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For the over 19 million Americans who served in the armed forces, accessing health care benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be a confusing process at times.

For all veterans, VA Health Care can be obtained through three different paths:

Path 1: Disability Status.

If a veteran has a service-connected injury or illness, they can first seek disability compensation based on their condition. The VA pays a tax-free monthly payment to veterans who were sick or injured while serving in the military and to veterans whose service made an existing condition worse. Disability payments are made for physical (such as chronic illness or injury) and mental health conditions (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) that developed before, during, or after service.

How to Qualify.

They must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training and have a VA disability rating for their condition (ratings are assigned after receiving a disability exam).

Staff at the local VA medical center or local doctor’s office that is partnered with the VA will contact your loved one to schedule an exam to confirm they meet one of the qualifying disability claims.

Path 2: Service History.

Veterans can qualify for VA Health Care Benefits if they meet one of these six criteria:
• They were a former prisoner of war (POW).
• They received a Purple Heart.
• They received a Medal of Honor.
• Served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975.
• Served in Southwest Asia/Gulf War from 1990 to 1998.
• Served at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987.

Path 3: Income Need.

To qualify for VA Health Care based on income, veterans or their family must receive or qualify for Medicaid benefits or earn less than the VA’s specified income requirements. To learn more on these income requirements, visit:

Tips on Obtaining VA Health Care Benefits.

First, understand what the VA can provide by getting advice from those who best know its system. That means reaching out to an accredited Veterans Service Representative. Have a copy of your loved one’s military service record, known as a DD-214. The easiest way to receive a copy is to register for an e-Benefits account or visit your local VA facility for assistance. Once the application is submitted, the VA can provide eligibility based on their criteria. For families, keep in mind that in most cases only the veteran receives health care benefits.

Bottom Line.

Eligibility for VA Health Care Benefits can change over time based on funding from Congress and the department’s priorities. If possible, enroll in both Medicare and VA Health Care to secure the best options. Reach out to your State VA Office or Veterans and Military Service Organization for help. Once the veteran is qualified for disability pay, gaining health care benefits is much simpler.


Thank you Aaron Kassraie at for this content!