back payOn the surface, VA disability benefits are simple enough: If you are a Veteran with a disabling injury or illness caused or made worse by your time in service, you may be eligible for VA compensation. But like many VA provisions, it quickly becomes more complicated. A common complication involves VA disability back pay. Due to its backlog of disability compensation cases, it may take months or even years for the VA to decide your case which means you will be owed back pay. Back pay is paid as a lump sum, tax-free payment. How much back pay you are entitled to depends on several factors.

The starting point for computing your back pay is the start date the VA uses to begin payments, this is your “effective date” which is not the same as your approval date. Basically, the general rule for setting the effective date is the date the VA gets your claim, or the date your entitlement arose, whichever is later. (The date the entitlement arose is the date you were diagnosed with the service-connected disability you are claiming.)

In some cases, the VA incorrectly sets the effective date by not using the earliest possible effective date, which can mean a Veteran’s benefits have been reduced. If the VA got your effective date wrong, then you may have been seriously short-changed on your retroactive benefits and we recommend that you file an appeal. (For more on this topic from watch our video: Did the VA Set the Correct Effective Date for Your Disability Benefits?)

The next key factor in calculating back pay is the rating assigned to your disability. Disability payments to Veterans are made based on the severity of the disability. The VA gives a disability rating to each debilitating injury, illness, or disease. By law, the VA has the authority to assign disability ratings from 0% to 100%, in 10% increments. You are considered totally disabled when you carry a 100% rating.

If you have dependents—a spouse, children under the age of 18 (if they are enrolled in school dependent children are eligible up to 23 years of age) or even parents if you're directly caring for them and their income and net worth are below a certain amount—they also factor into increasing the amount of back pay you are eligible for. Your back pay will also be increased if your spouse requires “aid and attendance”—assistance with the daily activities of living such as bathing, dressing, and eating.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. A Veteran experiences debilitating pain in their lower back caused by a service-connected injury that resulted in compressed spinal discs and assigned a 10% rating. Six months after filing a claim, the Veteran is finally assigned a 60% disability rating. If he or she is single, the back pay amount would be approximately $6,900. If he or she is married with two children, the amount would go up to around $10,900. And if our Veteran was also supporting low-income parents, the lump sum back pay amount would increase to about $12,100.

 As we said at the outset, because of the many factors involved, calculation of back pay is complex. But the VA accredited attorneys at Cuddigan Law have been assisting Veterans for years and we can help you, too. Call or email us for a free, no-strings attached evaluation of your case and we can give you an estimate of how much back pay you may be eligible for. If you choose to hire us to fight for your rights, know that we only get paid if you win your case.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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