Signing disability waiver in order to be medically discharged

VA Claim Appeals

Signing disability waiver in order to be medically discharged

June 13, 2024
Question

In the 1980s my father-in-law signed over his right to claim disability in order to be medically discharged from the military a year early. He was training as a SEAL and fell from a helicopter and hit a pole on the way down, hurting his hip and back. He has major back and hip issues, along with many other medical issues stemming from his time in the military, including getting Hepatitis B from an infected needle.


He assumes since he signed his rights away that it is binding, but this sounds sketchy and like some kind of backdoor deal they did to avoid having to be responsible for all the major injuries they caused him. It also seems extremely exploitative as he was young and likely just went with it without realizing the repercussions. Is having a military person sign over their rights to claim disability to get their medical discharge earlier is a legit thing and if it stands up in court, or if this has been struck down as some exploitative and manipulative thing they did back in the 80's that doesn't hold up in the present day?

Answer

This sounds like a complex situation with additional facts, but we can provide some general information assuming different scenarios. The first thing your father-in-law should do, if he hasn't already, is to request a copy of his military records and in-service medical records. Those records (e.g., his DD 214) will identify his type of discharge and will include documentation on any waiver he may have signed. The records also will help fill in some of the details raised here.
 

The Department of Defense (DOD) procedures for assessing disability benefits are distinct from VA’s. When a service member is injured, DOD will assess if the injuries rise to the level of recommending that the service member be discharged. As part of that process, the service member will be referred to a Medical Board who will make that determination. If the Medical Board finds the injury qualifying for early discharge, the service member will be awarded severance pay based on the length of their service. Service members can waive the Medical Board review and be discharged, but they would also waive their right to severance. Also, depending on the length of service, the service member may be ineligible for education benefits, VA health care, non-service connected disability pension and burial benefits. However, a medical discharge should not preclude the service member from applying for disability benefits with VA. To receive disability compensation, your father-in-law will have to demonstrate three elements: 1) a currently diagnosed disability, 2) an in-service injury, and 3) a "nexus" medical opinion showing that his in-service injury is the cause of his now diagnosed disabilities. (Based on the information provided, he appears to be able to satisfy #2).
 

Again, the military records and medical treatment records (hopefully) will document how your father-in-law was injured and whether he underwent a Medical Board review and was awarded a medical discharge with severance. The records will also document what type of an agreement he signed and whether, for example, he waived the Medical Board review. Also, knowing whether he received a severance payment is important because any disability benefits he may ultimately receive will be offset by any severance he was paid if the underlying injuries are the same.
 

Thank you so much for contacting us.  We wish you the best!