This is the first of three blogs (today, tomorrow and Monday) on this important topic. I hope you find it helpful.
The program is called "Compensation" and is different from the non-service-connected "Pension" program that elder law attorneys often discuss with wartime veteran clients or their surviving spouses. Like the pension program, VA compensation comes in the form of income-tax-free money payments to the veteran, who must have received a discharge other than dishonorable, or certain of their family members. The big difference from the pension program, however, is that VA compensation entirely flows from the linkage between the veteran's disability and his or her military service. https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/compensation.asp
For most veterans, the key issues in accessing VA compensation benefits have been proving service connection for the disability, and then dealing with the disability level rating that the VA assessment system applies to the particular veteran's case. Often veterans who prove service connection are nonetheless frustrated by their disabilities being rated in seemingly unreasonably low percentages, such as 30% disabled rating, with the result that their compensation benefits may not be adequate to sustain them despite the actual disabling effects on their lives.
It is important to be aware that the surviving spouse of a compensation recipient may be eligible for a benefit called DIC, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. DIC applies to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died of his or her service-connected disability, or who received VA compensation for a period of 10 years prior to death not caused by the service-connected disability. For more information about DIC, see the VA website at https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book/benefits_chap12.asp
As Vietnam War veterans become "elders" in their 60s and 70s, it is increasingly important for professional advisors of all kinds to be aware of a special situation that applies to them. This special situation is the "presumptive disease list."
Three decades ago, litigation on behalf of disabled Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange established that certain diseases were associated with Agent Orange exposure. Although proving the Agent Orange causal relationship was a difficult legal battle, that battle has been won in regard to many diseases. There is now a lengthy list of Presumptive Diseases that have been proven to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange, and the list keeps growing as time passes. A veteran who can prove that he or she placed a "boot on the ground" in Vietnam during the war and has any disease on the list may be rated 100% service-connected disabled, without having to prove individually that his or her affliction was actually caused by service in Vietnam. There is now a legal presumption that Vietnam service caused the disease.
Part II will be tomorrow's blog.