What Are VA Medical and Disability Benefits, and How Do You Get Them?

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You may know that veterans may be eligible for free medical care and payments for disabilities, but exactly who is eligible and how do they go about getting these hard-earned benefits?

What Health and Disability Benefits Does the VA Offer?

Veterans, and in some cases their dependents, may be eligible for many health and disability benefits, including:

Many more VA benefits are available to veterans and their families; many states also offer expanded benefits to veterans who are receiving federal VA benefits

The VA will normally only provide free medical care for any injuries or illnesses related to your military service. However, if your disability or injury is severe enough for the VA to rate you at least 50% disabled for compensation benefits, all your medical care is free from the VA.

If you have a lower level of disability rating, you may have to pay the VA a copayment, depending on what type of medical services you get and what condition you are being treated for.

For instance, if you are rated 10% disabled for high blood pressure, you can get your doctor's appointments and blood pressure medication for free from the VA. However, you may have to pay a copay for any medicine that isn't for your high blood pressure, or treatment for other conditions.

See: VA Medical Services and Medication Copayments

Who Is Eligible?

Basically, any veteran who suffered an injury or developed a chronic illness during their service that requires treatment after leaving the service may be eligible for these benefits. Veterans with a dishonorable discharge are not eligible, and there are other requirements, including how long you served and how long it has been since you got out.

Related: Some Combat Veterans Have Extra Eligibility to VA Health Care

For instance, if you broke your leg during your service and it still is painful or makes you limp, you may be eligible to get medical treatment from the VA for your leg. Depending on the extent of your injury, you may also be eligible to receive a monthly tax-free disability compensation payment from the VA as well.

However, depending on how you got your injury, you may not be eligible.

For instance, if you were driving drunk and broke your leg in a wreck, you may not be eligible for benefits. According to the law, "no compensation shall be paid if the disability is a result of the veteran's own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs."

Also, if you got hurt while in the service but never got treated for it, you may be out of luck when seeking VA benefits. Normally, your injury or illness must have been documented in your medical or service records before the VA will give you any benefits for it. Otherwise, the VA has no way of knowing you didn't hurt yourself after leaving the service.

A very important detail for the VA in granting any health-care or disability benefit is the information it receives from the military. In a case of possible misconduct, such as drunk driving, the VA will examine your military records to determine whether the service determined your injury was "in the line of duty" or "as a result of misconduct." The VA will also examine medical records to determine your medical history.

There are also certain situations, like exposure to chemicals or mental-health issues, where the VA will examine your unit's deployment history and locations of service to determine your eligibility to certain benefits, such as burn-pit related illnesses or illnesses related to chemical exposure.

There are some medical conditions that may not appear until many years after exposure to chemicals or certain conditions; the VA calls these presumptive conditions. If you have one of these illnesses, you may be eligible for special medical treatment or disability benefits. Examples include living on a base with contaminated drinking water, burn-pit related illnesses or Agent Orange exposure.

How to Apply

The VA cannot provide any medical care or disability benefits until you apply for them. The easiest way to apply is online at VA.gov.

In most cases, the process is pretty straightforward. However, there are exceptions to any rule, and sometimes the process can take quite awhile or require a lot of hassle, so it's always best to keep all your service records and ensure everything is documented before you submit anything to the VA.

You can upload scans or pictures of your documents and can apply on a mobile device or computer. You can also begin an application, add documents and submit the application later, when you have more information or documents. If you don't have any documents, the VA can still process your claim. However, it may slow down the process since the VA has to get your information from the military, and sometimes things get lost.

In most cases, you can do all the paperwork yourself. However, if it is confusing or you have a complicated situation, the best option is to contact a Veterans Service Organization, such as the American Legion or Disabled American Veterans, to help you.

Remember, you do not have to pay to file a claim for any veterans benefits.

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Veteran Benefits