Determining eligibility for combat veteran benefits takes time and legal experience. There can be a ton of forms to get right on your application. Or, disability claims were denied, and the complicated appeals process made things more challenging.
Whether you’re a combat veteran curious about eligibility or seeking to appeal a low disability rating, we are veteran’s disability lawyers that can answer your questions for free. Learn about the benefits available and how to qualify for them.
Read this comprehensive guide to learn about benefits for combat veterans and how to get the most out of your disability claim.
In This Article About VA Disability for Combat and Non-Combat Vets:
- What Is a Combat Veteran?
- Common Types of Veterans Under the Combat Veteran Designation
- How to Prove I Am a Combat Veteran
- Proving Service Connections for Combat-Wounded Veteran Benefits
- Types of Service Connections for Combat Veteran Benefits
- What Kind of Benefits Can I Expect As a Combat Veteran?
- Enhanced Eligibility Benefits
- How Do Combat Veteran Benefits Differ For Non-Combat Veterans?
- Where to Find Legal Support for Combat Veteran Benefits
What Is a Combat Veteran?
To qualify for combat veteran benefits, service members or their surviving spouses must meet specific criteria. These criteria, determined by the VA, distinguish veterans from those veterans who never experienced combat.
The qualifications for combat veteran status include discharge or release from active service on or after January 28, 2003. Recipients of Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay typically qualify for combat veteran status.
These also apply to activated Reservists and members of the National Guard. Eligibility begins with active duty in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998. Recipients of dishonorable discharge remain excluded from these benefits for combat veteran eligibility.
Common Types of Veterans Under the Combat Veteran Designation
The combat veteran designation applies to certain types of veterans. This designation is most commonly for veterans who served in particular theatres of combat. These theatres of war include specific missions such as:
- Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan
- Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
- Operation New Dawn (OND) in Iraq
Not all combat veterans served on these missions. These are the most common combat veterans eligible for benefits. Other veterans may qualify for service benefits if they can prove they performed in another theatre of combat.
How to Prove I Am a Combat Veteran
Proving combat veteran eligibility can be challenging. The VA requires several types of documentation to determine service in a theater of combat operations. These documents include:
- Military service documentation reflecting use in a combat theater
- Combat veteran medals for service
- Combat veteran status after January 28, 2003
- Receipt of imminent danger or hostile fire pay or tax benefits
Accessing this documentation takes time. Unless you retain a copy for personal records, you can find additional documentation with the VA. Reference your DD-214 for the type of pay and medals that qualify you for combat service. We will also look over all of these documents as we gather them together to make your claim.
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Related combat veteran medals include, but are not limited to, some of the following:
- CAB (Combat Action Badge)
- CMB (Combat Medical Badge)
- CIB (Combat Infantry Badge)
- Medal of Honor
- Purple Heart
Proving eligibility is only one step in the process. Before you can receive the full range of disability benefits, you must assess needs and prove claims with medical documentation. Even then, the application may still require an appeal with the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Providing income information may help determine higher eligibility status. It can also help with beneficiary travel benefits and copay exemption for care unrelated to combat service.
Proving Service Connections for Combat-Wounded Veteran Benefits
Even after providing relevant documentation, you must still connect combat-related injuries to current disabilities. Although not as difficult as proving secondary service-connected disabilities, it remains challenging.
Despite the validity of a DD-214 or combat veteran medals, the VA may still challenge disability claims. There are ways to counteract this challenge.
Veterans can provide statements from fellow service members proving the disability claim. Any provided information must:
- be satisfactory and credible
- consistent with service conditions, circumstances, and hardships
- show the in-service condition or injury occurred outside service
Expert legal counsel should evaluate statements meeting these criteria. If you sought statements after receiving a rejection or low disability rating, they must be substantial. Supportive legal consultation provides comprehensive analysis protecting the validity of your claim(s) and statements endorsing it.
Depending on the type of combat veteran benefits you seek, you need to supply medical documentation, too. With each disability claimed, documentation must support the connection to combat service.
