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Understanding VA Disability Compensation

Posted by R.F. (Ben) Stewart III, JD, LLM | Apr 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

Serving in the US Armed Forces is a source of honor and pride for our service members. Unfortunately, serving in the armed forces increases health risks to those who serve. Combat situations are obviously risky, but many harmful situations don't involve direct combat, including exposure to hazardous chemicals, accidents, and mental stress.

If an armed forces Veteran has a service-related injury or illness, they may be eligible for disability compensation. Surviving spouses, parents, and children of Veterans or service members who died due to service-related injuries or illnesses may also be eligible to receive disability compensation.

Disability Compensation

Disability compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit for Veterans living with a disability caused or further aggravated by an injury or illness resulting from active military service. Disabilities that arise after military service concludes, resulting from service, may also qualify. Dishonorably discharged Veterans might not be eligible for disability compensation.

VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC) is a tax-free monetary compensation generally paid to surviving spouses, children, and parents of service members who died during active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. VA DIC may also be available to survivors of Veterans who died from a service-related injury or illness.

VA Special Monthly Compensation

VA Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is another tax-free benefit for eligible Veterans. SMC is a higher compensation rate available for special circumstances, such as a specific disability or a dependents' need for aid and attendance. An example of a specific disability is the loss of a limb or the loss of the use of a limb. SMC can be paid to the affected Veteran, their spouse, their surviving spouse, or their parents.

Determination of Compensation

The amount of compensation the qualified person is eligible for is determined on an individual basis and a graduated scale according to the degree of the Veteran's disability. The degrees of disability benefits are also designed to compensate for considerable work loss exacerbated by illnesses.

Learn more about VA compensation benefits, eligibility, and how to apply on the VA's website. If a Veteran who has a service-related injury or illness wants to start receiving compensation benefits based on the date of their honorable discharge from the armed services, they must submit a claim within one year of their discharge date. After a year from their discharge date, benefits won't be applied retroactively. They will be based on when a successful claim is submitted, not when they were discharged from the armed services. This rule was reinforced with the 2023 US Supreme Court decision in the Arellano v. McDonough case.

Arellano v. McDonough

On January 23, 2023, the US Supreme Court affirmed, in Arellano v. McDonough, that for a Veteran with a qualifying service-related injury or illness to receive VA disability compensation starting on the day after their honorable discharge date, they must apply for compensation within one year of the discharge date.

The case came about when Navy Veteran Adolfo Arellano applied for disability compensation in June 2011 for psychiatric disorders he sustained while serving on an aircraft carrier thirty years prior. The VA granted Arellano service-connected disability benefits and designated June 3, 2011, as the effective date for his benefits, according to the applicable statutes. Citing an exception to another part of the applicable statute governing the one-year grace period for the application deadline, Arellano said his disability compensation should be retroactive to when he left the Navy in 1981. He alleged he was too ill at the time to know he could apply for disability compensation benefits.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court determined that when Congress enacted the statutes, it was explicit enough about the time frame and exceptions and that the statutes couldn't be interpreted in the way Arellano was trying to interpret them. Furthermore, the Supreme Court based its decision on its interpretation of Congress' intentions when enacting the statutes governing the VA's disability compensation benefits.


For Veterans who have a service-related injury or illness, their best option is to apply for VA disability compensation benefits within one year of their discharge date. Doing this may make their benefits effective the day after the discharge date. If they apply for VA disability compensation benefits after the one-year anniversary of their discharge date, the effective date of benefits will likely be the day they successfully apply for those benefits.

Resources: Supreme Court rulings & Arellano v. McDonough & & VA compensation & SMC & VA DIC

About the Author

R.F. (Ben) Stewart III, JD, LLM

Ben began practicing law in 1985 after receiving a Masters of Law in Taxation from the University of Florida Levin College of Law....


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