As Malvin Espinosa prepared to retire from the Army in 2011, a Veterans Affairs counselor urged him to apply for disability pay.
List all your medical problems, the counselor said.
Espinosa, a mechanic at Ft. Lee in Virginia, had never considered himself disabled. But he did have ringing in his ears, sleep problems and aching joints. He also had bad memories of unloading a dead soldier from a helicopter in Afghanistan.
"Put it all down," he recalled the counselor saying.
Espinosa did, and as a result, he is getting a monthly disability check of $1,792, tax free, most likely for the rest of his life. The VA deems him 80% disabled due to sleep apnea, mild post-traumatic stress disorder, tinnitus and migraines.
The 41-year-old father of three collects a military pension along with disability pay — and as a civilian has returned to the base, working full-time training mechanics. His total income of slightly more than $70,000 a year is about 20% higher than his active-duty pay.
Similar stories are playing out across the VA.