Any medical treatments, vocational reports, psychological evaluations, and so on can support your claim. The more documentation you possess, the less likely your disability claim will be denied.
Types of Service Connections for Combat Veteran Benefits
Receiving combat veteran benefits depends on the VA’s acceptance of disability claims. When proving service connections, you need to understand which type(s) may affect your claim.
Some disabilities appear immediately. Others appear later, making them harder to prove for your claims.
Direct Service Connection
Direct service connections to disability claims are the most common. These typically pertain to injuries received in a theatre of combat. An IED blew up, or a truck wrecked, and you got injured. Those are cut-and-dry service connections.
Directly related connections are marked by a diagnosed disability at the time of the claim. The application must connect directly with a combat service-related incident. This incident must connect with the disability and the incident at a clear nexus. Don’t assume just because the connection is obvious to you that it will be obvious the VA.
Determining a direct service connection can be the most simple combat disability claim to prove. Make sure to acquire the proper documentation to support a directly related service claim. If you do not document any medical care or diagnostics, you will find it more challenging to validate your disability claim.
Service Connection Through Aggravation
When veterans accumulate disabilities in active duty, these can worsen with particular incidences. For returning service members with pre-existing conditions, combat service can aggravate these conditions. What was previously an inconvenience may now be a full-fledged disability worthy of a benefits claim.
When veterans are declared fit for active duty, this follows a presumption of soundness. This presumption extends to physical and mental health. If a condition worsens after combat service, veterans may be able to claim a service connection through aggravation.
For instance, if you entered the Navy with very mild arthritis and they let you enlist, they didn’t think it was bad enough to hinder your sevice. After 6 years at sea, your job in engineering worked your knuckles so bad that your arthritis got worse. This would be a service connection through aggravation.
Presumptive Service Connection
Presumptive service connections differ from direct service connections. These apply to specific periods of service known to impact service members. Presumptive periods range from one year after service to any period of time, based on the service experience.
For example, presumptive service connections apply to particular cases. Examples of presumptive combat service connections include:
- Army or Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange
- Air Force or Army members exposed to atomic or ionizing radiation
- Any troops from the Persian Gulf War
Service members claiming combat veteran benefits fall under presumptive service connection. Most combat veterans of today served in one or multiple Gulf War operations. This means you may qualify for presumptive service connection.
Secondary Service Connection
Secondary service connections occur from other service-related disabilities. When a direct combat service disability causes a secondary disability, this connection occurs. Typically, secondary service disabilities arise years later.
Secondary service disabilities also apply to non-service related disabilities. For example, any physical or mental condition from non-combat scenarios can be aggravated into secondary service connection.
Secondary service also applies to physical and mental conditions unconnected to service. For example, if a disability not endured in combat connects to a combat-related injury, secondary service connections apply.
Back pain related to a service-connected knee injury is a common secondary service connection. Because your knee is busted, you walk with a limp. That limp transfers up to your back and affects your posture, wearing out your vertebrae faster than normal. This is why you want an experienced VA lawyer on your side. We find extra benefits and connections like this for veterans every day.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
Service Connection to VA Medical Care
Service connections to VA medical care occur when treatment for combat-related conditions is incomplete. If you sustained a disability connected to combat and the VA does not fully treat it, your condition may worsen. These disabilities may be misdiagnosed or mistreated, connecting the original condition to VA medical care.
These types of disabilities may be unconnected conditions from time in the theatre of combat. If medical treatment was incomplete and caused secondary or presumptive conditions to appear, your disability claim may connect to service connections from VA medical care.
Combat Veterans Involved in the 9/11 Attacks
Military personnel who were in the Pentagon or the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are considered combat veterans. The Department of Defense has authorized special payment to those servicemembers for that day. Their hostile fire pay only counts for that day until midnight.
If you were involved in those attacks and suffered long-term medical effects, you should mention it. You want any evidence that points to your injuries to be clear in your VA disability application.
