, seeks to compel the "timely final decisions" of the Corrections Boards and gives the defendants until mid-February to respond, Stichman said.
Congress in 1998 set deadlines of 10 months for decisions from the Corrections Boards on 90% of existing requests for review, and 18 months for the remaining 10%, but the boards have routinely blown past the deadlines, the suit charges.
At a 2018 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, service representatives acknowledged the backlogs but said they couldn't clear them up without additional resources.
John A. Fedrigo, director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency, testified that Air Force Corrections Boards were reviewing only about 2% of the 15,000 applications received annually within the 10-month deadline.
Robert Woods, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, testified at the 2018 hearing that his service received about 12,000 requests for review annually but was adjudicating only 68% of them within the 18-month deadline.
The suit was filed on behalf of Walter Calhoun of Georgia, an honorably discharged Army Veteran, and unidentified Veteran "John Doe" of Kansas, also an honorably discharged Army Veteran who served in the military police in Iraq and earned the Bronze Star.
After leaving the service, Calhoun applied for Combat-Related Special Compensation due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and headache disorder associated with PTSD, as well as right knee degenerative arthritis and left knee osteoarthritis. His requests were denied.
In 2016, Calhoun made a final request to the Army and has been waiting nearly 36 months, or twice the 18-month deadline, for an answer, according to the suit.
Doe experienced PTSD symptoms that led to his medical separation from the Army, which denied him disability retirement benefits, according to the suit.
In July 2017, Doe requested a correction of his records to enable him to collect disability but has yet to receive a ruling from the Army Corrections Board, the suit states.
Stichman said the class-action suit represents a mix of Veterans either requesting upgrades of discharges to entitle them to benefits or requests from honorably discharged Veterans for corrections to their records.
A federal court has ruled the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot force Veterans to relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims made the ruling last week, upholding a lower court’s decision in BO vs. Wilkie, according to Military Times.
VA officials must now decide if they will contest the ruling, which could provide thousands of Veterans with an extra year of college tuition benefits.
Government officials have previously argued the limitation was designed to prevent Veterans from “doubling up on their government benefits for personal profit,” according to the report.
But the court ruled instead that Veterans eligible for both programs should be able to receive payouts from each, so long as those payouts aren’t simultaneous.
“That means that Veterans who use up their 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits would still have access to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits if they paid into the program while they were serving,” Military Times reports. “Under existing federal statute, any government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months.”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends to Veterans who meet certain service requirements since Sept. 10, 2001. The Montgomery GI Bill provides 36 months of education payouts for Veterans who paid $1,200 in their first year after enlisting.
VA officials have until March 9 to appeal the decision.
Court rules again to give Veterans access to both Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill education benefits
Federal officials have just a few weeks to decide whether to go along with a court ruling giving thousands of Veterans an extra year of college tuition benefits or appeal the order in hopes of reversing the potential billions of dollars in new payouts.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued its final ruling on the case of “BO vs Wilkie,” letting stand an earlier decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs practice of making Veterans relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts is improper.
Federal officials argued in court that the arrangement is designed to make sure Veterans aren’t doubling up on their government benefits for personal profit. But the court rejected that argument, saying that instead Veterans eligible for both programs should receive each set of payouts, just not simultaneously.
That means that Veterans who use up their 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits would still have access to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits if they paid into the program while they were serving. Under existing federal statute, any government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months.
VA officials appealed the ruling of a three-judge panel to the full Veterans claims court, but were denied. That started a two-month clock on appealing the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or allowing the ruling to stand.
Department officials in past court filings have indicated that they intend to appeal. A VA spokesman referred questions on the case to the Department of Justice. Justice officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Tim McHugh, an associate with the legal firm Hunton Andrews Kurth who led the legal fight against the VA, said if an appeal is accepted by the higher court, he is hopeful they could get a ruling on an expedited basis, possibly early enough for resolution before the 2020 fall semester.
“When they are looking at the timing of a case like this, it is appropriate for the court to consider the impact on not just the plaintiff but also everyone else,” he said.
Under current rules, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends to Veterans (or their family members) who served at least three years on active-duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The total value of those payouts can top $20,000 a year, depending on where individuals attend school.
That benefit has largely replaced the Montgomery GI Bill as Veterans’ primary education benefit. That program requires servicemembers to pay $1,200 in their first year after enlisting to be eligible for the program. Individuals who did so could receive 36 months of education payouts of nearly $2,000 last semester.
