Few people seem to understand VA benefits very well. There is a whole host of programs. It is often best to start with your local Veteran’s Agent or service agency (the VFW or American Legion). They have volunteers who can give you information and advice without charge. You may think about hiring an attorney or another advisor to help you apply for VA benefits, but there is a law that does not allow anyone to charge for help in applying for VA benefits so be wary of anyone who seeks to charge you or sell you some sort of service associated with an application (a lawyer can charge for an appeal and can charge for advice that does not include the application for benefits). By the way, the official name is the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It was the Veteran’s Administration from WWI until about 25 years ago; nevertheless, everyone still calls it the “VA.”

There are two major VA disability programs. Disability compensation is for veterans with service-connected disabilities (someone who was injured or wounded while on duty). The disability pension benefit is available to anyone who served during wartime and has a disability (it doesn’t have to be service related). If you have an injury or disease that happened while on active duty you may be eligible for disability compensation. The amount of compensation depends on how disabled you are and whether you have children or other dependents.

Disabled veterans who are not able to work can also get a disability pension. It is also available for surviving spouses. This pension is available whether or not your disability is service-connected. To be eligible you must be permanently and totally disabled (or 65 or older), you must not have a dishonorable discharge, you must have served on active duty for at least 90 days at least one of which was during a period of War (there are new rules for more recent veterans), and your income must be below a yearly limit set by law. The income limit is called the Maximum Annual Pension Rate or MAPR.  It ranges from $12,868 for a single person to $19,710 for a housebound veteran with one dependent. You should check for current numbers as these do get adjusted over time.

The actual amount of the pension you may get is based on those limits and your other income (with deductions for unreimbursed medical expenses). Your pension amount would be the MAPR minus your income and then divided into twelve equal monthly payments. Because you can deduct your medical expenses from income, some people with a fairly high income can qualify and get a pension benefit.

A veteran that needs the help of a care-giver or “attendant,” can get an enhanced pension amount that is commonly called “Aid and Attendance.” The current MAPR for that category is $21,466 for a single veteran to $25,448 for a veteran with a dependent.

You apply for benefits by filling out VA Form 21-526. You will need to attach proof of disability and current medical evidence, plus any forms that prove your dependents (marriage, birth certificates). You can apply online and learn much more at the VA website: www.va.gov.