What Kind of Benefits Can I Expect As a Combat Veteran?
Combat veteran benefits vary based on when you apply for benefits. Certain health benefits remain available, as long as you qualify for the combat veteran authority.
General Health Benefits for Combat Veterans
General health benefits covered by the combat veteran authority include cost-free care and medication for conditions potentially related to combat service. Anticipate enrollment in Priority Group 6, unless eligible for a higher priority group. You should also receive full access to the VA’s Medical Benefits Package.
This medical package includes:
- Preventive care services
- Outpatient treatment and diagnostic services
- Inpatient treatment and diagnostic services
- Women’s healthcare services
- Long-term care services
- And other services
The general medical package covers a variety of services for physical, mental, and other wellness. As long as disability claims connect to combat service, you can receive coverage for combat-wounded veteran benefits.
Enhanced Eligibility Benefits
Enhanced eligibility for combat veteran benefits is part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008. It extends the period of eligibility for those who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998.
Qualifying for enhanced eligibility enrollment began for combat veterans discharged or released from service on or after January 28, 2003. The enhanced eligibility period for enrollment in the VA health care system begins five years from the date of discharge or release for any present-day veterans. For veterans with multiple call-ups, the enrollment period begins with the most recent discharge date.
You will receive immediate enrollment with enhanced eligibility. You will also be assigned to priority group 6 unless you qualify for higher priority grouping. This grouping is designated by your income and a service-connected disability.
You also qualify for free medical care and medication for any condition connected with your service in a theatre of combat. Depending on your priority group, you may have to cover copay for these services. Copay only applies to those disabilities unconnected to your combat service.
Combat-Related Special Compensation for Disabled Veterans
Eligibility for combat-related special compensation (CSRC) slightly differs from regular combat veteran benefits. To qualify for CSRC, you must:
- Have 20 years or more of service
- Be a recipient of medical retirement
- You are a Reservist aged 60 or older retired through TERA
- Be a recipient of military retirement pay
- Waive VA from retired pay
- Have a combat-related injury with a disability rating of 10% or higher
CRSC applies retroactively. This pay goes back six years from the date the VA accepts your disability claim. If you apply for CRSC past six years, you do not receive back pay.
How Do Combat Veteran Benefits Differ For Non-Combat Veterans?
The most significant difference for combat veteran benefits over non-combat veterans is a priority group. Veterans with combat service records rank higher in priority. This means they qualify for more medical coverage and enhanced eligibility enrollment.
Non-combat veterans still qualify for the basic medical benefits package. If they experience any service-related injuries, they can still apply for disability benefits. To ensure the best experience for claim application, it’s in any veteran and/or surviving spouse’s best interest to seek legal counsel.
Note that you don’t have to be a combat veteran to receive VA disability. You can even receive VA disability for PTSD without ever seeing combat. Don’t think that never seeing combat doesn’t make you a “real” veteran. If you enlisted and served our country, in whatever capacity, you should look into all VA benefits.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm
Where to Find Legal Support for Combat Veteran Benefits
If you are a combat veteran or the surviving spouse of a deceased service member, you need legal support for any disability claims. The application process can overwhelm many, and we want to ensure you receive what you are owed.
Even after submitting all of the relevant paperwork, an appeal might still be necessary. We can support you through this as well. At Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, we aim to provide legal expertise throughout the entire process.
Claiming combat veteran benefits should not be complicated. We are here to make this a reality. For a free legal consultation and to learn more about what our practice can do to personally support you, contact us today.
FAQ about Combat and Non-Combat Veterans:
Combat veterans were part of a military conflict in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even a few other places. They typically saw combat in person or were nearby supporting others involved in a direct conflict.
YES! Anyone who served in the armed forces is considered a veteran. Even with a dishonorable discharge or if you’ve lost your DD-214, you are still a veteran. The VA may have trouble being convinced about what benefits you deserve, but a VA disability lawyer can help.