The Montgomery GI Bill still has an average of more than 130,000 new enrollees annually, but fewer than 6 percent of Veterans eligible for both education benefit programs chose the Montgomery program in recent years.
VA officials have until March 9 to appeal but are expected to announce a decision sooner than that date.
More than a week into a new benefit for about 4 million more people, there are some increases in customers, but they’re also facing some problems.
Adding to the challenge is that the new benefit, which started Jan. 1 for certain Veterans and Veteran caregivers, was launched at a time when military installations have implemented heightened security measures at their gates because of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. That’s meant more time-consuming security checks leading to delays and long lines of traffic at many bases. These newly eligible Veterans and Veteran caregivers must go to the visitor center for an on-the-spot background check the first time they come onto an installation, and they are in the mix of those trying to get into the installation.
Commissary officials said they’re seeing a “definite increase” in new customers shopping at several locations. As of today, the top 10 in these transactions are Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; McClellan, Calif.; March Air Reserve Base, Calif.; MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; Patrick AFB, Fla.; Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla.; Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Orote, Guam and Travis AFB, Calif. Numbers of customers or amount of sales weren’t available from commissary officials.
Marine Corps bases are seeing light participation at exchanges and other resale programs, said Bryan Driver, spokesman for business and support services division, which operates exchanges and MWR activities.
The information provided by store officials was mostly anecdotal at this early stage. For example, more than 40 newly eligible Veterans shopped at the Naval Base Guam store on Jan. 1, and the exchange at Naval Air Station Key West has seen about 25 customers with these expanded privileges, said Navy Exchange Service Command spokeswoman Kristine Sturkie.
The new benefits were authorized by law for all Veterans with VA service-connected disability ratings; Purple Heart recipients; Veterans who are former prisoners of war; and primary family caregivers of eligible Veterans under the VA caregiver program. Previously those with a 100 percent service-connected disability rating, and Medal of Honor recipients were allowed the benefits.
According to the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, a section in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, these populations are now entitled to access to commissaries, exchanges and certain morale, welfare and recreation facilities on the same basis as military retirees.
User fees double charged
Treasury Department officials are working to correct a system error that has resulted in double charging new customers the user fee when they used a PIN debit card. Commissary officials estimate the average overcharge is about 38 cents per transaction, said Gary Frankovich, spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency. Officials were notified of the problem Jan. 9, he said, and a temporary solution is being put into place to stop the double charges until a permanent fix is in place.
The glitch didn’t affect those using credit cards.
Anyone who was double-charged the user fee will automatically receive a refund from the Treasury Department for that amount. Officials ask that customers give officials a few days to refund the money to their cardholder accounts, Frankovich said. “Neither cardholders nor their financial institutions need to do anything to initiate a refund.”
New commissary customers with this benefit are charged a user fee to offset any increased expenses by the Treasury Department. These customers are charged 0.5 percent of transactions for PIN debit cards and 1.9 percent for credit cards. Commercial card companies charge transaction fees to retailers when customers use their cards. By law, the expansion of customers can’t include extra costs associated with using debit or credit cards in commissaries; the cost must be passed on to the customer. The user fee is only charged at commissaries, not at exchanges or other retail MWR activities, and it doesn’t apply to other previously authorized commissary customers.
Are spouses allowed on base or not?
At a number of installations, Veterans are being told their spouses or other family members can’t come onto the installation with them. Yet defense officials have told Military Times previously that these newly authorized Veterans and caregivers will be allowed to bring their spouses and family members into the stores with them as guests. These guests don’t have the new benefits, so they aren’t allowed to purchase anything. The information is also on the DoD Military OneSource website.
At MacDill, officials have published a policy that’s counter to that DoD position.
“The new legislation does not grant escort or sponsorship privileges,” according to a press release issued by the base. It states that eligible Veterans and caregivers who are granted access to the installation and to base amenities “will not be able to bring family or members or guests with them them” unless those people have base privileges through their own Veteran or military-affiliated status. Even with the limiting policy, MacDill is still among the top commissaries in terms of traffic of these new customers.
Clarification from defense officials was not immediately available. Commissary, exchange and MWR officials have no control over security procedures at installation gates.
Marine Corps Veteran Allen Compton said he called Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. — the exchange, the commissary, and the front gate — to make sure he could gain access to the base with his spouse to shop, before he drove 2 ½ hours from Tallahassee on Saturday, Jan. 4. When he arrived, the guard at the gate told him his wife wouldn’t be allowed into the base to shop.
