Understand your right to compensation if you’ve been injured in the military
There are 15 military bases in North and South Carolina employing a combined 168,000 active-duty and reserve military members. Together, the Carolinas have the 2nd largest military population after California.
Veterans and active-duty soldiers are covered under the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs health benefits. However, a veteran who isn’t on active duty might be employed in a civilian job. In that case, they could also be eligible for benefits under the state workers’ compensation system. Also, if there are third parties responsible for a soldier’s injury, they may be entitled to compensation from a state civil action (filing a lawsuit against the at-fault individual or company).
Veterans Administration (VA) programs
VA benefits are effectively a no-fault insurance program where the federal employer is self-insured. It provides for disability and health benefits. Unlike state workers’ compensation programs, VA compensation programs don’t require that the beneficiary be hurt on the job.
Active-duty and retired vets are entitled to VA health care benefits, including:
- Medical care for injury or illness
- Inpatient surgery and medical treatments
- Preventative care
- Rehabilitation treatments
VA health care services generally must be rendered at a VA hospital or facility. The benefits cover transportation costs. Emergency care in a non-VA facility is covered only if certain requirements are met.
VA benefits include monthly disability payments for active-duty military personnel if the condition was incurred or aggravated during their active military service. Included are monthly payments to a surviving spouse, dependent children and dependent parents.
The monthly payments are graduated according to the degree of the disability as determined by a VA physician. The degrees range from a minimum of 10 percent up to 100 percent.
For example, for the minimum disability rating of 10 percent, the present monthly benefit is $152.64. For the maximum disability rating of 100 percent, the present monthly benefit is $1,778 for a veteran with no dependents. The payments are greater for a disabled veteran with a spouse and/or dependents.
Applications for benefits are filed with the Veterans Administration. Applications can be made by phone (877-222-8387), by mail, or in person. Most applicants must fill out and submit VA Form 10-10EZ. You can usually expect a response within a week.
Workers’ compensation in North and South Carolina
Why would a veteran be interested in state workers’ compensation benefits if they’re already covered by VA benefits?
Many veterans retire or are discharged from active service while eligible for VA health care and disability benefits. Inactive veterans often go to work for private employers. If you’re injured while on the job for a private employer, you’re eligible to receive state workers’ compensation benefits.
North Carolina and South Carolina have virtually the same workers’ compensation systems, with a few minor differences. North Carolina requires employers with 3 or more employees to have coverage. South Carolina requires it for employers with 4 or more employees.
Workers’ compensation benefits are virtually the same under the South Carolina and North Carolina systems. They are:
- Payments for medical and rehabilitation treatments
- Periodic payments of lost income up to two-thirds of your average weekly wage
- Partial disability and total disability benefits
- Death benefits to your dependents
In both states, you must use a physician chosen by the workers’ compensation administrator for medical payments. Also, that physician will determine the extent and nature of your disability.
South Carolina and North Carolina workers’ compensation laws are complex. You must follow strict rules for filing your claim. You must submit an accident report to your employer within a designated time after an accident. This report’s contents and other filings are critical to secure your rights and benefits.
Some employers are unscrupulous about opposing your claim. Therefore, the early help of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is crucial.
Alternative remedies for injured soldiers and military personnel
Both VA benefits and state workers’ compensation benefits are subject to limitations. The advantages of a no-fault system are sometimes outweighed by those limitations.
For example, neither system affords an injured employee a civil action for personal injury, product liability or wrongful death actions against a private employer or third parties. Also, neither system allows compensation for pain and suffering. There is no chance of getting punitive damages under either system.
Hence, an injured employee, whether an active-duty serviceman or a retired veteran, will want to explore their entitlement to alternative remedies. Those remedies can supplement, rather than replace, an injured party’s VA or workers’ compensation benefits.
This multiplicity of potential remedies is illustrated by an unfortunate fatal vehicle accident involving active-duty soldiers from Fort Bragg in October 2021. The accident occurred on-base and involved a military vehicle. One of the soldiers died, and 4 survived but were seriously injured.
The deceased soldier’s family will be entitled to VA death benefits. The injured soldiers will be entitled to medical and disability benefits. The federal government will not be liable for other compensation.
However, there are potential third-party liabilities involved. Other non-military drivers could be involved. Vehicle and/or parts manufacturers could have product liability.
The 4 surviving soldiers could pursue other remedies while receiving VA medical and disability benefits. Also, the families of the deceased soldier could pursue a wrongful death action against parties other than the federal government.
When to consult a lawyer
Workers’ compensation laws for veterans are complex. In order to get the most compensation possible, it’s vital that you work with an attorney who understands how these specific laws apply to veterans in North and South Carolina.