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Glossary of VA Benefits Terminology | VetLaw

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Learn more about the appeals process by reviewing definitions of common terms the VA uses to discuss disability benefits. 


  • Veterans who have an understanding of VA benefits terminology are better prepared to take on the challenges of the disability claims process.
  • A VA-accredited disability benefits lawyer offers personalized assistance, ensuring clients understand their legal options as they pursue their disability claims.
  • Below, we define key vocabulary for VA benefits, including types of benefits, evidence, and injuries that can play a role in an appeal for disability benefits.
  • Veterans disability claims attorneys can explain how VA benefits terminology applies to your claim and collaborate with you to build a strong appeal for disability benefits.

The VA relies on a number of terms that veterans may be unfamiliar with, which can make it difficult to navigate the disability claims process after a service-related injury or illness. At VetLaw, we are here to help you understand VA benefits terminology so that you can make informed decisions about your claim.

If you have any questions about increasing or obtaining veterans disability benefits, don’t hesitate to reach out to our VA-accredited team. Our respected veterans disability claims attorneys are ready to represent you. To schedule a free consultation with us, call (855) 670-0614 or complete our contact form today.

Why Veterans Are Confident in Choosing VetLaw

Our veterans disability benefits lawyers have a wide breadth of experience overcoming VA denials, including representing clients before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. We are confident in our capabilities, and veterans nationwide put their faith in us because they trust our expertise.

If you are concerned about receiving less compensation than your service-related disability should warrant, now is the time to involve VetLaw. We will provide detail-oriented service at every step to help you collect evidence, meet deadlines, argue your position, and ultimately secure VA benefits to reimburse you for the costs of your injury or illness.

VetLaw is Known For Our Favorable Case Results and Satisfied Clients

At VetLaw, our tactics are tested and our results are undeniable. Veterans refer their friends to us because they know that we can be depended on to offer exceptional legal service. We proudly display our client reviews with the knowledge that we have earned their trust. Our clients say it best:

“I can’t say thank you enough. If you’re having a rough time with the VA, VetLaw can help and they’ll stand with you.”

“From my experience VetLaw puts the Veteran above all else. I would not hesitate to have them represent me again.” 

Defining Common Terms Related to VA Disability Benefits

While your veterans disability claims attorney can offer a detailed analysis of your specific claim, having a foundational understanding of VA benefits terminology can help you feel more in control of your case.

Aid and Assistance Benefits

If you need help from a caregiver, which includes a family member, to manage basic tasks due to a service-related disability, you may be eligible for Aid and Assistance benefits.

For example, if you can’t shower independently or you are often bed-bound, you may qualify. This type of VA disability benefit is granted to veterans who are already receiving a pension from the VA. Aid and Assistance is an example of Special Monthly Compensation.


Veterans who are unsatisfied with a VA decision regarding their disability benefits can pursue an appeal to challenge it. There are many reasons for a veteran to file an appeal.

For instance, you may want to add a Secondary Condition or try to increase your disability rating due to worsening symptoms. Alternatively, you may need to correct an error that causes the VA to deny your claim for 2024 disability benefits.

Back Pay Benefits

During the time it takes for the VA to review your veterans disability claim and make a decision, you could be accumulating disability benefits. If the VA decides to grant you disability benefits, they reimburse you for the benefits you would have been earning had the VA issued its decision the day you applied. Following a successful appeal, the VA issues these back pay benefits in a lump sum.

Board of Veterans’ Appeals

Veterans have the option of seeking a hearing with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) if they believe the VA has denied them benefits in error within the past year. The veterans law judges of the BVA review decisions made by local VA offices to provide oversight. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals is based in D.C., but veterans can also seek remote hearings.

Buddy Letter

Commonly referred to as buddy letters, these statements often act as essential documentation for veterans seeking disability benefits. Buddy letters are used as sources to confirm a service connection.

You can also submit a buddy letter discussing the progression or severity of a service-related disability. A buddy letter can be written by a fellow service member, family member, or friend who can speak to the veteran’s disability.

Character of Discharge

When you are discharged from the military, you receive a designation that reflects your conduct during your service. This categorization is called the character of discharge.

The military distinguishes between several types, including an Honorable discharge, a General discharge, and a Dishonorable discharge. Usually, a Dishonorable character of discharge precludes a veteran from receiving VA disability benefits.

Compensation & Pension Exam

Most veterans will have heard this referred to as a C&P exam. Usually, the VA will schedule a C&P exam for a veteran seeking disability benefits to gather more information about the severity of your condition and the likelihood that it is connected to your military service. 

Although the evaluation is conducted by a VA healthcare provider or VA-approved physician, you don’t receive medical treatment at a C&P exam. C&P results inform your disability rating.


