As a social media administrator for VA’s Benefits Administration, I read thousands of comments (yep, all of them) each week from thousands of people scattered across the country. It’s no surprise that the most-talked about VA benefit is VA compensation, but it is sometimes surprising that the words we use to talk about this benefit are different from the words used by those in our social media community. Even more surprising is that many don’t fully understand the intent, purpose or process behind this benefit.
That’s on us, I guess, that we need to reach more of you to better explain what compensation is, how it works, and who can get it. In general terms, this blog intends to do just that. Or, more loosely: here’s the skinny, the straight talk, with no PR, no spin, no BS.
So, what is compensation?
It’s money, obviously. But there’s more to it than that. People often say it’s their “monthly check,” their “service-connected payment,” “their disability payment,” or even simply their “benefits.” These are actual words I often see, but even they don’t effectively describe what compensation is, nor do they accurately portray which specific benefit—among dozens VBA administers—they’re referring to.
There are several types of VA compensation, but I’ve learned that most people are most often referring to disability compensation. When referring to disability compensation, people most often say “my claim,” “my money,” “my benefits,” or “my check.” Sometimes they even say “my pension,” which is, itself, an entirely different and unrelated VA benefit.
Alright, I’ve dragged you along long enough, What IS VA compensation?
- First of all, it’s taxpayer money. Every year, VA makes a budget request for the following year. In simple terms for just VBA, we look at what we’re currently paying to administer VA benefits, including how much we’re paying in compensation to the millions of Veterans on the rolls, then we analyze how much more we’ll need based on many factors, mostly that there are more Veterans now accessing and receiving and applying to more VA benefits. However, VA’s budget does not limit what we can pay in benefits.
- Secondly, to safeguard taxpayer money, disability compensation is a process. There are federal laws that govern how we, the VBA, can administer it. This is a protection to the taxpayer to prevent abuse and fraud.
- Next, maybe most importantly—and the part you care about most: VA disability compensation is a tax-free, monthly payment to eligible Veterans for the injuries and medical conditions they incurred/acquired/caught/received or aggravated while in active military service.
- But VA compensation is also an acknowledgement. An acknowledgement implies acceptance from the federal government that what happened to you in service can or may affect you after service. And that’s a broad, vague statement. Thus, VA compensation makes up for the potential loss of civilian wages or civilian working time you’d miss as a result of, or for tending to (appointments, etc.), your injuries/medical conditions. It’s basically the government saying, “Hey, thanks for your service. You sacrificed your health for America, so we accept that your reduced health may impact your ability to live as comfortably as you would had you not gotten hurt/sick.”
- Lastly, VA compensation is not income. I’m going to say that again: VA compensation is not income. It is not a replacement or substitution for civilian employment, and it is not a military retirement. Except in uncommon situations, VA does not pay you to not find or hold civilian employment. Compensation makes up for; it doesn’t replace.
Those are the basics. That’s what it is. In my next blog, I’m going to lay it straight for the questions that would logically follow: Who is eligible, How does it work, and What do I need to do? If you like this approach and you want to see more blogs like it, shoot me some suggestions in the comments below, or hit me up on the VBA Facebook page where I chat with Veterans everyday.