The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy

The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy: April 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Military Disability for Reservists with 20 or More Years in the Reserves

The overall military disability system works the same for both active duty and reservists, but it’s different if the veteran put more than 20 years in the military. I discussed the system for active duty members with more than 20 years in the military last week, so check out that blog for those specifics.

As for reservists:

All reservists do not receive any retirement benefits from the DoD until they reach 60 years of age. This age is decreased by three months for every three-month period spent mobilized, but can never lower past age 50. The amount of benefits they receive are based on the number of points they have accrued from the amount of activity they did as a reservist.

If the reservist put more than 20 qualifying years (20 years with at least 50 retirement points/year) of service in, they will receive their full retirement benefits from the DoD once they reach 60 years of age. For the time in between their retirement from the reserves and their 60th birthday, a reservist will not receive any benefits from the DoD unless he has a disability. 

If he has a disability, the DoD will give him a military disability rating and give him the same benefits as all other disabled American veterans. Once he reaches 60 years of age, however, the DoD will then pay him either the standard reservist retirement benefits he has earned or the disability benefits, but he won’t receive both, whichever is higher.

So if Susy retires from the reserves after 20 qualifying years at the age of 40 with a disability, she will receive standard disability compensation from the DoD, and nothing else, for 20 years (until she turns 60 or her qualifying age). At that time, she will either switch to her retirement pay or continue with her disability pay, whichever is more. So if she receives $500/month for her disability, and then starts receiving $800/month for retirement pay, her disability payments will stop and she’ll just receive the $800/month for her retirement.

VA disability compensation is exactly the same for every veteran, no matter how long they are in the military or whether they were active duty or reserves. VA disability benefits are solely based on the rating that they give the conditions. If a veteran with 20 years has a 20% rating, and a veteran with 5 years also has a 20% rating, they will both get the exact same compensation since they received the same 20% rating. 

Now when you combine DoD compensation with VA compensation, any compensation you receive from the VA for a disability is subtracted from the amount of monetary benefits you receive from the DoD.

So if you receive $400/month from the DoD for anything, and then the VA starts giving you $300/month for disability, the DoD amount will decrease to $100/month (400 – 300 = 100). You still get the larger amount, but the VA will pay a part of it instead of the DoD giving it all.

While confusing, this is actually very beneficial to you since any money you receive from the DoD is taxed, while any money you receive from the VA is not. So instead of getting taxed on $400, you’ll only be taxed on $100. You still get the other $300, but it isn’t taxed. A pretty good perk, if you ask me.

This will happen any time you are receiving money from both the VA and the DoD.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Military Disability Benefits for People with 20 or More Years on Active Duty

We’re touching on a confusing topic today: regular 20-year retirements with disability.

As you all know, 20 years in the military is the basic requirement for a full retirement from active duty. After 20 years, you can retire any time, and you’ll receive complete retirement benefits, including retirement pay, full medical care, commissary privileges, etc. All of these benefits are given by the DoD, not the VA. If you put in 20 years, you will get all this from the DoD no matter what.

So if you are a 20-year Retiree and have a disability, the DoD will give you a military disability rating, but it won’t affect your benefits at all. You won’t get any extra for this disability, since you are already receiving the full benefits from the DoD. So whether you get a 20% rating or a 90% rating from the DoD, nothing will change. The only real benefit you get from the DoD acknowledging that you have a disability is that the VA will not be able to doubt that your disability was caused by military service, and you’ll be able to get full VA disability benefits, no problem.

Now for VA disability benefits. The benefits you receive from the VA for a disability are not affected at all by how long you were in the military. It doesn’t matter. It is all based on the rating the VA gives your condition. So if someone was in the military for 5 years and was given a VA rating of 40%, and someone else was in the military for 25 years and was given a VA rating of 40%, they will both receive the same amount of benefits from the VA since both received a 40% rating.

That’s all pretty straightforward, but now I’m going to throw a wrench in the works. Whenever anyone is receiving both VA disability benefits and DoD retirement benefits (whether disability or not), the amount of the DoD benefits are decreased by the amount of the VA benefits. Basically, the government will not pay you twice, only once.

So, if Bob is receiving $1,000/month from the DoD, and then the VA begins giving him $500/month, the amount he gets from the DoD will be decreased to $500 ($1,000 - $500 = $500). Do you feel like this guy yet?

