This is the first of several information-heavy columns on which I will collaborate with my colleague John Cianci. This week we will describe federal benefits available to seriously disabled veterans.
In a future column, we will follow up with a discussion of what the State of Rhode Island offers in addition to these federal benefits.
Cianci is a retired Army master sergeant with 22 years of service. A combat-disabled veteran who served in Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he is known within veteran circles for his detailed research on veteran benefits.
Seeking a wider distribution of his helpful information, Cianci began sharing that research on the website RINewsToday.com, a nonprofit digital source of local news and information. His publisher there, Nancy Thomas, feels equally strongly about providing this service to veterans.
Cianci commands the Rhode Island department of Italian American War Veterans of the U.S. As a volunteer Veteran Service Officer, he helps veterans navigate federal and state bureaucracies to obtain benefits they have earned.
What does a VA disability rating of 100% really mean?
The words “100% disabled” often conjure up images of totally incapacitated people, vets with traumatic brain injuries, and those who have lost limbs. However, a 100% VA disability can be determined in more than one way.
The first is through a catastrophic injury or illness, such as those described above. Also, any veteran being treated for an active cancer receives a 100% determination (although that may change if the cancer responds to treatment or goes into remission.)
A large number of veterans are rated as 100% disabled through an accumulation of other less serious conditions.
For example, a Vietnam veteran may have cardiovascular disease presumptively related to Agent Orange. Perhaps the VA determines that condition to be 40% disabling. He also has ankle issues stemming from a parachute jump for another 20%; tinnitus (ringing in his ears); and a small piece of shrapnel lodged in his knee that begins causing him trouble as he ages.
Together, the cumulative rating for those issues (determined by a VA formula) may add up to more than 100%, but the veteran may still be leading an active and relatively mobile life.
The VA has a program for just about anything a disabled veteran might need. There is a complete array of health care programs including full dental.
VA benefits can also help with education, employment, and housing. VA counselors constantly remind veterans “If you need help with something, the VA most likely has a program to assist you.”
If you are not enrolled in VA health care, I would highly recommend that you start the process as soon as possible. All the aches and pains you accumulate as you age may be service-connected, entitling you to significant compensation and benefits.
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A single veteran with a 100% disability rating can expect to receive more than $3,000 a month tax-free.
With this level of disability, the frustrating rule that prevents many retired disabled veterans from getting their full military retired pay does not apply. As a veteran with 100% disability, you will get your full military retirement and full VA compensation.
In 2004 Congress finally acknowledged the unfairness of “concurrent receipt,” but lawmakers only partially corrected the problem because of cost. Today, those with 20 or more years of service and a 50% or greater VA disability rating are protected.
Other direct financial payments
Fully disabled veterans could qualify for additional Special Monthly Compensation if they have lost the use of a limb or organ. A veteran who needs daily supervision because of serious disability may qualify for similar benefits.
Extra monthly payments are also possible under “Aid and Attendance” and/or “Housebound Allowance” programs.
Additional compensation for eligible dependents
Some veterans may need additional help to provide for their families. You may be able to add your spouse, your children, or even your parents to your VA disability profile. This could mean hundreds of additional tax-free dollars every month, so please check out your options at this link: https://www.va.gov/view-change-dependents/
Free health care and medications
Veterans with a 100 percent VA disability rating meet the requirements for Priority Group 1. This group includes benefits such as hospitalizations, some inpatient services, vision care, prosthetics and hearing aids. It also offers certain types of preventive care not otherwise available, as well as mental health care.
In today’s society, the topic of long-term care causes angst for many veteran families. While many of the nursing home and assisted living benefits for Rhode Island veterans are state administered, the VA does offer home health care, geriatrics and extended care programs.
Hospice, assisted living and home health care
Disabled veterans may be able to get these services through VA. However, the scope, availability and co-pay cost vary widely from state to state. Next week we will provide a detailed description of what is available in Rhode Island.
In any case, a 100% disability rating will eliminate or significantly reduce most co-pay requirements. Please visit:
Hospice Care is offered if the veteran has a terminal condition, with less than 6 months to live, and is no longer seeking treatment other than pain management. It can be provided at home, in an outpatient clinic or in an inpatient setting.
