Despite being a nation that historically couldn’t really give a fig for the plight of the indigent or the disabled America has always had a soft spot for those who fight for whatever it is the nation believes in at any given time. Be it fighting off the shackles of an oppressive colonial power or vice versa, the nation has expected its young to go and do their duty. It was as early as the Congress of 1789 that federal funding of pensions to those that came home diminished, and compensation to the families of those who didn’t return was first provided. As we come around to the annual commemoration of all those who have served it’s worth having a look at the current version of that initial plan, that is the VA Disability Compensation Benefit.
To qualify for Disability Compensation a veteran has to have incurred a disability or disease whilst engaged in active military service, and has to have since been discharged from the military in any condition other than dishonorable. If the veteran passes those criteria, the VA then determines the level of the disability on a percentage scale. That level of disability, as well as the number of dependents the applicant has, determines the monthly payment amount. There are a range of factors involved that go towards receiving a determination of total permanent disability and they include the downright horrible situation of being permanently helpless, as well as the more prosaic inability to work at substantial gainful employment. Here ‘substantial’ means being able to work at or above the federal poverty level.
Disability Compensation is not a means-tested benefits which, while seeming to be less than kind to those whose resources are lower, does mean that it isn’t affected by other income such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Indeed, veterans are encouraged to apply for SSDI if they do become disabled. To counter that upside, however, it should be noted that the criteria for Social Security disabilities are not the same as those for the VA; to counter that downswing SSA and VA work together to expedite applications for those who have been determined to have permanent and total disability.
As with all these things, while we would much rather there never be a need for compensation for those who experience the loss of the full range of their erstwhile abilities, we can be grateful that it exists, and we remain grateful to those who are willing to take those risks.