Veterans' Issues Fact Sheet: VA Compensation

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


Are you a veteran with a disability or other health problem related to your service? You may be eligible for VA Compensation.


What is VACompensation?

Compensation is a monthly cash payment to veterans with an injury or disease caused or made worse by military service. Compensation is meant to compensate a Veteran for loss of working time as a result of disabilities related to the Veteran’s service. Service-connected disabilities are assigned a disability rating (in increments of ten starting with 0% up to 100%) by VA. The amount of Compensation depends upon this rating and whether the veteran has any dependents.

Who does the VA consider to be a “veteran”?

A veteran is a person who:

Served in the active military, naval or air services, and

Was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.

Who can get Compensation?

The veteran must have a current disability and must show that it is as likely as not that the disability was caused or made worse by the veteran’s service.

What do “in the line of duty” and “active service” mean for a disability?

“In the line of duty” means the veteran’s disability is linked in some way to a period of active service. “Active service” includes:

Active duty; or

Any period of active or inactive duty for training in which the individual concerned was disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or made worse in the line of duty.

The injury does not have to be on the battlefield to be “in the line of duty.” A qualifying injury can include conditions caused or made worse by events taking place while the soldier was on leave.


Sometimes the branch of the military in which the veteran serves decides if a veteran’s injury was “in the line of duty.” If so, the VA is bound by that decision unless “it is patently inconsistent with the requirements of the laws administered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”

Can a National Guard member qualify for Compensation?

Yes, a person in the National Guard can get benefits when he or she is:

on full-time duty for training purposes, or

called to duty to fill the needs of the Armed Forces during war or other national emergency.

However, members of the Guard are only eligible for Compensation stemming from their “federal service.” National Guard members ordered into the active service of their state are not eligible for VA Compensation related to that service.

Can a veteran work and still get Compensation?

Yes. Unlike a VA Pension, entitlement to Compensation is never barred by employment.

Is there any limit on the assets a veteran can have in order to qualify forCompensation?

No, a veteran’s assets do not affect eligibility for Compensation.


Can a veteran get both Compensation and a Pension?

No, the veteran must choose to get one or the other.

What is the “standard of proof” for a Compensation claim?

In order to make the case for compensation, the medical evidence needs to show a veteran’s disabilities are “as likely as not” connected to his or her service.

The medical evidence must show at least a 50 percent chance the veteran’s disability was caused or made worse by his or her service.

This “benefit of the doubt” standard means if the evidence is half for and half against service connection, the veteran should get the benefit of the doubt.

What is “presumption of sound condition”?

The law says:

“...every veteran shall be taken to have been in sound condition when examined, accepted, and enrolled for service, except as to defects, infirmities, or disorders noted at the time of the examination, acceptance and enrollment, or where clear and unmistakable evidence demonstrates that the injury or disease existed before acceptance and enrollment and was not aggravated by such service.”

If I am awarded Compensation, what is the effective date of my back award?

The general rule is the effective date is the later of:

the date the VA gets the original claim for benefits, or

when the claim “arose.”

This means a veteran should file a claim as soon as possible. If the veteran is unable to promptly file an application for benefits, the veteran may file an “intent to file claim” using VA Form 21-0966. The intent to file claim must identify the claimant and general benefit sought (Compensation, Pension, etc.). Once the intent to file claim is received the VA must provide the proper application for the benefit sought to the veteran. If the veteran submits a formal claim within a year of the receipt of the intent to file claim then the effective date will be the date the intent to file claim was received by VA.

What is the VA’s “duty to assist”?

The VA has a duty to provide veterans with a VA medical examination to diagnose his or her current medical condition. This is called a “compensation and pension examination.” The VA also has a duty to obtain  records relevant to the veteran’s claim.

What is a claim for “Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU)”?

When a veteran has a service-connected disability rated 60% or higher (or multiple disabilities, one of which is rated 40% or higher with a total rating of 70% or higher) that prevents the veteran from obtaining or keeping substantially gainful employment, he or she will get Compensation at the 100% level. It makes no difference if the medical condition itself does not warrant a 100% disability rating.


To apply:

Fill out VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.

Go to the VA website for fillable forms, summaries of programs and how to apply for benefits.



Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

VA Compensation PDF Version

Last Review and Update: Oct 07, 2020
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