A Homemaker/Home Health Aide can come to a veteran's home to provide personal care services and help with daily living.
This is a big one since the limitation on dental services is one of the most mentioned shortfalls of the VA health care program. However, if you have a 100% disability rating, you are eligible for full, free dental care. In Providence, the Dental Clinic is adjacent to the main building of the Providence VA Medical Center. Call (401) 457-3018 to verify your eligibility and schedule an initial appointment.
Spouse and dependent health care
Family members of veterans with 100% disability ratings are also eligible for full medical care. The VA provides many health-care services for families through the Civilian Health and Medical Programs (CHAMPVA). This is a complex program, beyond the scope of this column, so please refer here for details:
Access to adaptive housing
If you have a 100% service-connected disability, the VA may fund the modification of your house to accommodate your physical needs (wheelchair ramps, widened doorways, accessible bathrooms, etc.). You may even qualify for a grant to help build a new home — although a yearly budget cap greatly limits the number of these larger grants. Or, if you are temporarily living with a family member, grants may be made to modify that home instead. A very useful handbook on this topic can be downloaded from: https://www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/documents/docs/sah_handbook_for_design.pdf
Adapting an automobile
A one-time payment of as much as $21,500 can help you buy a specially equipped vehicle. You may also be eligible for one or more grants to modify a vehicle you already own to add features that would enable you to drive, or lift equipment to get you into and out of the vehicle
Waiver of VA funding fees for home loans
There is normally a funding fee ranging from 1% to 4% of the loan amount on VA financing. However, that funding fee is completely waived for 100% disabled Veterans.
Educational assistance for dependents
Significant aid is available for college and graduate degree programs, certificate courses, career counseling, apprenticeships and on-the-job-training programs. Even correspondence or remedial courses may be approved.
A spouse or child using the benefit could receive an estimated $1,400-a-month stipend while attending an approved education facility as a full-time student.
The amount and duration of benefits your dependents receive depends on a number of factors. Learn more at:
With a 100% disability rating, you qualify for a 10-point preference when applying for federal jobs. You can also be hired directly; whoever is doing the hiring can essentially hire you on the spot so long as you meet the qualifications for that position. If you are incapable of working, your spouse can use your point preference when seeking a federal job.
Veteran readiness and employment program
According to some who have used it, the program actually offers more options than the GI Bill. It is also tailored to each veteran. Unlike the GI Bill, however, not every veteran automatically qualifies. Reach out to a Veterans Benefit counselor at 800-827-1000 to determine your eligibility.
Unlimited exchange, commissary and MWR privileges are available to honorably discharged veterans with a 100% service-connected disability. To simplify the access requirements, obtain a Uniformed Services ID online through a Department of Defense website entitled ID Card Office Online:
Or you can apply in person at four local locations: 43rd MP Brigade HQ, Warwick Armory; RI National Guard Joint Force HQ at Camp Fogarty, East Greenwich; 143rd Air Wing/Air National Guard Base in North Kingstown; and two locations in Newport — the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and Naval Station Newport.
Burial allowance: VA can potentially help with the cost of procuring a plot and also with covering as much as $2,000 in burial expenses. Military grave markers are also available at no cost. A veteran’s 100% disability rating can make it easier for surviving spouses to qualify for death benefits. To qualify, the veteran must have died from a 100% service-connected disability, or must have been rated fully disabled for 10 years prior to death.
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To learn more or locate the forms you need, visit https://benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp
NOTE: Most of this material was compiled from the VA website. Two other useful sources were:
Strategic Veteran, a private information resource providing helpful information about veteran benefits, has a useful web page titled “Know the benefits of being ‘100% disabled’”
The Military.com website has a similar feature at
The VA New England Regional Office publishes a useful series of informational YouTube videos, called SITREPS. Here's a link to one about 100% disability.
Improving mental health and well-being: In 2020, 14 Rhode Island veterans died by suicide. New program wants to reduce that number
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Here are the Federal benefits available to disabled veterans.