While this may seem unfair or just plain confusing, there is actually a huge benefit to this system: any money received from the DoD is taxable, while any money received from the VA is not. You still get the overall amount you deserve, but instead of all of it being taxable, only a portion is. And if the amount you receive from the VA is more than the amount you receive from the DoD, you will simply stop receiving any monetary benefits from the DoD (all the other benefits will remain the same), and you’ll only receive the larger amount from the VA, which is all not taxable. Sweet.

To sum up, you will receive full retirement benefits from the DoD if you retire after 20 or more years on active duty. Your DoD disability will not affect these benefits at all. You will also receive VA disability based on your disability rating, and that amount will be subtracted from the amount of retirement pay you are receiving from the DoD. And again, this is awesome since VA money is not taxable.

This system is only true for veterans with 20 or more years on active duty. The system works a bit differently for reservists with 20 or more years, and I’ll discuss this next week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rating Pure Autonomic Failure for Military Disability

Pure Autonomic Failure is a condition where the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that controls the functioning of the organs) does not work properly. Pure Autonomic Failure mostly affects blood pressure, but can affect other functions as well. The most common symptom is dizziness or fainting because of the blood pooling in the legs since the blood pressure is not strong enough to push it back up to the rest of the body. There is no cure for this condition, and it gets worse over time. It normally does not appear until at least middle age.

Since Pure Autonomic Failure can affect different systems in the body, it can be tough to assign a Military Disability Rating to. The main rule is that the Rating Authorities should choose the VASRD code that is closest to YOUR condition. So first, we need to find a nervous system code that has similar symptoms as your condition.

Some possible nervous system codes include:

Code 8105 - Sydenham's Chorea. Although pure autonomic failure is not caused by an infection, Sydenham's Chorea can be degenerative, and can affect the autonomic nervous system.
Code 8019 - Cerebrospinal Meningitis. Again, pure autonomic failure is not caused by meningitis, but it can have many similar symptoms of meningitis, including heart problems, seizures, etc. 

There are many possible nervous system codes. Remember, just pick the one that is closest to your condition. Ultimately, the nervous system code does not really matter since most nervous system codes are rated on the symptoms they cause. So, regardless of the code chosen to represent your condition, it will still be rated on the symptoms it causes. For example, if your condition causes high blood pressure, it would be rated under code 7101 (hypertension). If it causes difficulty breathing, it would be rated under code 6841 (difficulty breathing due to spinal cord damage), etc. 

The final code for each of the symptoms will look like this: 8019-7101. The first 4 digits refer to the nervous system code that is chosen (8019: Cerebrospinal Meningitis), and the last four refer to the particular symptom that is being rated (7101: Hypertension). This is called an analogous rating.

For the VA, every symptom can be rated separately. For the DoD, only the symptoms that independently cause you to be unable to perform your job at the time of separation can be rated. For example, if your condition causes high blood pressure and neck pain, then the VA will rate both. The DoD will only rate the symptoms that interfere with your ability to do your job. So, if the neck pain is so severe that you can’t perform your duties, it can be rated. If, however, it is just irritating, but doesn’t really limit your abilities, then it can’t be rated.

It can be rather confusing, but just focus on finding and rating each of the symptoms caused by the Pure Autonomic Failure. You can do it!

Monday, April 7, 2014

What Conditions will the VA Rate for VA Disability?

Unlike the DoD, the VA will give a VA disability rating for every condition a disabled American veteran has that was caused by military service or occurred while in the military, with a few exceptions.

First, a condition MUST be service-connected to qualify for VA disability. “Service-connected” means that the condition was either directly caused by military service (you sprained your ankle during training, you were exposed to chemicals while deployed, etc.) or was diagnosed while in the military (you were diagnosed with a kidney condition, you were in a car accident while off-duty, etc.). If you broke your arm in fourth grade, it obviously can’t be rated since the military had nothing to do with it at all. This also goes for genetic conditions, since you would have gotten the condition whether or not you were in the military. See our Existed Prior To Services (EPTS) page for the exceptions to this rule.

Specifically, the VA will NOT rate the following:

As long as your condition does not fall into one of these categories or existed prior to service, you can receive VA Disability Benefits for it. You do, however, HAVE to list it on your VA disability claim application. If you submit an application to the VA, but don’t mention a condition on the application, it won’t be rated. They have to know about it before they will rate it.

Luckily, if you have a condition that wasn’t rated by the VA, but does qualify, you can submit a new claim for that condition at any time. They will always update your ratings or add new conditions to your disability.

Further information about what can or cannot be rated for military disability can be found on our Conditions that are Not Ratable page.