A denial from the VA means that your disability benefits claim did not meet their evidentiary standard for entitlement. The major reasons the VA denies claims include a lack of in-service connection, lack of medical diagnosis, and lack of service connection.

Although the VA provides codes explaining why they denied benefits, you may need an attorney to interpret VA benefits terminology.

Effective Date

When the VA grants a veteran disability benefits, they use the effective date to determine the point from when you receive back pay benefits. In most cases, a veteran’s effective date is the day the VA receives their disability benefits claim. The VA assigns your effective date, although you can appeal their decision.

Extra-Schedular Rating

An extra-schedular rating is a type of disability rating given in cases where a veteran has an unusual presentation of a service-related disability that cannot be fairly evaluated using the standard ratings schedule for their condition. Essentially, the veteran’s injury or illness is so severe that it doesn’t make sense to use the VA’s regular criteria to award benefits. 

Nexus Letter

Like a buddy letter, a nexus letter is key evidence of a service-related disability in a claim. However, medical professionals write nexus letters, not fellow service members or family and friends.

Nexus letters contain a healthcare provider’s medical opinion on the likelihood that the individual veteran’s disability was caused or aggravated by their military service. 

Presumptive Condition

Presumptive conditions are disabilities that the VA acknowledges are likely caused or exacerbated by military service.

If you have a medical diagnosis for a presumptive condition and you can prove that you served under the circumstances the VA has identified as the cause for that disability, that is usually enough to justify a service connection with the VA.

Pre-Existing Condition

A pre-existing condition is a medical issue that a veteran had prior to entering the military, but their military service has caused it to progress or become more serious than it otherwise would have. Veterans can receive VA disability benefits for service-related pre-existing conditions.

Schedule for Rating Disability

When the VA determines a veteran’s disability rating, they use a rubric, or schedule, to assess the service-related condition. Most qualifying conditions have their own schedule for rating disability. As the disability rating percentage increases, so do the severity and persistence of the symptoms at each level.

Secondary Condition

A Secondary Condition is a medical issue that arises or worsens due to a service-related illness or injury. As for primary disabilities, both mental and physical conditions may qualify for veterans disability benefits.

Service Connection or Service-Related Disability

Establishing a service connection is necessary to be eligible for VA disability benefits. A service connection refers to a causal relationship between a veteran’s medical condition and their military service.

Special Monthly Compensation

Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is a type of VA disability benefit for veterans who require additional services or support due to their service-related disabilities.

SMC is technically a higher rate of benefits for disabled veterans who are already receiving benefits. For example, Aid and Assistance is an example of Special Monthly Compensation.

Total Disability for Individual Unemployability or TDIU Benefits

TDIU benefits are a tax-free benefit for veterans whose service-related disabilities interfere with their ability to be gainfully employed but don’t have a 100% VA disability rating. 

To receive Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability, you will need to have either a 60% VA disability rating for one service-related condition, or a 70% VA disability rating with multiple service-related conditions where one of them has at least a 40% VA disability rating.

Speak With a VetLaw Veterans Disability Claims Lawyer About Your Next Steps

Don’t let the language the VA uses be a barrier to securing the VA disability benefits you need. Our accomplished team of veterans disability benefits appeals attorneys will gladly clarify any unfamiliar VA benefits terminology, review the steps of the appeals process, and help you understand the basis for our strategies.

VetLaw values our clients’ satisfaction with our services. We know that accessing the VA disability benefits you need can be life-altering, and we have the skills to help make that happen. To schedule a free consultation with us, call (855) 670-0614 or complete our contact form today. Our team is here to help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I contact a veterans disability claims attorney?

VA-accredited veterans disability benefits attorneys take on cases after the VA has already denied the veteran at least once. Their job is to help you appeal that decision.

After you receive a letter from the VA denying your claim or offering less disability benefits than you believe are warranted, get in touch with a VA disability benefits lawyer as soon as possible. 

The VA claims process for disability benefits can take a considerable amount of time. The earlier you involve a skilled representative, the sooner you have qualified support to file an appeal.

What does it cost to hire a VA-accredited veterans disability benefits lawyer?

A veterans disability appeals attorney recovers a contingency fee for their work, provided that they help their client resolve their claim. When the VA awards the veteran back pay benefits, veterans disability claims lawyers receive about a third of this amount.

Who qualifies as a veteran with the VA?

Broadly speaking, the VA requires two years of active duty service or a completed service contract for applicants to be eligible for veterans disability benefits. Additionally, a veteran must have a certain character of discharge.

For military personnel who developed service-related injuries from active duty with the Army Reserves or National Guard, it’s a good idea to speak with an Army Reserve VA benefits lawyer or National Guard VA benefits lawyer to ensure that they are entitled to benefits.