Retirement Chronicles: Missing Disability Pay? Don't Panic

Woman with hand over faceMy long-time friend called me in a rage this week.

 After a year of waiting for the VA to issue her husband's VA compensation payments, and two years of surgeries and struggling due to his battlefield injuries, the government was keeping his money.

Or so she thought.

The letter he had received indicated that he was due back pay for his VA compensation, to the date of his retirement, over a year ago. However, the letter also indicated that those funds were kept by the government to avoid sending him a double payment from the VA and military retirement.

But, she stammered, he was promised he would receive both?

But, she cried, he was told he would receive the entire amount retroactively, nearly $10,000 in his case.

Aaaaaggh, she screamed. She was mad.

I made a quick call to the VA and it turns out, she's not the only spouse of a disabled, retired veteran who is confused. So, if a letter from the VA is in your hot little hands and says your disability pay has been withheld, don't panic.

Here is the explanation the VA case worker gave me without digging into personal info about my friend's case.

Military retirees can receive disability payments from the VA and their full military retirement at the same time if they meet these criteria:

- Regular, retired veterans must have served over 20 years

- Veterans who are regular retirees must be more than 80 percent disabled

- Veterans who are retired under the Temporary Early Retirement Act must have a VA disability rating of 50 percent or more

Once the VA completes the claim process and agrees with the amount the veteran has been awarded, DFAS, the military's financial branch, must then audit the veteran's account and make sure they do not owe the military money. Then the VA must audit the account. Once the audits are completed, any retroactive payment due to the veteran will be paid. The VA representative did tell me this process can take as little as 30 days and as long as a year.  

Unfortunately, veterans who retired prior to January, 2004, are not eligible to receive both compensations, at any time.

In the meantime, my friend's husband will begin receiving his monthly VA compensation in addition to his military retirement check in the next 30 days, as indicated by his letter from the VA.

Retiring from the military can be a confusing process. Dealing with a combat injury and a disability, in addition to retirement, can make the process even more difficult. If you have questions about disability ratings or compensation, call the VA at 800-827-1000.

When I called, I waited 42 minutes for a representative but once he answered, he was patient, clear, listened to all of my questions and answered them thoroughly. Take a deep breath, it will be ok. 

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