Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents

How to obtain your full range of benefits.


This article informs veterans and dependents of the variety of federal benefits available. Eligibility depends upon individual circumstances. Contact the nearest VA benefits office at 1-800-827-1000 from any location in the United States to apply. Counselors can answer questions about benefits eligibility and application procedures. They also make referrals to other VA facilities, such as medical centers and national cemeteries. Phone numbers of VA offices, including those in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, are listed in the back of this book. VA facilities also are listed in the federal government section of telephone directories under Department of Veterans Affairs.

Health-care Enrollment. For most veterans, entry into the VA health-care system starts with enrollment at a medical center. Once enrolled, a veteran is eligible to receive services without further processing. The enrollment officially begins October 1998. But VA has already started the process. Details of the enrollment program are discussed in the Health-Care Benefits section of this publication. VA medical centers also provide information on medical care, including readjustment counseling, and examinations for Agent Orange and radiation exposure or ailments incurred from service in the Gulf War.

Who's Eligible. Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. Active service means full-time service as a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, or as a commissioned officer of the Public Health Service, the Environmental Services Administration or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Completion of at least six years of honorable service in the Selected Reserves also provides for home-loan benefits for those not otherwise eligible. Persons serving in the reserves also can receive education benefits. Men and women veterans with similar service are entitled to the same VA benefits. Service in 28 organizations during special periods that include World Wars I and II has been certified as active military service by the Defense Department. Members of these groups, listed in this booklet, may be eligible for VA benefits if Defense certifies their service and issues a discharge under honorable conditions.

Honorable and general discharges qualify a veteran for most VA benefits. Dishonorable and bad-conduct discharges issued by general courts-martial bar VA benefits. Veterans in prison and parolees may be eligible for certain VA benefits. VA regional offices can clarify eligibility of prisoners and parolees.

Wartime Service. Certain VA benefits and medical care require wartime service. Under the law, VA recognizes these war periods:

Mexican Border Period -- May 9, 1916, through April 5, 1917, for veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders or in adjacent waters.

World War I -- April 6, 1917, through Nov. 11, 1918; for veterans who served in Russia, April 6, 1917, through April 1, 1920; extended through July 1, 1921, for veterans who had at least one day of service between April 6, 1917, and Nov. 11, 1918.

World War II -- Dec. 7, 1941, through Dec. 31, 1946.

Korean Conflict -- June 27, 1950, through Jan. 31, 1955.

Vietnam Era -- Aug. 5, 1964 (Feb. 28, 1961, for veterans who served "in country" before Aug. 5, 1964) through May 7, 1975.

Gulf War -- Aug. 2, 1990, through a date to be set by law or Presidential Proclamation.

Filing Claims. Those seeking a VA benefit for the first time must submit a copy of their service discharge form DD 214, which documents service dates and type of discharge, or give their full name, military service number, branch of service and dates of service. The claim number assigned by VA to the initial claim should be referred to in subsequent correspondence.

Important Documents. The veteran's DD 214 form should be kept in a safe, convenient location accessible to the veteran and next of kin or designated representative. The veteran's preference regarding burial in a national cemetery and use of a headstone provided by VA should be documented and kept with this information. The following documents will be needed for claims processing related to a veteran's death: (1) v'teran's marriage certificate for claims of a surviving spouse or children; (2) veteran's death certificate if the veteran did not die in a VA medical facility; (3) children's birth certificates for children's benefits; (4) veteran's birth certificate for parents' benefits.

Benefit Programs for Veterans

Disability Compensation

Monetary benefits, called disability compensation, are paid to veterans who are disabled by injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active military service. The service of the veteran must have been terminated through separation or discharge under conditions that were other than dishonorable. Disability compensation varies with the degree of disability and the number of dependents, and is paid monthly. The benefits are not subject to federal or state income tax. The payment of military retirement pay, disability severance pay and separation incentive payments known as SSB and VSI (Special Separation Benefits and Voluntary Separation Incentives) also affect the amount of VA compensation paid. See benefits table on page 60.

Prisoners of War

Former prisoners of war who were incarcerated for at least 30 days may be presumed to be eligible for disability compensation if they become at least 10 percent disabled from specific diseases associated with POWs. These presumptive diseases are avitaminosis, beriberi heart disease and ischemic heart disease, chronic dysentery, helminthiasis, malnutrition including optic atrophy, pellagra and other nutritional deficiencies, psychosis, anxiety states and dysthymic disorder or depressive neurosis, post-traumatic osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer disease, peripheral neuropathy and residuals of cold injury to include arthritis, neuropathy and skin cancer at the site of the cold injury.

Agent Orange and other Herbicides

Nine diseases are presumed by VA to be related to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. They are chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, soft-tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer and acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy.

Military personnel who served in Vietnam and are suffering from these diseases may qualify for compensation without proving exposure to Agent Orange.

Veterans Exposed to Radiation

Veterans exposed to ionizing radiation while on active duty may be eligible for disability compensation if they have disabilities due to that exposure. To determine service-connection, factors considered include amount of radiation exposure, duration of exposure and elapsed time between exposure and onset of the disease. Conditions recognized as radiogenic include all forms of leukemia except for chronic lymphocytic leukemia; cancer of the thyroid, breast, lung, bone, liver, skin, esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas, kidney, urinary bladder, ovaries, salivary gland and rectum; posterior subcapsular cataracts; non-malignant thyroid nodular disease; parathyroid adenoma; tumors of the brain and central nervous system; multiple myeloma; and lymphomas other than Hodgkin's disease.

