View of a veteran saluting the flag of the United States.

What is Military Disability Retirement?

The military way of life can be hard on its members, not just for those who deploy to hostile fire zones, but even the regular training is rigorous, or may result in injuries due to training accidents. There are a number of military disability retirement programs to assist those members who may not last until a normal 20-year retirement, or who have retired, but have service-connected disabilities.

And note note that being a disabled veteran means the member is either medically unfit for continued military service, or has a combination of medical conditions which justify receiving disability payments. Receiving one of the various types of military disability retirement benefits does necessarily mean the person is physically disabled and unable to work in the civilian sector.

Here is a quick rundown of the more common types of military disability retirement benefits:

  • VA Disability Payments
  • VA Waiver & Concurrent Retirement & Disability Pay (CRDP)
  • Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC)
  • Chapter 61 Disability Retirement (PDRL)
  • Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL)
  • Disability Severance Pay

It is important to understand the different types of military disability retirement or benefits, as each is treated differently in a divorce, both in terms of whether it is divisible marital property, and whether the payments count as income for purposes of child support and maintenance.

VA Disability Benefits

Disability payments from the Veterans Administration are the most common type of disability benefit among veterans. They are available to any prior military member, not just military retirees, and consist of a monthly VA payment based upon the member’s percentage of disability and number of dependents.

Note that VA disability payments are NOT based upon the member’s rank, nor is the percentage of disability multiplied against the retirement – a former Sergeant (E-5) who ETSd with a 40% VA disability rating and no family members receives the same $635.77 VA disability payment as a retired 2-star general with the same 40% rating and no dependents.

VA disability payments are not divisible as property in a divorce (nor can a court do a “backdoor division” by awarding the non-military spouse additional property to offset the VA disability), but they do count as income for purposes of calculating child support or alimony. For more information, see our VA disability & divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.

VA Waiver & Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP)

There is some interplay between VA disability payments and a military retirement – a member who retires with a disability rating of 40% or lower must waive, or give up, military retirement dollar-for-dollar in order to receive the VA disability payment. There are two advantages to the veteran in doing this:

  • VA disability payments are not taxable, unlike military retirement, and
  • VA disability payments cannot be divided as property in a divorce.

When a military retiree has a disability rating of 50% or higher, there is effectively no VA waiver of the military retirement, thanks to a program called “Concurrent Retirement & Disability Pay”, or “CRDP”, which restores to the retirement the money which would otherwise have been waived. CRDP is not a separate payment, but is built into the military retirement, and is reflected in the comments box at the bottom of a Retiree Account Statement.

Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC)

Military Disability RetirementMilitary Disability Retirement

CRSC, which applies to military retirees with a “Purple Heart” disability, is an alternative to CRDP to restore to a military retiree the money otherwise lost in a VA waiver. CRSC vs CRDP – the two payments are mutually exclusive – a military retiree may not receive both Combat-related Special Compensation and CRDP, so will typically opt to receive the payment which is most beneficial.

Sometimes CRSC payments will make more sense, particularly if the disability rating is under 50% so CRDP would not apply. But CRSC is only payable to the extent of the combat-related disability – so if the retiree has a 60% VA disability rating, but only 20% of that is combat-related, CRSC will only pay a 20% disability payment, not 60%.

CRSC is not divisible property in a Colorado divorce, but it does count as income for purposes of child support and spousal maintenance. For more information on CRSC, see our Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) & Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.

Chapter 61 Disability Retirement (PDRL)

A Chapter 61 retirement is the classic military disability retirement. When a military member with a disability rating of 30% or higher is unfit for continued military service, he/she is placed on the Permanent Disability Retired List, or PDRL, which means they receive a disability retirement pursuant to Title 10, Chapter 61 of the U.S. Code.

Monthly PDRL payments are the higher of:

  • Years of service x High-3 Pay x 2% (or 2% for Blended Retirement (the “longevity method”), or
  • High-3 pay x VA disability rating (up to a max 75%)

A Chapter 61 retirement is received in lieu of a normal 20-year longevity retirement, not in addition to it, and a member with fewer than 20 years of service can receive a Chapter 61 retirement. However, unless the member has at least 20 years of service and a 50% disability rating, he must waive PDRL in order to receive VA disability payments.

PDRL is usually not divisible in a divorce, but is income for purposes of calculating support or maintenance. For more information about disability retirements, see our PDRL – Chapter 61 Disability Retirement in a Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.

Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL)

The TDRL is somewhat of a temporary waystation towards a full military disability retirement. A member will go through the Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board (MEB & PEB) processes, and if determined unfit for duty with at least a 30% rating, will be placed on the TDRL for up to 3 years, with a review at 18 months.

If the condition improves and the member is able to return to duty, he does so and leaves the TDRL. On the other hand, if the condition has not improved and he is still unfit for duty, he will be placed on the PDRL and receive a disability retirement, if qualified (see above), or receive disability severance pay.

TDRL payments are similar to PDRL payments, and are the higher of:

  • Years of service x High-3 Pay x 2% (or 2% for Blended Retirement (the “longevity method”), or
  • High-3 pay x VA disability rating (min 50%, max 75%).

TDRL payments are not divisible in a divorce, but are income for family support purposes. For more information, see our TDRL – Temporary Disability Retired List in a Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.

Disability Severance Pay

Disability severance pay is not really a form of military disability retirement, but is an alternative payment to members who do not qualify for the PDRL. It is a one-time payment made to a member who is unfit for duty, but whose disability rating is below 30%.

The payment is calculated as follows: Years of active service (Max of 19) x 2 x base pay at the time of removal from the TDRL.

Note that this sounds substantial – a member with 17 years of service and a high-3 base pay of $6000 would receive $204,000 – not a small sum. However, compare that to a military disability retirement, where that same member with a 30% disability rating would (under the longevity method) receive $2550/mo in Chapter 61 payments, for the rest of his life! Or a member with an 80% disability rating, who receives $4500/mo for the rest of his life.

For more information, see our Disability Severance Pay & Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.

The Takeaway re: Military Disability Retirement

Not all military disability retirement is created equal – not only do the payments vary considerably depending upon the type of disability received, but so too does their treatment in a divorce. This post is intended as a starting point for what can be a complicated “alphabet soup” – you should review the military disability section of the Military Divorce Guide for the full details of the specific form of military disability retirement applicable to your divorce.

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