Applying for Veterans Benefits: a Comprehensive Guide

Key Takeaways

VA Disability Compensation requires proof of service-related disability or illness.
Document everything to increase your likelihood of approval of your disability claim.
Higher disability ratings result in higher monthly compensation payments.
The VR&E program offers vocational counseling, job training, and more.
VA Pension Benefits provide monthly financial assistance to eligible veterans.
VA Education and Training Benefits provide veterans with financial assistance for higher education.
VA Home Loan Benefits offer numerous advantages, including no down payment.
If your claim has been denied, contact our attorneys for a successful appeal.

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Applying for Veterans Benefits: a Comprehensive Guide

Key Takeaways

VA Disability Compensation requires proof of service-related disability or illness.
Document everything to increase your likelihood of approval of your disability claim.
Higher disability ratings result in higher monthly compensation payments.
The VR&E program offers vocational counseling, job training, and more.
VA Pension Benefits provide monthly financial assistance to eligible veterans.
VA Education and Training Benefits provide veterans with financial assistance for higher education.
VA Home Loan Benefits offer numerous advantages, including no down payment.
If your claim has been denied, contact our attorneys for a successful appeal.

Our veterans have made immense sacrifices to protect the freedoms we cherish. From the unforgiving jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, American service members have persevered through every hardship, bearing witness to the horrors of war and carrying the weight of lost comrades and the scars of battle - both seen and unseen. As you return home, you may face renewed emotional and psychological challenges alongside physical ones. Service-related disabilities, financial struggles, and the devastating effects of PTSD can make your transition to civilian life feel like an uphill battle. You don’t have to face it alone. As you lay down your arms, it becomes our nation’s responsibility to stand by you.

VA benefits are designed to assist veterans in a span of areas, from housing loans to medical resources to monthly disability benefits. Unfortunately, this bureaucratic, complex system has proven challenging to navigate for many veterans. This guide provides an overview of the different types of VA benefits, how to apply for them, and valuable tips to navigate the process.

Note: if you are currently an active-duty service member or a full-time National Guard member, apply through the VA Pre-Discharge Claim Program before leaving service.

1. VA Disability Compensation Benefits

VA disability benefits are a critical lifeline for veterans who have sustained injuries or developed medical conditions during their military service. Designed to compensate veterans for reduced quality of life and potential loss of income from service-related injuries or illnesses, disability compensation benefits can help you manage ongoing costs of medical care, rehabilitation, and everyday expenses - as well as aid in your transition back to civilian life.

These payments are tax-free and sent out once a month by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The amount you can qualify for is determined by a VA rating system designed to evaluate the severity of a service-related disability on a 0-100% scale. These ratings are based on medical evidence and represent both the severity of the condition and its impact on your daily life and ability to work. Higher disability ratings result in higher monthly compensation payments.

If your condition worsens or changes over time, you have the right to request a reevaluation of your disability rating - which may result in an increased benefit amount. Additionally, if you are supporting a spouse, children, or dependent parents, they may also be eligible for additional monthly payments, known as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).

How to Apply:

To be considered eligible, applicants must be veterans discharged under conditions other than dishonorable with a service-related injury or illness. This can take many forms, including physical injuries, mental health disorders, or chronic illnesses that were either caused or worsened by military service. Below are some of the most common disabilities approved by the VA for benefits:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)

Hearing loss and tinnitus

Chronic back pain

Joint injuries (knee, shoulder, hip)

Depression and anxiety disorders

Amputations

Respiratory illnesses (asthma, COPD)

Gulf War Syndrome

Agent Orange-related illnesses (cancers, diabetes)

Sleep apnea

Scars and disfigurement

Military sexual trauma (MST)-related conditions

Even if your specific disability isn’t listed above, it’s still worth applying for disability compensation. The VA evaluates each case individually, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each veteran's disability and its connection to their military service.

To apply, it is essential that you first gather any and all relevant documentation to support your claim. This typically includes comprehensive medical records, doctor’s notes, service records, and any other documents that demonstrate the link between your service and disability. A detailed, accurate, and well-documented claim will vastly increase your likelihood of a successful application - and prevent any unnecessary delays in the process.

Once you’ve gathered your evidence, your next step is to fill out and turn in your disability benefits application. This can be done online either through the VA's eBenefits Portal or by mailing in a completed Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (also known as VA Form 21-526EZ). The form requests your personal information, military service details, and the specifics of your disability and how it affects your life.

Following the submission of your application, the VA may schedule a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam to evaluate the extent of your disability. It is essential that you attend this exam, as its results will directly impact the VA’s decision on your claim.

After your application and C&P exam have been completed, the VA will review your claim and issue a decision. While the time required for this process varies on a case-by-case basis, you can monitor the status of their claim online through your eBenefits portal. If the claim is approved, the VA will send you a notice detailing your disability rating and monthly compensation amount.

