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Understanding the Department of Veterans Affairs

As of 2020 there will be about 18.8 million veterans in the United States, according to population estimates issued by the Department. Rough estimates are that there could be somewhere around 6 million surviving spouses or surviving dependents of veterans as well – putting the total at about 24.8 million individuals who could possibly be eligible for VA benefits. It is interesting even though the population of veterans is declining every year, the amount of benefit payments to those veterans is increasing about 8% a year. More veterans are on claim, they have more disability issues and are getting much more money per capita even taking into account inflation.

Historical and Projected Veterans Population

The Department of Veterans Affairs exists to provide the benefits below.

  • Health care
  • Disability Compensation
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
  • Veterans Pension
  • Survivors Pension
  • Burial benefits
  • Life insurance
  • G.I. bill
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and employment
  • Home loans and other housing allowances, and
  • A variety of outreach and support services such as the National Call Center, suicide prevention, counseling specific to veterans and homelessness and a whole lot more.

Not all veterans qualify for the entire list above. As a general rule, all veterans can qualify for life insurance, G.I. bill (depending on their service), home loan guarantys and limited burial benefits. For the rest of this list there are specific eligibility and entitlement requirements.

In this book we cover all of the benefits listed above. However, the specific focus is on service-connected and non-service-connected disability and the survivor benefits associated with these two programs. Currently the Department of Veterans Affairs through one of its three divisions –Veterans Benefits Administration – serves the following number of individuals.

Veterans Benefits Administration Number of Beneficiaries





Compensation Beneficiaries including DIC




Pension Beneficiaries including Survivors Pension




Education Program Students




Vocational Rehab & Employment Trainees




New Housing Loans




Insured Persons




Source: DVA 2020 budget proposal

The Department of Veterans Affairs structure consists of 3 operational divisions and various other departments that provide general administration, support and other services to also include a robust construction program. The three operational divisions are

  1. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) which accounts for 37.4% of the budget and 348,389 employees, representing 89% of the workforce. The Veterans Health Administration is America’s largest integrated health care system, providing care at 1,243 health care facilities, including 172 medical centers and 1,062 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity (VHA outpatient clinics), and serving 9 million enrolled Veterans.
  2. National Cemetery Administration (NCA) which accounts for 0.4% of the budget and has 2,008 employees.
  3. Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) which accounts for 10.3% of the budget and utilizes 23,899 employees. It is this division of VA that this book is mostly about as all of the benefits covered in this book – with the exception of the chapter on veterans health care – are furnished through the Veterans Benefits Administration or VBA

VA 2020 Proposed Budget in Billions


VA Full Time Employees

By far, the most costly portion of the VA budget is the disability benefits payments to veterans and their survivors exceeding $100 billion a year in outlays. VA is the second largest cabinet department in the US government by number of employees and the fifth-largest by budget size. Unlike other departments in the government, VA’s budget has grown at 9.44 % on average every year since 2010. All others, with one exception, have seen their allocations shrink or remain static. The one exception is the Department of Defense which is the largest agency by budget and number of employees and has seen continued yearly increases in funding.

Disability Income and health care benefits comprise the largest portion of the VA budget which for 2020 will be about $216.2 billion. Projected spending for medical care in 2020 will be $80.93 billion. Another $95 billion is for Disability Compensation benefits including DIC. Another $5.4 billion is for Pension including Survivors (Death) Pension. These 3 specific expenditures represent a total of about $181.33 billion and encompass about 84% of the entire VA budget.

Department of Veterans Affairs Yearly Budget and Number of Beneficiaries

VA Budget and Number of Beneficiaries

Please refer to the table of contents in the top right column of this page for more topics on the Department of Veterans Affairs.