Should you take drill pay or VA compensation? This is an important question for many veterans and while some may wonder if this applies to them while serving on active duty (see below), those it affects have choices to make depending on what makes the most sense to the individual.
Before we examine the issues related to choosing drill pay or VA compensation, let’s define our terms including the basics–what is the definition of “drill pay” and how does the government decide who gets it?
Definitions: What Is Drill Pay?
The Department of Veterans Affairs defines the term drill pay as follows:
“The term drill pay refers to the monetary benefits a reservist or member of the National Guard receives for performing active or inactive duty training.” Some VA forms may use the term “military pay” or “training pay” interchangeably with “drill pay”.
All this information is found in a VA rulebook titled, M21-1, Part III, Subpart v, Chapter 4, Section C – Adjusting Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits Based on a Veteran’s Receipt of Active Service Pay.
Concurrent Receipt Prohibited
Why is the definition of drill pay so crucial? Because of another section in the same rulebook that explains that federal law found in 10 United States Code 12316 (and elsewhere) prohibit “double dipping” or the “concurrent receipt of drill pay “and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation or pension,” according to VA.gov.
That section is titled, Prohibition Against Concurrent Receipt of Drill Pay and VA Benefits and requires the following considerations:
- Federal law forbids concurrent receipt of drill pay and VA disability compensation or pension
- Veterans who perform active or inactive duty training must choose one and waive the other
- You will waive benefits for the specific number of days you would have been paid both at once
- VA literature advises, “Most Veterans choose to receive drill pay instead of disability compensation or pension”
- This is true “because drill pay is typically the greater benefit. These Veterans must waive their VA benefits for the same number of days they received drill pay”
- VA rules also say getting VA benefits and the subsistence allowance “that a Veteran in the Senior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (SROTC) might receive” is not prohibited; only concurrent receipt “of VA benefits and pay the Veteran receives for active or inactive duty training in the SROTC is prohibited”
Some exceptions may exist for veterans who receive temporary compensation for disabilities. This is handled on a case-by-case basis.
Making A Decision
The ultimate choice about drill pay versus VA compensation is really up to the service member, but it’s important to remember that there are resources that can help you make the most fully informed decision.
Military finance officer reps, your command support staff, even a First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, Senior Chief, or detailer may be able to give some good advice based on experience or the experience of others.
The servicemember isn’t necessarily responsible for initiating this process. You definitely want to be prepared to make a decision when the time comes, but in most cases (according to the below) those drawing drill pay may be prompted by the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide their choices and information about their drill periods, though in some cases the service member may need to submit the information unpromoted (see below).
Consider what has been published online by some National Guard bureaus–the Washington National Guard official site advises its members:
“Normally, the VA Regional office in Seattle will send you a notice at the end of the fiscal year (Oct. to Sept.) usually in Nov. to Dec., asking you to verify how many days you collected military pay for the previous year. If you do not receive this notice, you can complete the form and send it to your regional office to ensure it is being processed correctly.”
In Washington, Guard members are also advised, “If you are AGR, ADOS or Title-10, you will be receiving military pay 24/7, and must stop VA compensation immediately” or else risk becoming indebted to the federal government.
In such cases the servicemember will have to make arrangements to repay the overage that occurs due to drawing both drill pay and VA compensation.
Advice From The Department Of Veterans Affairs
It’s always a good idea to know the government’s position on these issues–if you know what to expect when you contact the VA (especially about policies related to owing the government money) your discussions with the VA rep will be more productive and save time. In general, the VA advises people to keep certain issues in mind when choosing VA compensation or Drill Pay:
- VA Compensation is not taxable
- VA Compensation is subject to annual review–your benefits are subject to change
- If you don’t have a “permanent” disability rating, your VA disability rating (and pay) subject to being reduced if your conditions improve
- If you choose to waive military pay, you choose to have your military pay for the year recouped by the government. For those still serving in the National Guard, you could face (depending on circumstances) having two-thirds of your military pay for the coming year withheld. National Guard advice in this area? “Since you are only losing a portion of your comp, it is usually better to waive comp.” Be sure to do the math yourself to make sure this is right for you.
What Happens If You Draw Drill Pay And VA Compensation At The Same Time
If you don’t cancel one benefit for another as directed by federal law, you incur a debt to the federal government. Those who become indebted to the government will be contacted by the Department of Veterans Affairs Debt Management Center to arrange collection of the funds.
Why You Need To Pay Attention To The Issue
A February 11, 2020 report by the VA Inspector General found some ten thousand inaccurately processed “final disability benefit adjustments based on automated proposals.” Those are letters automatically (in many cases) generated for veterans that confirm “the correct number of training days used to reduce training pay from disability pay” completed within a range of dates covered by the report.
This resulted in roughly $14 million in “improper payments” from the VA to servicemembers. Some were overpaid, some were underpaid. According to the VA, these errors can happen when the VA does not “fully account for all military training days to accurately reduce a veteran’s disability benefits compensation” or when the VA reduces compensation using “too many training days.”
Of the number of inaccurate payments, nearly nine thousand of them resulted from forms that were completed using an automated process. Nearly two thousand inaccurate adjustments were manually accomplished.
This means that in a given year, it is entirely possible that some veterans were wrongly identified as having owed money to the federal government due to a VA accounting error. If you believe you were wrongly charged an indebtedness to the government you should contact the VA as soon as possible to work out the issue.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.
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