Disability Programs Available to Veterans - VA, DoD and Social Security

A photo of a golden retriever service dog wearing a vest with several service dog patches. The most prominent reads 'Disabled Veteran with Service Dog.'

How do I know what type of benefit to apply for?

Are you a veteran with a disability wondering about what benefit to apply for? This can be a confusing puzzle. Here, we explain the two compensation systems for former military - VA and DoD - as well as Social Security Disability benefits. And we explain how these different benefit programs interact with each other.

Military-related benefit programs

There are two distinct systems of disability compensation available to veterans by virtue of their service in the military. The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs both provide disability compensation programs. The difference between the two stems from the purpose behind each.

Department of Defense compensation

The DoD’s program is designed to compensate former military members for career-ending injuries. The premise is that those individuals would have been able to fulfill a complete career had they not been injured.

Department of Veterans Affairs compensation

On the other hand, the purpose of the VA’s disability program is to provide compensation for injuries that impact civilian employment potential. That is to say that the VA pays a veteran for injuries which have an effect on the ability of that individual to earn a living, as well as those which cause lifestyle limitations. An additional important difference is that military disability retirement pay is generally taxable unless the injury was incurred in combat. However, VA disability compensation is not taxable. Learn more about each of these programs below.

For a very extensive treatment of both Military Disability Compensation and VA Disability Compensation see the Handbook for Injured Service Members and Their Families available on the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

Use the links below, to learn more about each of these programs, how they relate to each other, and how to sort out where to apply.

Department of Defense

Department of Veterans Affairs

Published March 2011, Updated January 2018