Employed veterans with certain service-connected health problems can apply for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whether or not they are receiving any type of military or government disability pay. However, if you receive a non-service connected pension and/or compensation and/or total disability (TD), it may affect your eligibility to receive disability compensation for a service-connected condition.
How are benefits awarded for VA disability?
VA benefits are generally awarded on the basis of your average earnings over your lifetime, so if you retire early or reduce your work hours to get treatment, this will usually have no effect on disability benefits. However, there are exceptions to this rule which you should discuss with VA personnel when applying for benefits.
The general rule is that the VA only pays out individual unemployability for conditions that are service-connected, meaning they were incurred or aggravated during your active military service. A non-service-connected (NSC) condition is one that existed before you began active duty, such as a hernia you had since birth (congenital defect), asthma you had since childhood (a condition you were born with), or high blood pressure, which was present before military service (something you had since birth).
If you already receive a pension
As far as having an effect on your disability benefits, if you already receive a pension for a non-service-connected condition then the VA may offset that by the amount of your pension. If you suffer a service-connected condition, then your VA benefits cannot be offset by any type of military or government disability pay you receive.
This is not to say that you can’t have both a non-service-connected pension and a service-connected pension at the same time. This would only occur if you also suffered from a service-connected condition for which you did not yet receive VA compensation. If this were the case, then your non-service-connected pension cannot be offset because it relates to a condition for which you already receive service-connected disability compensation.
What if you are receiving Workers’ Compensation and/or Social Security Disability?
This would also usually affect your eligibility for VA disability benefits, but not always. The VA has a special rule which may apply to you depending on your situation.
If the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Workers’ Compensation pays for your medical treatment or provides temporary disability cash benefits, then they have their own rules which take precedence over the VA’s. Therefore, it would be best to ask these agencies if their rulings affect your eligibility for VA benefits.
For example, SSA will usually require you to return any money they paid on your behalf before you can get any VA compensation. The VA does not do this with service-connected disability monies paid out to disabled veterans. On the other hand, if you become eligible for social security disability insurance (SSDI) then your VA compensation may be offset by SSDI benefits. Be extra careful when mixing benefits like this to avoid being unintentionally caught up in any kind of fraud case.
If there are no current disputes over benefits between the various agencies, you can still apply for VA disability compensation without worrying about losing eligibility for any other benefits. However, you will need to explain this situation on your application and provide copies of the documents which prove you are receiving benefits from other agencies.
What if you receive a pension for my non-service-connected condition?
If the VA determines that your work history is long enough, then your old age or survivors’ insurance (OASDI) pension can be offset by your VA compensation. However, this only applies if you are not currently receiving SSA or Workers’ Compensation benefits. In other words, your OASDI pension is reduced by the amount of cash disability benefits you’re currently receiving from those agencies but not reduced if you’re not currently receiving any monetary benefit from them.
In conclusion, you can generally expect your VA benefits to be offset by the amount of money you receive from SSA or Workers’ Compensation. However, if you are currently receiving monetary benefits from those agencies then the offset might not affect your VA benefits.
You can apply for VA disability benefits without worrying about losing your non-service-connected pension. You must explain this on your application and provide documentation of any monetary benefits you receive from SSA or Workers’ Compensation.