Many veterans leave the service with a disability but don’t want to stop being a soldier. You can re-enlist with a disability as long as it doesn’t affect how you’ll do your job.
A VA disability rating doesn’t impact your ability to serve in the military. Ultimately, it’s the injury which may prevent you from performing functions of a military role but the disability rating in and of itself is not prohibitive. In fact, to serve in the military again, you don’t even need to waive your disability rating altogether. We clarify in further detail below.
This article provides information for military service members who have taken a break from active duty and are looking to return to active duty after receiving a VA disability rating or military service members who are looking to transition to the Guard or Reserves after receiving a VA disability rating.
In This Article About Joining The Reserves While Getting VA Disability:
- Can You Still Serve in the Military if You have a VA Disability Rating?
- Are Medical Waivers Needed?
- What About VA Disability While on Active Duty?
- What Can Affect Your VA Rating?
- Can You Join the Guard or Reserves If You Have a VA Disability Rating?
- Can You Get Double Compensation from Both the VA and the Reserves?
- How do you Pick Your Paycheck and Verify Your Time When Receiving Dual Payments?
- You Can Pick the Payment You Receive
- How Does the Government Collect Money You Owe?
- Let us Answer Your VA Disability Questions
Can You Still Serve in the Military if You have a VA Disability Rating?
If you’re thinking of returning to active duty with VA disability in 2021, we have good news. A VA disability rating alone does not prevent you from being able to serve in the military. However, the injury sustained while on active duty could be so severe that it prevents you from being able to return to active duty.
For instance, if you were given a VA disability rating and took time off to get surgery, after healing and physical therapy, you may be able to perform your military duties. However, if, after surgery, you are continuing to deal with limited mobility or an underlying medical condition, you may not be able to perform the required military duties to return to active duty.
For active duty, you must maintain your ability to be deployable and pass your PT test to be considered eligible to continue your service in the military. So, while a VA disability rating alone does not hinder your ability to return, you should consider the impact of your injury and the possibility of being able to return to active duty.
Are Medical Waivers Needed?
Do you need a medical waiver to serve on active duty if you have a VA disability rating?
If your injury resulted in a break from active duty, you would likely need to process through MEPS again. This means you are almost sure to be asked for a medical waiver prior to joining the military again. Medical waivers are a different process separate from your VA disability rating. While there isn’t a specific number that prevents you from joining the military, ultimately decisions are based on your injury and ability to perform military duties.
The military is primarily concerned with whether or not you are physically able to perform your duties; they are looking to protect you and other service members and will work to prevent you from serving if there’s potential a limitation can cause harm.
In this video, one of our certified VA disability lawyers talks about whether you can get VA disability if you are in the National Guard or the Reserves:
What About VA Disability While on Active Duty?
You should contact the VA if you return to active duty and suspend your VA disability compensation. This is particularly important if you’re going to be serving on deployments, mobilizations, and any long training assignments. If you fail to notify the VA that you require suspended payments while on active duty, you will incur a debt that you will have to pay back to the VA upon your return. The VA will not apply any penalties for failure to suspend payments.
However, the most responsible way to handle return to active duty is to contact the VA beforehand, advise of the changes and request suspension of payments. Upon returning from active duty, you may contact the VA again and ask for payments to be reinstated.
What Can Affect Your VA Rating?
Does serving on active duty affect your VA disability rating?
Maybe. Some VA disability ratings are permanent, while others are temporary. When returning to active duty, your first step is to notify the VA of payment suspension. This keeps you in compliance with the law. However, when it comes to your VA disability rating, there are several possibilities.
VA disability ratings may change over time, depending on how your condition improves or worsens over time. If your condition continues to get worse, your VA disability rating may increase. However, if your condition betters over time, your VA disability rating may decrease. Still, some VA ratings may enter into a protected state after a certain time period has passed and the VA will cease any decreases to your disability rating.
Since there are many possibilities, it’s important you consider that return to active duty may mean an improved condition, which could then decrease your VA disability rating. However, if your VA disability rating has already entered into a protected state, then you will not see any changes to your rating.
Upon returning from active duty, you may contact the VA to request reactivation of payments and determine your ratings after a reexamination.
Can You Join the Guard or Reserves If You Have a VA Disability Rating?
It’s certainly possible. You’ll want to start by contacting a recruiter and letting them know you would like to join the Guard or Reserves. Disabled vets join reserves all the time but remember, you are still required to meet the standard criteria, including appropriate weight and age. Your recruiter will take care of processing your application and will submit it to MEPS for a medical review. If your application is denied, you may need to take additional steps, which your recruiter will explain to you.
Although it’s possible for you to be able to transition seamlessly into the Guard or Reserves, you may require a medical waiver, so be ready for all possibilities throughout this process. You can still get VA disability while enlisted in reserves. More on that in the next paragraph.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Can You Get Double Compensation from Both the VA and the Reserves?
No, you can’t receive VA disability and reserve pay at the same time. Dual compensation is prohibited, and should you accidentally receive a VA payment while serving in the military, you will be required to pay that money back to the VA. Although you can get VA disability while in reserves, you must waive the military pay. It’s one or the other.