“I found this odd, as she had been on the base numerous times with her retired father, never denied entry and never checked in, just sat in the passenger seat,” said Compton, in an email to Military Times. She also went into the commissary and exchange with her father.
When Compton and his wife went to check in at the security building, they were told they had to have an appointment, although there were only two other people waiting in the office. The next available appointment was the following Tuesday. They don’t intend to ever return, he said.
It is very important for Veterans to know about all of the benefits that they may be eligible for. Today, we will discuss benefits for a Veteran’s dependents offered by the VA. There are monthly dependent benefits, educational benefits, and even medical benefits that may be available to eligible Veterans.
Who Qualifies As a Dependent?
Eligible Veterans can add their dependents to their monthly disability compensation. An eligible Veteran is one who is already eligible for VA disability compensation and must have a combined disability rating of at least 30 percent. This monthly benefit will increase a Veteran’s monthly disability compensation. For VA purposes, a dependent is defined as a family member who relies on the Veteran financially and meets certain criteria. Examples of a dependent for VA purposes are as follows:
- A Veteran’s spouse
- Any unmarried children who are under the age of 18; or are between the age of 18 and 23 and are attending school full-time; or were disabled prior to age 18. These dependent children also include stepchildren, adopted children, and biological children.
- A Veteran’s parents who are financially dependent upon the Veteran. This benefit is based on need and the parental relationship must first be established in order to qualify.
How Do I Add Dependents to My VA Claim?
To add a dependent to a Veteran’s claim, the correct forms must be filed. A VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents is used to add a child under the age of 18 or a spouse. To add a child who is attending school full-time between the ages of 18 and 23, a VA Form 21-574, Request for Approval of School Attendance must be filed with the VA. In order to add eligible dependent parents to a Veteran’s monthly disability compensation a VA Form 21P-509, Statement of Dependency of Parents should be submitted to the VA.
Another dependent benefit is the Dependent Educational Assistance Program (DEA). This program is apart of the GI Bill and it offers education and training to eligible survivors and dependents of Veterans. In order to be eligible, the Veteran must first be permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability or the Veteran died on active duty as a result of a service-connected disability. This benefit may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training. For a complete list of eligibility requirements and more information, click here.
Healthcare Benefits for Veteran’s Dependents
There are also a number of health care benefits that are available to a Veteran’s dependents. Spouses, surviving spouses, and children of a disabled Veteran may be eligible for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). This program offers to cover the cost of some health care services and supplies. In order to be eligible, one of the following must be true:
- The spouse of a child of a Veteran who has been rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability, or
- The surviving spouse or child of a Veteran who died from a service-connected disability, or
- The surviving spouse or child of a Veteran who was at the time of death rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability, or
- The surviving spouse of or child of a service member who died in the line of duty, not due to misconduct
To find out more and how to apply for this benefit, click here.
There are many different benefits and programs available to disabled Veterans and their dependents. Our Veterans are our top priority and we believe that Veterans and their families should know about all of the benefits available to them.
How Can Veterans Earn a 100% Disability Rating & Maximum Compensation?
If you sustained an injury or developed a medical condition following active duty or another type of military service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. However, you will need to meet certain qualifications to earn maximum compensation. This process starts with earning a 100 % VA disability rating for benefits.
There are many factors that go into a VA disability rating and full-time benefits, and the application process can be complicated. This guide will break down how Veterans can earn a 100% disability rating and as many monetary benefits as possible.
How Can You Get 100% Disability Rating?
Once an eligible Veteran is granted service-connection for a disability, the next logical question is, “How much money will I receive?” The amount of compensation benefits a Veteran receives depends on the disability rating that the VA assigns.
Disability ratings range from 10% to 100%. The idea behind these ratings is that the Veteran should be compensated according to the impairment that the disability would cause to the average person’s ability to earn a living. This compensation generally comes as monthly payments.
It can be tricky to earn a 100% disability rating when a Veteran has more than one disability. Combining two or more disabilities is a complicated process in which 50% plus 50% does not equal 100% but, rather, 75%. In fact, the closer a Veteran gets to a 100 % VA disability rating, the harder it seems to be to obtain this maximum benefit. For example, once a Veteran is rated 80% disabled, each additional 10% disability only adds 2% to his total rating rather than an additional 10%. (You can use our disability calculator to better understand these numbers.)