Our experienced VA Attorneys are accredited by the VA to represent veterans in claims for benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs

Denied VA Disability Benefits? Our Attorneys Can Help.

If your claim has been denied by the VA, you’re not out of options. After spending years in service to our country, financial stability and access to medical care are the very least you deserve. You have the right to appeal a denied claim or incorrectly assigned disability rating within one year of the decision notice date. Our experienced VA Attorneys are accredited by the VA to represent veterans in claims for benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs - and are fully prepared to help you obtain the disability compensation you deserve.

With offices located throughout Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, Wettermark Keith has an excellent reputation as one of the most accomplished personal injury firms in the country. We practice with care and compassion, working to understand your needs and convey them to the VA to the best of our ability. Our attorneys build strong relationships based on constant communication, trust, and dedication. Caring for you is our goal - winning is just how we show it. If you’ve been denied VA disability benefits, contact us now to set up your free consultation with our legal team at (877) 715-9300, through our website chat, or through our online form.

2. Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Benefits

The Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program, (formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment), is designed to help disabled veterans transition into the civilian workforce. This program focuses on providing you with the resources to prepare for, find, and maintain suitable employment that aligns with your skills, interests, and current abilities. There are several different aspects of the program (listed below) including counseling, job training, and more.

Vocational Counseling:

This service is one of the key components of the VR&E program, assisting disabled veterans by identifying their strengths, assessing their interests, and helping determine suitable career paths based on their long-term goals and individual needs. Vocational counselors work closely with veterans to create a personalized “vocational rehabilitation plan,” taking disabilities, education, and past work experience into consideration.

Assistance in Finding Employment:

The VR&E program also offers coaching on job-seeking skills in order to help veterans navigate the current job market effectively. This service includes assistance with resume writing, interview preparation, and networking strategies. Lastly, the program works with employers and other organizations to identify suitable job placements for veterans.

Job Training:

Job training is another essential aspect of the VR&E program, offering various training options to help veterans develop the necessary skills for their intended careers. This might include on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and secondary education programs at universities or vocational schools. If necessary, the VR&E program may also provide financial assistance for tuition, books, supplies, and other educational expenses.

Independent Living Services:

The VR&E program offers support through its Independent Living Services for veterans who face significant barriers to employment due to their service-connected disabilities. This component of the program focuses on helping veterans improve their overall quality of life by providing resources and assistance to enhance their independence, self-reliance, and community integration.

How to Apply:

To file for VR&E services, you can apply online at va.gov/careers-employment. You can also submit a paper application by downloading and completing a "Disabled Veterans Application for Vocational Rehabilitation" (VA Form 28-1900) and mailing it to your local VA office. Alternatively, you can visit the closest office to submit your application in person.

3. VA Pension Benefits

The VA pension program recognizes the sacrifices made by wartime veterans and aims to ensure that they receive the support they need to maintain a decent standard of living. VA pension benefits provide crucial monthly financial assistance to eligible veterans who are either 65 years or older or have a qualifying permanent disability.

Eligibility criteria for VA pension benefits include:

Wartime service - the veteran must have served on active duty during a period of war. Generally, this includes World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.

Age or disability - the veteran must be either 65 years of age or older or have a terminal and total non-service-connected disability that prevents them from holding a job.

Discharge status - the veteran must have been discharged from the military under conditions other than dishonorable.

Income and net worth - the veteran's countable income and net worth must be below the annual limit set by Congress. Countable income includes earnings from employment, Social Security, and other sources. However, the VA will consider multiple expense factors, such as medical costs, when determining a veteran’s countable income.

In addition to the basic VA pension, eligible veterans may also qualify for increased pension benefits under two programs: Aid and Attendance (A&A) and Housebound. These programs provide additional financial support to veterans who (1) require assistance with daily activities as a result of their disability or (2) are confined to their homes due to a permanent disability.

Aid and Attendance (A&A):

These benefits are available for veterans who require regular assistance with daily activities like bathing, dressing, eating, or mobility. This benefit also applies to veterans who are bedridden or have limited eyesight.

Housebound Benefits:

These provide additional financial assistance to veterans with permanent disabilities that confine them to their homes.

How to Apply for Pension Benefits:

You can apply for pension benefits online at www.va.gov/pension. To submit a paper application for pension benefits, download and complete VA Form 21P-527EZ (Application for Pension) and mail it to the Pension Management Center that serves your state. To check if you’re eligible, check www.va.gov/pension/eligibility for more information.

