As a provider and advocate, the most important aspect of veteran treatment is understanding how military experience is related to disabilities, known as “service-connected disabilities.” The service-connected classification is important because it can determine a veteran’s compensation and can establish eligibility for state and federal healthcare and resources for veterans and their dependents.
WHAT IS A SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITY?
A service-connected disability is any illness or injury that has occurred or was aggravated when someone was on active duty or during active service duty training. A service-connected disability does not have to be directly related to military duties, to the conditions of service, have occurred during “work” time, or necessarily be a result of combat or a military mission.
Some health conditions can be linked to activities or tasks performed during the course of military duties such as trauma from combat, rescue missions, or training. Any injury or illness incurred over the entire course of active training or service can qualify, including off duty sports injuries or car accidents. In addition, other mental health conditions that may occur while they are on active duty or during the timeframe when they have been called to active duty may be classified as service connected.
WHAT ABOUT CONDITIONS THAT ARE NOT DIRECTLY RELATED TO BUT INCURRED DURING MILITARY SERVICE?
Some conditions are caused as a result of military duties, but any condition that began during an active service time period (i.e., cancer or other illness or injury) may be service connected.
WHAT IS SECONDARY SERVICE CONNECTION?
A secondary service-connected disability is a condition that directly results from a service-connected disability. For example, hypertension that is a result of PTSD can be considered a secondary service-connected disability even if it comes about years or decades after active duty. This is important to know because it allows the veteran to seek additional benefits for secondary service-connected disabilities and increased needs as veterans age.
DISABILITY RATINGS AND COMPENSATION
The Veterans Benefits Administration determines service connection. Service connection is not automatic: veterans must file a claim with the VBA to establish service connection. If service connection is granted, the VBA assigns a rating to each health issue which determines the level of care and benefits the veteran will receive.
Secondary conditions which develop after service can also be service connected. For example, heart disease related to PTSD which manifests decades after the initial trauma may be service connected and may raise the overall rating level of benefits and access to care, services, medical equipment, and other benefits.
HOW DOES THE VA RATE THE LEVEL OF DISABILITY?
The VA uses a scale of 0 to 100 percent, in increments of 10 percent, to rate a veteran’s level of disability. In addition, veterans can have multiple disability ratings, adding up to one overall degree of disability.
VETERAN PENSION BENEFITS
Veterans over age 64 who served during periods of war with health conditions not connected to time in service and cannot work due to disability may be eligible for VA pension benefits. This financial assistance can be more generous than social security payments and establishes eligibility for other health-related assistance.
There are many income and disability requirements for pension benefits. Visit www.va.gov/pension/eligibility/ for a complete list to find out if the veteran is eligible.
Two VA programs, Aid & Attendance benefits and Housebound allowance, provide eligible older veterans with an additional monetary amount if they are eligible for or are receiving a VA Pension benefit.
Aid and Attendance (A&A) is an increased monthly pension amount paid if the veteran meets one of the conditions below:
- They require help performing daily functions, which may include bathing, eating or dressing.
- They are bedridden.
- They are a patient in a nursing home.
- Their eyesight is limited to a corrected 5/200 visual acuity or less in either eye; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less.
Housebound allowance is an increased monthly pension amount paid if they are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of a permanent disability.