To apply for either VA disability compensation or a VA pension, use VA Form 21-526, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension. If available, attach copies of dependency records (marriage and children’s birth certificates), as well as proof of military service and discharge characterization.
You can obtain the form from any VA regional office or download it from the VA’s Web site at www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-526-ARE.pdf. Return the completed application, along with the supporting evidence, to your closest VA office.
Along with the application, include any documentation that you feel is relevant. Examples of documentation you may want to send include copies of the following:
- Retirement orders
- 20-year letter or statement of service (for reservists)
- Relevant pages in your VA or military medical records
- VA ratings determinations
- Purple Heart decoration award citations (if applicable)
- Retirement Form DD Form 214
The Department of Defense (DOD) guidance does not provide an exhaustive list of relevant documentation, but instead states that decisions will be made on the significance of available documents. Keep in mind that the quality of the information is more important than the quantity.
Be sure to send copies — not original documents. Original documents will not be returned.
Mail the completed application to the appropriate address (of the military service you retired from), listed on page 1 of the application form.
After a final decision is made, your branch of service will notify you in writing of approval or denial of your application. If approved, a copy of your approval letter will be forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which will start your monthly CRSC payments.
Special Monthly Compensation
Through special monthly compensation (SMC), the VA can pay additional compensation to a veteran who, as a result of military service, incurred the loss or loss of use of specific organs or extremities. The additional compensation can range from $3,145 per month to $7,556 per month (2008 rates). The exact amount payable depends on several factors, including the exact medical condition (or combination of conditions) and number of dependents.
Loss, or loss of use, is described as either an amputation or having no effective remaining function of an extremity or organ. The disabilities that the VA can consider for SMC include:
- Loss or loss of use of a hand or foot
- Immobility of a joint or paralysis
- Loss of sight or an eye (having only light perception)
- Loss or loss of use of a reproductive organ
- Complete loss or loss of use of both buttocks
- Deafness in both ears (having absence of air and bone conduction)
- Inability to communicate by speech (complete organic aphonia)
- Loss of a percentage of tissue from a single breast or both breasts from mastectomy or radiation treatment
The VA will pay higher rates for combinations of these disabilities, such as loss or loss of use of the feet, legs, hands, and arms, in specific monetary increments, based on the particular combination of the disabilities. There are also higher payments for various combinations of severe deafness with bilateral blindness.
If you have a service-connected disability rated at 100 percent, and you are housebound, bedridden, or so helpless that you need the aid and attendance of another person, you can also receive SMC.
Current SMC rates can be found on the VA’s Web site at www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Rates/comp02.htm.
As you read through the charts online, you will note that the particular conditions are coded, such as SMC L, SMC N, or SMC L. These correspond to specific disabilities listed under federal law in United States Code (USC), Title 38, Section 1114. You can look up these definitions online at www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode.
Concurrent Receipt: Military Retired Pay and Disability Compensation
Previously, in order to receive VA disability compensation, a military retiree was forced to waive an equivalent amount of retirement pay. After years of veterans complaints, Congress changed the law in 2004 to allow concurrent receipt. Simply put, concurrent receipt means you can receive the full amount of your military retired pay and the full amount of any VA disability compensation you may be entitled to.
However, the change only applies to veterans who have service-connected disability ratings of 50 percent or more. Veterans who have disability ratings of less than 50 percent must still waive an equivalent amount of their military retirement pay to receive VA disability compensation.
Waiving military retirement pay to receive VA disability compensation is a good choice because military retirement pay is taxable, while disability compensation is not.
The change has yet to be fully implemented. To save money, the change is being phased in. The phase-in will be complete in 2014, when the full amount of military retirement pay will be exempt.
Disability Compensation for Veterans without Children and with Children
Combat-Related Special Compensation
Veteran lobby groups urged Congress to expand the concurrent receipt law to include veterans with service-connected disabilities of less than 50 percent.
Instead, Congress created a new program called Combat-Related Special Compensation, or CRSC. Under this program, any veteran with a combat-related disability can be paid a monthly special pay that is intended to reduce or eliminate the offset of military retirement pay.
For the purpose of this program, the individual military service, not the VA, decides whether a disability is considered combat related.
You are eligible for monthly CRSC payments if you receive military retirement pay and you have a disability incurred as a direct result of:
- Armed conflict (gunshot wounds, Purple Heart, so on)
- Training that simulates war (exercises, field training, so on)
- Hazardous duty (flight, diving, parachute duty)
- An instrumentality of war (combat vehicles, weapons, Agent Orange, so on)
Like VA disability compensation, CRSC payments are not subject to income taxes.
Clothing Allowance: Replacing Your Wardrobe
Any veteran who is entitled to receive disability compensation for a service-connected disability for which he uses prosthetic or orthopedic appliances may receive an annual clothing allowance.
The allowance also is available to any veteran whose service-connected skin condition requires prescribed medication that damages the veteran’s outer garments. The clothing allowance rate as of 2008 is $641 per year.
Application for a clothing allowance is made by completing VA Form 10-8678, Application for Annual Clothing Allowance. This form is available at VA medical centers or online at www.va.gov/vaforms/medical/pdf/vha-10-8678-fill.pdf. Upon completion, submit the form to the VA medical center that provides your medical treatment.