Gulf War Veterans

Gulf War veterans who suffer from chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses may receive disability compensation. The undiagnosed illnesses must have appeared either during active duty in the Southwest Theater of Operations during the Gulf War or at any time through Dec. 31, 2001.

The following symptoms may be manifestations of an undiagnosed illness: fatigue, skin disorders, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, neurologic symptoms, neuropsychological symptoms, symptoms involving the respiratory system, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiovascular symptoms, abnormal weight loss and menstrual disorders.

While these categories represent the signs and symptoms frequently noted in VA's experience to date, other signs and symptoms also could qualify for compensation. A disability is considered chronic if it has existed for at least six months.

Allowances for Dependents

Veterans whose service-connected disabilities are rated at 30 percent or more are entitled to additional allowances for dependents. The additional amount is determined according to the number of dependents and the degree of disability. A disabled veteran evaluated 30 percent or more also is entitled to receive a special anumber of dependents and the degree of disability. A disabled veteran evaluated 3

Other Disability Benefits

Specially Adapted Homes

Disabled veterans may be entitled to a grant from VA for a home specially adapted to their needs or for adaptations to a house.

For a $38,000 Grant. VA may approve a grant of not more than 50 percent of the cost of building, buying or remodeling adapted homes or paying indebtedness on those homes already acquired, up to a maximum of $38,000. Veterans must be entitled to compensation for permanent and total service-connected disability due to:1.loss or loss of use of both lower extremities, such as to preclude locomotion without the aid of braces, crutches, canes or a wheelchair, or 2.disability that includes (a) blindness in both eyes, having only light perception, plus (b) loss or loss of use of one lower extremity, or 3.loss or loss of use of one lower extremity together with (a) residuals of organic disease or injury, or (b) the loss or loss of use of one upper extremity, which so affects the functions of balance or propulsion as to preclude locomotion without using braces, canes, crutches or a wheelchair.

For a $6,500 Grant. VA may approve a grant for the actual cost, up to a maximum of $6,500, for adaptations to a veteran's residence which are determined by VA to be reasonably necessary. The grant also may be used to assist veterans in acquiring a residence which already has been adapted with special features for the veteran's disability. Veterans must be entitled to compensation for permanent and total service-connected disability due to (1) blindness in both eyes with 5/200 visual acuity or less, or (2) anatomical loss or loss of use of both hands.

Supplemental Financing. Veterans with available loan guaranty entitlement may also obtain a guaranteed loan or a direct loan from VA to supplement the grant to acquire a specially adapted home.

Automobile Assistance

Veterans and servicemembers qualify for this benefit if they have service-connected loss of one or both hands or feet, or permanent loss of use, or permanent impairment of vision of both eyes. Veterans entitled to compensation for ankylosis (immobility) of one or both knees, or one or both hips, also qualify for adaptive equipment for an automobile. There is a one-time payment by VA of not more than $5,500 toward the purchase of an automobile or other conveyance. VA will pay for adaptive equipment, and for repair, replacement, or reinstallation required because of disability, and for the safe operation of a vehicle purchased with VA assistance. To apply, contact a VA regional office or a VA medical center.

Clothing Allowance

Any veteran who is entitled to receive compensation for a service-connected disability for which he or she 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. To apply, contact a VA regional office.


Veterans with low incomes may be eligible for monetary support if they have 90 days or more of active military service, one day of which was during a period of war. The discharge from active duty must have been under conditions other than dishonorable. The veterans must be permanently and totally disabled for reasons not traceable to willful misconduct. Payments are made to qualified veterans to bring their total income, including other retirement or Social Security income, to a level set by Congress. Countable income may be reduced by unreimbursed medical expenses. Pension is not payable to those who have assets that can be used to provide adequate maintenance.

Improved Pension

The Improved Pension program provides for the maximum annual rates listed in the table on page 60. The payment is reduced by the amount of the countable income of the veteran and the income of the spouse or dependent children. When a veteran without a spouse or a child is being furnished nursing-home or domiciliary care by VA, the pension is reduced to an amount not to exceed $90 per month after three calendar months of care. The reduction may be delayed if nursing-home care is being continued for the primary purpose of providing the veteran with rehabilitation services.

Protected Pension Programs

Pensioners entitled to benefits as of Dec. 31, 1978, who do not elect to receive a pension under the Improved Pension program, continue to receive pension benefits at the rate they were entitled to receive on Dec. 31, 1978, as long as they remain permanently and totally disabled, do not lose a dependent, and their incomes do not exceed the income limitation, adjusted annually.

Aid and Attendance or Housebound

A veteran who is a patient in a nursing home, who is otherwise determined by VA to be in need of the regular aid and attendance of another person or who is permanently housebound, may be entitled to higher income limitations or additional benefits, depending on the type of pension received.

Medal of Honor Pension

VA administers pensions to holders of the Medal of Honor. Congress in December 1993 set the monthly pension at $400.

Continue to Military Benefits Part Two -->

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