Eligibility

You may qualify for VA Disability Compensation benefits if:

  • You served in the active military, naval, or air service and were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable
    • Exceptions: If you have a dishonorable discharge, check with the VA to see if there is an exception in your situation so that you can get benefits.
  • You have a current disability; and
  • There is a link between your military service and your current disability.

Ways Your Disability can be Service-Connected

To get VA Disability Compensation, first you must show that you have a disability that is service-connected or related to your military service. This means your disability started during your active military service, or that a disability that you had before your service was made worse because of your military service, beyond how the condition would have naturally progressed on its own.

There are five ways you can show that your condition is related to your military service:

  • Direct Service Connection: You can show that your current disability was directly due to, or caused during, active military service.
    • Examples: Your disability was caused by an injury from an explosive device while deployed, or while playing softball after normal working hours. Either way, the injuries are related to active military service or happened during active military service, so they are directly service-connected.
  • Aggravation: You can show that your injury or disease was made worse by your active military, naval, or air service. Your disability is related to your military service, unless it got worse as part of the normal progression of the disease.
    • Example: Before entering service, you injure your back. After your back heals, your doctor says you are healthy and you pass the physical exam to join the military (while telling them about your prior back injury). If you injure your back again while carrying a pack in the service, your pre-existing condition has been aggravated by your military service and so your back injury is service-connected.
  • Statutory Presumptions: You can show that you have a condition or are in a situation that is automatically considered service-connected.
    • Examples: Having some chronic diseases or tropical diseases; having been a prisoner of war, exposed to herbicide agents, or exposed to radiation; or being a Persian Gulf veteran.
  • Secondary Service Connection: You can show that you have a service-connected disability that directly or indirectly causes another disability. The new disability can also be considered service-connected and treated as if it were a result of your military service. The VA gives it a separate Disability Compensation rating.
    • Example: You injure your back while on active duty and that injury makes you walk with a limp. This can affect other body parts, such as your knees, legs, and ankles. These additional conditions may be service-connected.
  • Disability Caused by VA Medical Treatment or Vocational Rehabilitation: You can show your disability was caused by VA medical care or while participating in a VA-approved Vocational Rehabilitation program. This is also called an “1151 Claim.” Such an injury is treated as if it were service-connected. An 1151 claim is similar to a claim for medical malpractice.
    • Example: You go to a VA hospital to have surgery on your right knee and the VA accidently operates on your left knee instead, causing permanent damage.

Note: If you think your disability was caused by the VA, think about talking to an attorney about the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). It might let you sue the federal government for their wrongdoing, but it could affect your VA benefits, which is why you should speak with an attorney first. Look for an attorney who knows about both the FTCA and veterans benefits. You can search the VA website for accredited attorneys.