4. VA Education and Training Benefits

These benefits are designed to support eligible veterans, service members, and their families who wish to pursue higher education, vocational training, or professional development. These benefits provide financial assistance to cover the costs of tuition, housing, books, supplies, and other education-related expenses. There are several programs under the VA education and training benefits umbrella, including:

Post-9/11 GI Bill:

This program provides educational assistance to eligible veterans or service members who have served on active duty for at least 90 days since September 10, 2001. Post-9/11 benefits may cover full tuition, housing costs, and fees for public in-state institutions and a capped amount for private or overseas schools.

Montgomery GI Bill - Active Duty:

The Montgomery GI Bill offers financial benefits to eligible service members who have served at least two years on active duty. These benefits can be used for college, vocational training, or on-the-job training, with a fixed monthly benefit amount towards educational expenses.

Yellow Ribbon Program:

This program allows approved secondary education institutions to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the VA to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the amounts payable under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The institution can contribute a specified amount, and the VA will match the contribution.

How to Apply for Education and Training Benefits:

Your application for education benefits will require your Social Security number, bank account direct deposit information, education, and military history, and basic information about the school or training facility you want to attend - or are attending now. The easiest way to apply for these benefits is online at https://www.va.gov/education/how-to-apply/. Alternatively, you can apply through any of the following options:

By mail: Call 888-442-4551, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET, to request that the application be sent to you. Fill it out and mail it to the VA regional claims processing office located in the same area as your school. See a list of regional claims processing offices.

In-person: Visit a VA regional office and have a VA employee help you. Find a VA regional office near you.

Work with your school’s certifying official (typically located in the Financial Aid or Registrar’s office) or another accredited representative for help applying for education benefits.

5. VA Home Loan Benefits

VA home loan benefits are intended to make the process of purchasing, refinancing, or adapting a home more accessible and affordable for veterans. These programs can offer competitive interest rates, eliminate the need for a down payment, and waive the requirement for private mortgage insurance (PMI) for qualified borrowers. These program aspects are expanded upon below:

No Down Payment Requirement:

One of the most significant advantages of VA home loans is that eligible borrowers can finance 100% of the home's value without needing a down payment. This benefit allows veterans to become homeowners without having to save an enormous amount of money upfront, a difficult feat while transitioning to civilian life.

Competitive Interest Rates:

VA home loans tend to offer far lower interest rates when compared to conventional loans. Because the VA guarantees a portion of the loan, lenders can provide more favorable terms, resulting ultimately in lower monthly mortgage payments and overall borrowing costs.

No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI):

While conventional loans typically require borrowers to pay PMI if they put down less than 20% of the home's value, veterans are not required to pay PMI with VA loans - even if they have not made a down payment. This benefit can save homeowners hundreds of dollars monthly on their mortgage payments.

Limited Closing Costs:

For eligible veterans, the VA limits the amount of closing costs and fees that lenders can charge. Additionally, sellers may be required to pay a portion (or all) of the closing costs, further reducing the upfront costs for the buyer and resulting in substantial savings.

Streamlined Refinancing Options:

The VA offers an Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL) for homeowners with existing VA loans. This loan simplifies the refinancing process by requiring less documentation, no appraisal, and no out-of-pocket costs.

Adapted Housing Grants:

For veterans with service-connected disabilities, the VA’s adapted housing grants can help cover the cost of adapting a home to meet specific needs. These grants can be used either to modify an existing home, construct an adapted home, or pay down the mortgage of an already adapted home.

How to Apply for a VA Home Loan:

To begin applying for a VA home loan, you must first obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) as proof of your service history and eligibility. You can request a COE online or through the mail by filling out a “Request for a Certificate of Eligibility” (VA Form 26-1880). If you prefer to apply by mail, download, print, and complete this form and send it to the Regional Loan Center that serves your state.

You may be eligible for a VA home loan if you meet one of the following service criteria:

You have served 90 consecutive days of active service during wartime.

You have served 181 days of active service during peacetime.

You have completed more than six years of service in the National Guard or Reserves.

You are the surviving spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-connected disability.

The VA also takes the factors below into account when deciding your eligibility:

Credit and Income Requirements - while the VA does not set a minimum credit score requirement, VA-approved lenders may have their own credit score guidelines. You will need to demonstrate sufficient income to repay the loan and cover the expenses of owning a home.

Occupancy - VA home loans are intended for purchasing, refinancing, or adapting a primary residence - to be approved, you must certify that you will personally occupy the property as your primary home.

Property Requirements - the property you wish to purchase or refinance must meet the VA's Minimum Property Requirements (MPRs) to ensure the property is safe and sanitary.

However, keep in mind that eligibility for a VA home loan does not guarantee approval, as individual lenders may have additional requirements. If you are pursuing a loan, work closely with your lender to understand their specific criteria and documentation requirements.

6. Life Insurance Benefits

However, keep in mind that eligibility for a VA home loan does not guarantee approval, as individual lenders may have additional requirements. If you are pursuing a loan, work closely with your lender to understand their specific criteria and documentation requirements.

Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI):

This program is designed specifically for veterans, offering coverage that can provide financial security for their families in the event of the veteran’s death. One of the key benefits of VGLI is that it does not have an expiration date or a maximum age limit for coverage, allowing veterans to maintain their insurance for life. As a renewable-term life insurance program, VGLI allows the beneficiary to extend the coverage term for a set period without having to re-qualify for new coverage.

VGLI offers various coverage amounts, between $10,000 and $500,000, with the maximum coverage being equal to the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) provided during military service. Premiums are determined based on both the chosen coverage and the veteran's age. Additionally, VGLI policyholders have the flexibility to increase, decrease, or cancel their coverage at any time, based on their needs and financial situation.

How to Apply:

You must apply for Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI) within 1 year and 120 days of leaving the military. It's important to note that if you apply within the first 240 days after your military separation, you won't need to provide evidence of good health. However, if you apply after the initial 240-day period, you'll need to submit proof that you're in good health.

There are several ways to apply for VGLI benefits:

Apply online through the Office of Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (OSGLI). This method allows for a quick and convenient application process, enabling you to submit your information instantly.

Apply by mail or fax. You can download and fill out the Application for Veterans' Group Life Insurance (SGLV 8714) form. Once you've completed the form, you can either fax it to 800-236-6142 or mail it to your regional VA office.

If your VGLI policy has expired and you wish to reinstate it, you'll need to fill out an Application for Reinstatement of VGLI Coverage (SGLV 180).

Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI):

S-DVI is a VA life insurance program for veterans who have received a service-connected disability rating from the VA. Eligible veterans can apply for coverage up to $10,000, and those who are deemed totally disabled can apply for an additional $30,000 in coverage.

How to Apply:

Eligible veterans can apply for S-DVI by completing the VA Form 29-4364, "Application for Service-Disabled Veterans Life Insurance," and mailing it to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI):

VMLI is a mortgage protection insurance program that offers coverage to eligible veterans with severe service-connected disabilities who have been approved for a VA Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant. VMLI helps protect the surviving spouse or family members by paying off the home mortgage in the event of the veteran's death.

How to Apply:

To apply for VMLI, eligible veterans must complete the VA Form 29-8636, "Application for Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance," and submit it to their Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) agent.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, you can receive VA healthcare benefits even if you have other health insurance. The VA encourages veterans to maintain their existing health insurance coverage. When you receive care from the VA, they may bill your other health insurance for services provided. However, the VA won't bill you for any remaining balance after your insurance has paid its share. Having other health insurance can help cover services the VA doesn't provide, like dental care or care from non-VA providers.

State-specific veterans benefits vary depending on where you live. Many states offer additional benefits such as property tax exemptions, education assistance, employment assistance, and reduced fees for hunting and fishing licenses. To find out about the benefits available in your state, visit your state's veterans affairs website or contact your local veterans service organization.

If you disagree with a VA decision regarding your benefits claim, you have the right to file an appeal. While it's possible to undertake this process independently, we don’t recommend you do so. Navigating the VA appeals process can be complex and frustrating, and requires a deep understanding of the system. This is where our team comes in - our VA-accredited attorneys have a long track record facilitating successful appeals for thousands of clients. Our attorneys are prepared to guide you through the following appeal options:

  • Higher-Level Review: A senior reviewer will assess your claim based on the evidence already provided. You cannot submit new evidence for this review.
  • Supplemental Claim: Submit new evidence, and a reviewer will assess your claim based on the new information.
  • Appeal to the Board of Veterans' Appeals: You can request a direct review, submit new evidence, or request a hearing with a Veterans Law Judge.

Remember that each of these methods requires a specific approach, and you must file your appeal within one year of the decision date. For more information, contact Wettermark Keith today at 877-715-9300.

Yes, there are several benefits available for surviving spouses and dependents of deceased veterans, including Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), Survivors Pension, educational assistance, home loan guarantees, and burial benefits.

No, you cannot receive both VA disability compensation and a VA pension simultaneously. If you're eligible for both, the VA will pay whichever benefit is greater.

The VA provides various resources for veterans experiencing homelessness, including the HUD-VASH program, which combines rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with case management and clinical services from the VA. The VA also offers Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which provides financial assistance and supportive services to help veterans obtain and maintain stable housing.

Eligibility for VA benefits depends on the nature of your discharge. You may be eligible for certain benefits if your discharge is other than dishonorable. However, if your discharge is considered dishonorable, you're generally not eligible for VA benefits. You can apply for a discharge upgrade or a change in the reason for your discharge, which may help you become eligible for benefits.

You can access your VA medical records by signing up for a My HealtheVet account, the VA's online personal health record system. Through My HealtheVet, you can view, download, or print your VA medical records. You can also request your medical records by submitting a written request to your VA medical facility's Release of Information Office.

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