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Sometimes an injury or disability incurred in the military can send an active duty member into early (medical) retirement. Many disabled vets who’ve been medically retired wonder if they can work a civilian job and continue to receive retirement and disability benefits. Although the answer is usually yes, it depends on the level or percentage of disability and whether it is considered temporary or permanent.
Evaluation boards and the discharge process. The military disability evaluation system processes the steps necessary for discharge, and may place members on the Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL). If the Medical Evaluation Board determines the military member is no longer fit for active duty, the Physical Evaluation Board rates the disability in order to determine the level of compensation a medically retired veteran will receive. The board looks at things like:
- Department of Veteran Affairs criteria for rating disabilities
- The type of disability
- Whether the disability was incurred during service or was pre-existing
- Whether the disability is expected to be temporary or permanent
The Military Discharge Fact Sheet explains the discharge process, emphasizing that a military member cannot request medical evaluation for a disability. Rather, the member’s commanding officer must put in this request for medical evaluation. If the condition is obvious, such as loss of a limb, a military doctor will begin the discharge process immediately. A military member who is discharged from active duty due to illness or injury is said to be “medically retired.”
Percentage ratings. According to the Veteran Disability Program Description, monthly disability payments are based on the “percentage of normal function loss.” Disabilities are given a rating, such as 50% loss of normal function or 100% loss of function. Veterans found to have a rating of 30% or higher qualify for dependent compensation as well, which is determined by the number of dependents and the disability rating.
What if I am medically retired but I want to work a civilian job – can I still receive veteran disability benefits?
Generally the answer is yes. In fact, veterans receiving compensation benefits for a disability rating below 100% may find it difficult to live off of disability benefits alone. Military members with a lower rating may be able to reapply for active duty military service, but they will not be able to receive disability compensation if they return to active duty.
Many medically retired disabled vets can work a full-time civilian job and still receive their full VA disability benefit. But when a veteran disability is rated at 100%, the Department of Veteran Affairs may decide to lower the monthly benefit if the person is able to work, because the rating is partly based on their inability to work due to the disability. Vets who qualify for social security disability benefits (SSDB) may collect both SSDB and VA compensation at the same time, but are not eligible for SSDB if they are employed.
Employment concerns. Military veterans already face a number of challenges seeking civilian employment. Disabled vets face even more challenges because a disability may limit their capacity to perform certain jobs, leaving them with fewer employment options. Potential employers may hesitate to hire disabled vets because of concerns with a disability affecting work performance and/or requiring them to spend money on special accommodations for the employee.
Some businesses and organizations are more veteran and disability friendly than others, so it can pay to seek employment with these companies first. Large-scale businesses and organizations are required by law to be equal opportunity employers, can better afford the cost of special accommodations, and often already have these accommodations in place for other disabled employees. Look to military friendly markets such as government contractors like DynCorp International.
Training opportunities. The US Department of Labor sponsors a locally-based Veteran Employment Training Service called VETS. Local employment agencies work with vets to help them find and secure long-term employment in their area. The Department of Veterans Affairs sponsors a nationwide veteran training program in which regional offices provide specific job training and work with local employers to recruit vets.
About Jill Schultz
Jill works from home and really is a “jack of all trades.” She loves the flexibility of her freelance career and that it gives her the opportunity to research such a wide variety of subjects. Though she tends to focus on career advice and government-related topics, she can write on just about any niche you throw her way. She is an excellent researcher and loves to put pen to paper. Follow her on twitter @JillSchultz8.
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