Military Benefits for Veterans: Legal Issues to Know
Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces have access to a number of valuable benefits for their service which include disability compensation, pension programs, free or low-cost medical care, education assistance, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support. Most of these benefits are administered through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA).
There is no legal definition for "military veteran," so eligibility is based on how each benefit was written into law by Congress. For instance, home loan guarantees are offered to veterans with a certain number of active-duty service days during specified periods of armed conflict. For example, Vietnam War veterans must have actively served 90 days. So if you served in the Vietnam War for just 89 days, you would miss the eligibility for the home loan benefit by one day.
Therefore, it's important to consider the eligibility criteria of the various veterans' benefits before you apply. This article covers the four main categories of veterans' benefits, eligibility requirements, and links to the appropriate websites. See FindLaw's Military Law section for additional resources.
Military veterans with a service-related disability rating of 10% or more as determined by the VA, may qualify for monthly disability benefits ranging from $127 to more than $3,000. Veterans who were discharged under dishonorable conditions are not eligible for this benefit. You may receive additional compensation if your disability is considered "very severe;" you have lost a limb; you have a spouse or dependent parents; or your spouse is seriously disabled.
To apply, you will need:
- Discharge of separation papers (DD 214 or equivalent);
- Service Treatment Records (if they are in your possession) or other evidence showing a connection between your disability and your military service
- Medical evidence of your disability
The best way to apply is online at eBenefits.va.gov, but a paper version of VA Form 21-526EZ (PDF) also is available. See the VA's compensation section for detailed information about how to apply for veteran disability benefits.
One of the most important military benefits for veterans is the VA's pension program. It is a needs-based benefit that is offered to qualifying veterans with a permanent disability or a limited income and the inability to work. To qualify for pension benefits, a veteran must:
- Have been discharged from service after at least 90 days of active duty service with at least one day during an eligible wartime period (for other than dishonorable reasons); and
- Have a yearly family income that is less than the amount set by Congress; and
- Be 65 or older; or
- Be totally and permanently disabled; or
- Be a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care; or
- Be receiving Social Security Disability Insurance; or
- Be receiving Supplemental Security Income.
For their many sacrifices, the U.S. government provides military veterans with free or low-cost health care services at VA medical facilities. By law, the VA must provide all eligible veterans with hospital and outpatient care that is defined as "needed," which is not limited to the treatment of military-related injuries and illnesses. In addition to regular health benefits, the VA offers HIV/AIDS treatment, blindness rehabilitation, drug dependency treatment, and other special programs to those who qualify.
See Veteran Eligibility to find out whether you are eligible for veterans' health care benefits. To apply, complete VA Form 10-10EZ, Application for Health Benefits (PDF) and send it to your local VA office.
Education and Career Services
Even the most decorated war hero may have a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life. So it is no surprise the GI Bill and other occupational programs are so popular with veterans. The GI Bill actually covers several different education programs offered through the VA and available to veterans and their family (depending on eligibility and duty status). See Road Map for Success to determine which education benefit is best for you, and Apply for Benefits to get the process started.
Additionally, eligible veterans have access to the following vocation and career services:
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program: Commonly referred to as the "Chapter 31" program, this program helps veterans with service-related disabilities prepare for and find suitable jobs (for those unable to work, this program provides independent living services).
- Education and Career Counseling Program: This program provides veterans with career counseling services and guidance on the use of VA benefits.
Additional Military Benefits for Veterans
In addition to the four main categories of veteran benefits explained above, the VA and other federal and state government agencies also offer:
- PTSD support
- Home loans
- Small business loans (Small Business Administration)
- Life insurance
- Burial benefits
The U.S. government offers numerous military benefits for veterans. See Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors for a complete list.