An Overview of Veterans Disability Benefits

July 17, 2018 | by the National Care Planning Council

Veterans are typically in receipt of four cash income disability programs from VA. Two of these programs – Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension – are paid to veterans and their surviving spouses or children for veterans who are non-service-connected disabled. These two programs are often called the aid and attendance benefit when they involve the need for and the payment of an additional allowance because of the need of the aid and attendance of another person. The other two of these programs – Disability Compensation and DIC – are paid to veterans or surviving spouses due to disability or death from service connection.

Disability Income and health care benefits comprise the largest portion of the VA budget which for 2018 will be about $186.5 billion. Projected spending for medical care in 2018 will be $69.8 billion. Another $83.9 billion is for Disability Compensation benefits including DIC. Another $6.0 billion is for Pension including Survivors (Death) Pension. These expenditures represent a total of $159.7 billion and encompass about 85.6% of the entire VA budget.

Number of                      Beneficiaries – 2016

Younger than 65

Age 65 and Older

Total    all Ages

Average Monthly Payment

Disability Compensation





DIC for Surviving Spouse





Veterans Pension





Survivors Pension for Spouse





100% Disabled


Special Monthly Compensation


Tinnitus or Hearing Loss – Most Prevalent Disabilities


Healthcare System Enrolled    


Source: National Care Planning Council and VA statistical data.

Disability Compensation

Disability Compensation is a tax-free benefit paid to a veteran for a service-connected disability that happened as a result of injury or disease during active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty for training or injury from VA healthcare. Cash income payments for Compensation range from a low of $136.24 a month to a high of about $8,700 a month in 2018. Special benefits, like grants for new automobiles or modifying existing automobiles, grants for constructing or modifying homes, clothing allowances and so on are payable for severe service-connected disabilities. A veteran cannot receive Pension and Compensation at the same time and a surviving spouse cannot receive Death Pension and DIC at the same time. A choice must be made which benefit the beneficiary wants to receive.

An aid and attendance or housebound benefit in the form of Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is available to the veteran who is 100% disabled. A single veteran rated for 100% disability will receive a check for $2,973.86 a month in 2018 and if the veteran has a spouse the amount is $3,139.67 a month. A 100% disabled veteran meeting the SMC Schedule (l) aid and attendance criteria can receive $3,700.43 a month in 2018 and if that veteran has a spouse, the amount can be $3,866.24 a month. Higher amounts are possible if the aid and attendance involves certain severe disabilities. An SMC benefit is also available to a veteran who is housebound.

This aid and attendance allowance is not an automatic benefit and most veterans don’t even know about this special assistance and never apply for it. If the veteran receiving Compensation is not 100% disabled, it may be possible to increase the rating up to 100% or be paid at 100% due to unemployability. Even retired veterans can be considered unemployable. Most veterans receiving Compensation don’t have a clue as to their eligibility for aid and attendance or housebound benefits that are not related to the Pension benefit.

Also, an aid and attendance allowance is available due to the need for these services for a disabled spouse of a veteran where the veteran is 30% or more disabled. The amount goes up as the disability rating goes up. For example, for 2018, a 30% disabled veteran can generate an aid and attendance allowance of $46.00 a month benefit as a result of his or her disabled spouse needing aid and attendance. A 100% disabled veteran can generate an aid and attendance allowance of $152.06 a month for his or her spouse. Again, it is not common knowledge these additional aid and attendance allowances are available and VA does not normally notify people of their existence.

Of particular note for Disability Compensation are Agent Orange claims for each and every veteran who was stationed in Vietnam – or other locations this herbicide was stored or used – and who has developed presumptive health conditions such as certain forms of cancer, type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease (lack of proper blood flow to the heart), B cell leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. Veterans with service-connected hearing loss can also make claims and receive free hearing aids and a lifetime supply of free batteries. This hearing disability rating will also get them into the health care system. Many veterans don’t know of the existence of Agent Orange claims or the fact that they might be eligible for service-connected disability for hearing loss.

Veterans Pension and Survivor’s (Death) Pension with Aid and Attendance

Commonly called “aid and attendance,” these twin benefits provide monthly tax-free payments to veterans who served during a period of war or to their single surviving spouses. Pension can help cover the cost of home care, assisted living and nursing home services. Pension is also available to veterans or surviving spouses with very low income and who do not have long-term care costs. Cash income payments from Pension in 2018 range from $735 a month to $2,169 a month depending on the type of claim and the medical rating involved. Many people don’t even know of the existence of this benefit. VA does not advertise well and as such many eligible people never apply.

It is unfortunate Pension has been misnamed “aid and attendance.” “Aid and attendance” and “housebound” are medical ratings and facilitate additional monetary allowances provided with Pension if the recipient of Pension needs the regular aid and attendance of another person or is considered housebound. The misnomer creates confusion because aid and attendance assistance allowances are also available for service-connected disabilities (Disability Compensation) and to a spouse of a service connected disabled veteran and also an aid and attendance allowance is available to a surviving spouse of a veteran if the surviving spouse is receiving DIC (Dependents Indemnity Compensation). There are about 16 different monetary levels of aid and attendance or housebound allowances available with non-service-connected and service-connected disability programs for veterans or their surviving spouses.

DIC (Dependency and Indemnity Compensation)

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is payable to eligible survivors of a military service member who died on active duty or whose death after service resulted from a service-connected injury or disease. It is also available due to improper treatment of the deceased veteran from VA healthcare or rehabilitation services. DIC is automatically granted to a surviving spouse for a veteran who was permanently and totally disabled for 10 years or more. DIC pays $1,283.11 a month in 2018 to a surviving spouse. Additional amounts are available if there are dependent children. A dependent child is one who is 18 years old or younger or 23 years old or younger and enrolled full-time in school or is an adult who became totally dependent prior to the age of 18. If the veteran was 100% continuously disabled at least 8 years immediately preceding death, the amount is $1,555.57.

If the surviving spouse needs the aid and attendance of another person such as home care, assisted living or nursing home care, an additional $317.87 a month assistance benefit will be paid. This DIC with aid and attendance benefit is about $400 more a month than a surviving spouse can receive from Survivors Pension. This additional benefit is not automatic and most individuals receiving DIC do not even know it is available. An additional monthly benefit for being housebound is also available.