What are the Major Differences between DoD and VA Disability Benefits?

Here are some important differences between DoD disability retirement benefits and VA disability benefits. Understanding these differences may help you sort out  the benefits puzzle.

  • DoD permanent disability ratings do not change after they have been made, while VA disability ratings can change over time. Thus, if the DoD rates your injury at 30 percent and places you on the Permanent Disability Ratings List (PDRL), that rating will remain at 30 percent for the rest of your life. Conversely, if the VA rates that same injury at 30 percent, ten years down the road they may decide to change your rating to 20 percent or less should they believe your condition has improved.
  • DoD disability compensation is calculated based upon your service time, rank (basic pay rate), and disability rating. VA disability ratings are based entirely upon the severity of the injury.
  • DoD disability ratings are given only for conditions occurring from the injury a service member is claiming, while the VA will take your entire medical condition as a whole into consideration in making a rating decision. Thus, if a service member has several injuries, but only one of those injuries brings him before the PEB for a DoD disability determination, only that injury will be considered in determining his percentage of disability. However, if the VA was to examine the very same individual, they would take into account all of that person’s injuries in making their total disability rating.
  • If your disability rating is between 30 - 50%, you will be eligible for healthcare with military disability retirement benefits, but may have a lower priority for VA healthcare benefits. (You need 50% or higher disabilty ratings to get the highest priority for VA healthcare.)
  • The amount of any disability severance pay received from the DoD will be deducted from any later-awarded VA benefits for the same disability unless: your disability was incurred in the line of duty in a combat zone or from duty in a combat-related event. This means that if you receive $10,000 in disability severance pay for a physical disaiblity and you are later awarded VA benefits for the same physical disability, the VA will withhold your benefits each month until the $10,000 disability severance pay is recouped. Example: $1,000 a month in VA benefits awarded. You will not receive your first VA benefit until 10 months have passed and the $10,000 disability severance pay is recouped. 
  • If you are a low-ranking servicemember, you might get less from the military retirement disability than from the VA because the military benefit is based in part on rank.
  • Again, each agency has its own rating system.  So you can receive a different rating from the VA than you did from the DoD.  But it is unlikely that you would get a lower rating from the VA than one you got from the DoD. Social Security uses yet another set of standards; you must be found totally disabled to qualify there.

Which system is faster? 

Several factors play a role in how long the process will take, including such things as:

  • the nature of the injury,
  • the amount and quality of evidence to support your claim,
  • the backlog of cases that the VA or DoD is dealing with, and
  • the number of times your claim is denied or appealed.

In 2006, the VA reported that it took an average of 196 days to get a first decision. But  this process can stretch out several years if your claim is denied and appealed numerous times.

The initial DoD process is often even longer than the VA process because servicemembers are usually placed on the Temporary Disability Rating List (TDRL) first. You can remain on that list for up to five years before a final determination is made.

So, the VA may be a faster way to get a disability rating. But also keep in mind that, if you are ultimately successful,  the DoD or VA will pay you back pay from the time you incurred the injury, or left the service, respectively.  Generally speaking, we don't advise you to pick a program based on how long you think it will take. Instead, start with the benefit that you think fits your stiuation the best.  You may want to ignore this advice only if your primary criteria is getting benefits flowing as soon as possible.

Can I get both DoD disability retirement and VA disability benefits?

Sometimes. In the past there was an absolute bar and veterans could not receive both the full amount of VA disability benefit and the full amount of military retirement pay. Today, that bar does not always apply. 

  • Retiree veterans with at least 20 years of service and a 100% service-connected rating are entitled to receive their full VA disaiblity benefit and their full military retirement payment. This has been the case since 2005.
  • Retiree veterans with at least 20 years of service who are rated totally disabled due to individual unemployability (TDIU), are entitled to receive their full VA disability benefit and their full military retirement pay as well. Congress made this exception fully applicable in January 2008, effective retroactive to December 31, 2004.
  • Retiree veterans with at least 20 years of service and a service-connected rating between 50-90% are entitled to receive their full VA disability benefit and their full military retirement pay. This has been the case since December 31, 2013.
  • Veterans with at least 20 years of service or a disability incurred in the line of duty and a VA disaiblity rating of at least 10% may be entitled to both. These are complicated rules and you should seek advice if this is your situation.


Last updated September 2017