Friday, November 22, 2013

Service Connection: What is it?

The Department of Veterans Affairs administers many benefits to veterans and their spouses and families, but some benefits are available only to those who are classified as “Service-Connected” veterans.

Service-connected means that the veteran was injured or developed or contracted a disease or aggravated a pre-existing injury or disease while he or she was on active duty with one of the branches of service – the Navy, the Army, the Marines, the Air Force or the Coast Guard, or their Reserve Components- and that the injury or disease caused a present disability.   Some disabilities or diseases are presumed to have been caused by the veteran’s service if he or she develops the disease or becomes disabled after leaving the service.  We will discuss presumed service connection in a later post.

Some benefits available to service-connected veterans are financial, and the VA pays the veteran a certain amount of money each month based on the level of disability.  Think of that as “worker’s compensation” – the VA is paying the veteran for the loss to his or her earning abilities.  The VA prescribes a percentage based on a complicated ratings system, and a disability can be rated at 0% - meaning no compensation will be paid because, although the veteran may have some form of disability that can be traced to his or her time in the service, the veteran’s earnings potential is not impaired by the disability.  If the disability later impairs earnings, though, the rating can be increased.  The ratings increase in increments of 10%. Once a disability is rated at 10%, the veteran will receive a monthly check from the VA.

Service-connected veterans receive other non-monetary benefits from the VA, including healthcare benefits and vocational rehabilitation services.   The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides a host of healthcare benefits, but the package of benefits available to an individual veteran, and whether he or she will have a co-pay for those benefits, depends on his or her placement in one of eight categories, known as Priority Groups. Those in Priority Group One have the most complete healthcare benefits package, while those in Priority Groups 7 and 8 must pay a co-pay for any healthcare services provided. 

The VA is only able to provide healthcare benefits based on the amount of money Congress gives them each year, so in times when the money runs low, the VA could provide benefits to those only in the higher groups.  Those veterans rated at least 10% service-connected are placed no lower than Priority Group Three. 

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