Dual payments are legally referred to as “concurrent receipt.” The U.S. Code prohibits service members from receiving dual compensation while on active duty or during inactive training.
Additional clarity is provided in Section 12316 and Section 5304:
10 U.S. Code § 12316 – Payment of certain reserves while on duty
Section (b) clearly outlines that:
“Unless the payments because of his earlier military service are greater than the compensation prescribed by subsection (a)(2), a Reserve of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard who because of his earlier military service is entitled to a pension, retired or retainer pay, or disability compensation, and who upon being ordered to active duty for a period of more than 30 days in time of war or national emergency is found physically qualified to perform that duty, ceases to be entitled to the payments because of his earlier military service until the period of active duty ends. While on that active duty, he is entitled to the compensation prescribed by subsection (a)(2). Other rights and benefits of the member or his dependents are unaffected by this subsection.”10 U.S. Code § 12316
38 U.S. Code § 5304 – Prohibition against duplication of benefits
Section (c) offers additional clarity:
“Pension, compensation, or retirement pay on account of any person’s own service shall not be paid to such person for any period for which such person receives active service pay.”38 U.S. Code § 5304
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
How do you Pick Your Paycheck and Verify Your Time When Receiving Dual Payments?
When it comes time to pick your pay, you will need VA Form 21-8951, Notice of Waiver of VA Compensation or Pension to Receive Military Pay and Allowances. Whenever you have received dual pay, you are required to complete and submit this form. Although the VA often sends you a copy, it is ultimately your responsibility to complete the form and keep record for yourself.
In VA Form 21-8951, there are four main sections which require your attention. Section I contains all your identification information – make sure there are no misspellings or errors to your social security number, VA file number, date of birth, or service number. Section II requires you enter the fiscal year and your total number of training days. Section III is where you determine which compensation, either military pay or VA disability pay, you are waiving. Section IV requires your signature and the signature of your commander or designee.
Keep in mind that VA Form 21-8951 clearly states that the VA will “assume that you wish to waive VA compensation or pension for the number of days printed on the front of the form” if they do not receive a waiver from you. You can expect them to advise you of any changes and then adjust your award. To prevent the VA from moving forward without your decision, be sure to complete the form in its entirety and submit it within the appropriate timeframe.
You Can Pick the Payment You Receive
Is it up to you to decide which payments to waive?
Yes, it is ultimately up to you to decide which payment to waive. You’ll find that most of the time, it’s most beneficial for you to waive the VA disability compensation as it tends to be less than what you would earn working in the military.
However, it’s important to consider the numbers when deciding which paycheck to pick. You can find a VA disability calculator on our site to help you decide. For instance, Reservists and National Guard benefits include 63 days’ worth of pay per fiscal year. This includes not only Unit Training Assemblies (UTAs) but also Annual Training (AT). Although you may be required to work additional days depending on deployments, additional training, or other active time, for the sake of clarity, you can keep it capped at 63 days of work.
Next, review the compensation rates for veterans depending on their disability rating and their family size. You can quickly draw a comparison between your monthly compensation provided by VA disability and your military pay. More often than not, you will find that military pay is significantly higher than what is provided through VA disability, which can help you make the best decision for your particular situation.
If you move forward with waiving your VA disability compensation, you will be waiving a total of 63 days’ worth of payments. Now, on the other hand, if you choose to waive your military compensation, you will be waiving all earnings, including your basic pay, your basic allowance for housing, your basic allowance for subsistence, and any other non-taxable pay and benefits. When comparing the two options, it is almost always best to move forward with waiving your VA disability compensation, as your military earnings are significantly more robust.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
How Does the Government Collect Money You Owe?
If you have received compensation from the VA during active working days, in most situations, the VA will not outright request this money back. Instead, they withhold any future payments for the duration overpayments were made. For instance, if you inadvertently received one month’s worth of VA payments while you were on active duty, upon reactivation of VA disability compensation, the VA will withhold one month’s worth of compensation to bring you current.
If this happens, make sure you track how many days you received dual compensation and be ready to absorb the financial shift during the period when the VA recoups the overpayments. Having full awareness of this period without compensation will position you to better budget throughout the month or months during which you won’t be receiving a steady stream of income. With a good plan, you can circumvent any financial difficulties.
You are free to return to active duty or join the National Guard or Reserves even with a VA disability rating. So long as you receive medical clearance, you can move forward with your military career and receive military pay and benefits. Just remember: you cannot collect dual payments and will be required to pick your paycheck using VA form 21-8951 every fiscal year.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
Let us Answer Your VA Disability Questions
Woods and Woods has helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case.
All of our attorneys are VA-certified. Call us and join the thousands of veterans we have helped to receive the VA disability benefits they deserve.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes, depending on your disability. If you can pass the MEPS exam again and they don’t deem your disability as a hindrance to your job, you can continue to serve your country in that way.
Not necessarily. You can’t collect money from disability and the military at the same time, but your rating won’t be changed. When you have your re-evaluation for your VA rating, it may change if you are recovered from your disability.