My friend Mike is a retired USAF Vietnam pilot having flown tree-level in a Cessna Bird Dog. Unfortunately, he has lead stones.
He started telling me about his combat tours when we met as defense company Executives at L3 Communications in San Diego, CA and I asked him if he ever made a VA claim for disability.
Mike, like a lot of vets I know who served in combat, was a bit hesitant to talk about it at first.
I pushed through the silent wall and said, “Do it for your kids and grandkids. Lots of benefits for them.”
This is why I had also personally made the decision many years ago at the request of my best friend Glen Doherty (KIA Benghazi, Libya).
“I’m not sure Glenn, not really keen on making a claim,” I had said to him. “Do it for your kids, you owe it to them. There’s a bunch of college tuition benefits for them, even if you only get rated at 10 percent,” Glen had replied.
So I did it, and I’m glad I did.
My kids can go to many state universities tuition-free (depending on the state), and I get a small tax-free monthly stipend.
Mike got his benefit after applying, I think he maxed out at 100 percent from injuries and agent orange exposure. This translates to over $3,000 a month in tax-free compensation and a long list of very real benefits (free National Parks pass, tuition benefits, and more).
He’s such a great guy and I’m glad I gave him the nudge he needed. We keep in touch often, and actually published his book, American Combat Bird Dog pilot, on SOFREP.
Your VA Disability and Benefits Made Easy
According to the VA,
“VA disability compensation (pay) offers 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. You may qualify for VA disability benefits for physical conditions (like a chronic illness or injury) and mental health conditions (like PTSD) that developed before, during, or after service. Find out how to apply for and manage the Veterans disability benefits you’ve earned.”
If you served honorably you are eligible. Specific, eligibility requirements can be found here.
Current pay benefits range from a few hundred dollars up to $3,400 a month tax-free. The specific rate tables can be found here.
You can qualify for more compensation if:
- You have very severe disabilities or loss of limb(s);
- You have a spouse, child(ren), or dependent parent(s);
- You have a seriously disabled spouse;
- You are considered unemployable due to your disability.
First, I’d recommend you gather all your military and medical records together. If you’re still serving don’t throw them away, keep everything! If you have incomplete records reach out to get signed statements from unit members, private doctors, and others.
I included records by my chiropractor who I’d been paying out of pocket. He was glad to write a letter on my behalf. Most doctors and friends will do this for you and it’s all considered evidence by the VA.
The Importance of Veteran Support Organizations
Once your DD214, medical, and service records are together I would highly recommend using one of the veteran support organizations.
You’ll give them power of attorney, essentially, to hand-walk your package through the VA medical disability system. Usually, large VA hospitals have these organizations embedded on the lower floors.
Here’s the official list of veteran support organizations. I used VFW and have heard great things about AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans, but they all should be familiar with the process as it’s in most of their mission statements to help us out.
- American Ex-Prisoners of War
- American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.
- American Legion
- AMVETS (American Veterans)
- America’s Vet Dogs
- Angel Wings for Veterans
- Blinded Veterans Association
- Blue Star Families
- Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc.
- Catholic War Veterans of the U.S.A.
- Congressional Medal of Honor Society
- Disabled American Veterans
- Easter Seals
- Fleet Reserve Association
- Give an Hour
- Gold Star Wives of America, Inc.
- Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build
- Hiring Our Heroes (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
- Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund
- Jewish War Veterans of the United States
- Jobs Opportunities for DisABLED Veterans
- Korean War Veterans Association, Inc.
- Legion of Valor of the USA, Inc.
- Marine Corps League
- Military Chaplains Association of the USA
- Military Order of the Purple Heart
- National Amputation Foundation, Inc.
- National Association of Black Veterans, Inc.
- National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, Inc.
- National Veterans Legal Services Program
- Non-Commissioned Officers Association of the USA
- Operation Stand Down Tennessee
- Paralyzed Veterans of America
- Retired Enlisted Association (The)
- Stanford Summer Session’s Veteran Accelerator Scholarship
- Still Serving Veterans
- Southwest Veterans’ Business Resource Center, Inc
- The Mission Continues
- United Spinal Association, Inc.
- Veterans Families United
- Veteran Homestead, Inc.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW)
- Vietnam Veterans of America
- Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association
- Wounded Warrior Project
So to recap, firstly, gather as much information about your service record, medical records, and any injuries (including treatment outside of the military) you sustained on service. Then call one of these organizations and make an appointment for them to help you.
You can go it alone but you’ll be put in the meat grinder of the VA system and these groups are there to make sure the VA processes your claim in a timely manner.
It’s important to file your claim ASAP since your package’s stamp date will determine your pay date (they’ll back pay you to the date you got your package stamped.)
Two common questions or comments I often hear.
“I got my retirement so don’t need to file.” This is not true. By filling you can get additional compensation and benefits.
“I don’t have any injuries that would qualify.” Also not true. There are things that will show up in exams, MRIs, and X-rays that are lurking below the surface and will qualify, like that ringing in your ears from live fire.
My right hip started bothering me a few years ago. It was due to an old parachute accident I had when I was in my late 20s that had come to haunt me in my 40s. An X-ray revealed a chipped hip socket from hard-landing impact. I’m currently processing a for it with the help of the VFW.
My hope is that this article really does summarize and ensure your VA disability is made easy.
So put your pride and ego aside and do it for yourself and your family. Especially if you’re a combat veteran.
Use a service support organization to help; you’ll need it. The VA is an Afghan minefield and your representative is like an EOD team on point for you.
If you are reading this, or know a veteran who could use this information please pass the word, and share this post via email or on social media.
We need to take care of each other and ensure our modern American Warfigthers have a bit more than a “Thank you for your service.”