Meeting the criteria for a 100 % VA disability benefits on the ratings schedule, or combining multiple disabilities to obtain a 100% rating, can be very difficult. Failure to meet those criteria, however, does not mean that a Veteran is not totally disabled. For this reason, the VA regulations provide for an alternate route to a total disability rating—individual unemployability.
When a service-connected disability, or disabilities, prevents a Veteran from being able to secure and follow substantially gainful employment, he is entitled to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (TDIU or IU). In determining whether a Veteran qualifies for TDIU, the VA should consider not only whether a Veteran is capable of getting a job but also whether he is capable of keeping a job. Any job that the Veteran is able to secure and follow must also be a job which is “substantially gainful.” In other words, the job that the Veteran is able to do must provide income which places the Veteran above the poverty level. Just keep in mind that “substantially gainful employment” does not include working in a sheltered environment such as a Veteran’s own family business or a sheltered workshop.
Under the TDIU regulation, a Veteran should automatically be considered for TDIU when there is evidence that his disabilities keep him from working and he has a qualifying disability rating. Under those circumstances, the Veteran should not even have to ask to be considered for TDIU, but we find that the VA often fails to make a determination as to TDIU unless it’s specifically requested by the Veteran. It’s important to note that the VA will probably assign the date that the Veteran asks for this increased rating as the effective date for TDIU. Be aware, however, that you may be entitled to an earlier effective date if you became unable to work earlier than the date that you actually requested that entitlement.
For purposes of the VA regulations, a qualifying rating is either a single service-connected disability with a 60% rating or multiple service-connected disabilities and a total rating of 70%. This is a simplified definition of a qualifying rating as there are many exceptions to this basic rule. For example, if the Veteran injured his back and knees in a single accident, these could be considered a single disability. Similarly, if the Veteran has multiple injuries incurred in a single combat action, these, too, could be considered a single disability.
Regardless of the schedular rating that a Veteran has been assigned for his disability or disabilities, if those disabilities prevent the Veteran from earning a living wage, he is entitled to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability.
VA Compensation Benefits Rates: How Much Compensation Are You Entitled To?
Once the VA determines a Veteran’s disability rating, they will then calculate their specific VA disability compensation. This is the total monetary amount that you would receive as Veterans benefits. There are several factors that determine this compensation.
When a single Veteran with no dependents has only one service-connected disability, it’s fairly easy to figure out the appropriate amount of benefits according to the VA’s Compensation Benefits Rate Tables. However, the numbers may not always make sense.
For instance, a Veteran with no dependents who is 100% disabled currently receives $2,673 according to the Rate Tables (at the time of this writing). A Veteran with a 50% disability rating, however, receives only $770. So, even though the Veteran with a 50% disability rating is presumed to suffer from about half of the impairment, he does not receive half of the amount of money that the 100% disabled Veteran receives—in fact, he receives only about a third.
Have VA Compensation Rates Changed?
Another issue with the current Compensation Benefits Rate Tables is that the amount of compensation benefits don’t always keep up with changes in the economy. While the cost of living continues to rise, the rates for VA benefits haven’t changed since 2009.
Again, when a Veteran suffers from two or more service-connected disabilities, they must be combined according to the VA Combined Ratings Table. Using what many Veterans refer to as “VA Math,” under the Combined Ratings Table, two 50% disability ratings do not add up to a 100% rating as most people would expect. Rather, two 50% disabilities are combined to give a Veteran a 75% disability rating ( which would then be rounded up to an 80% disability rating).
As another example, a Veteran who has two service-connected disabilities with a 50% disability rating for each is entitled only to an 80% disability rating which pays $1,427. Again, here, $1,427 is not 80% of the $2673.00 that the Veteran with a 100% disability rating receives. The Veteran with the 80% disability rating receives just over half the amount that the Veteran with the 100% VA disability rating receives.
There are several other factors that can affect total compensation, including the number of surviving family members. Veterans can receive additional benefits where they have dependent children, surviving spouses or parents. In addition, increases may be made to a Veteran’s rating if he has a disability which affects both arms or both legs. Finally, a Veteran may be eligible for additional compensation benefits called Special Monthly Compensation where he has certain types of disabilities which include the loss or loss of use of a part of the body.
Many factors affect the VA benefits that a Veteran receives, so it’s important to seek help with your disability claim. An experienced law firm can help you navigate your disability rating and compensation, so you can secure as many benefits as possible.