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Veterans Law

VA Math and Disability Ratings Explained

November 3, 2018
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To understand how VA math and combining ratings work, we’ll start with a general overview of how VA assigns Veterans’ disability ratings.

What Are VA Disability Ratings?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assigns those who have become disabled as a result of military service with a disability rating. This rating is based on how severe the veteran’s condition is and how the disability impairs their earning capacity. Veterans receive a disability rating by filing a claim for service connection with VA. If VA decides in the veteran’s favor, it will grant service connection for the disability and assign a percentage rating based on severity, ranging from 0 percent to 100 percent. These ratings are assigned at 10 percent increments.

Each percentage increment corresponds to a dollar amount specified by VA in the VA disability pay chart. In other words, the higher the veteran’s disability rating, the more compensation they will receive each month. For example, a veteran without dependents rated at 10 percent in 2019 will receive $142.29 each month, whereas another veteran rated at 50 percent will receive $893.43. Disability ratings are determined using VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities and the evidence of record.

How Does VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) Work?

The rating schedule is what VA adjudicators look to when assigning disability ratings. Within the rating schedule are over 800 diagnostic codes (DCs), each relating to a specific medical condition or set of conditions. Within each diagnostic code are different criteria which correspond to percentage ratings. For example, a veteran experiencing only symptom A and B may receive a 10 percent rating, whereas a veteran experiencing symptom A, B, C, and D may receive a 60 percent rating.

Who Assigns VA Disability Ratings?

Adjudicators at the regional office (RO) and members of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals—when the claim is on appeal— have the authority to assign disability ratings. When adjudicating these VA employees look at the evidence of record, such as the veteran’s C-file and VA examinations. These raters look for symptoms and impairments documented within the evidence of record and match them to the rating schedule to assign a disability rating.

VA Disability Ratings for Residuals

Once service connection has been established, VA looks to the resulting impact that condition has on the veteran’s earning capacity.  Cancer is one example often used to explain residual ratings. Let’s say a veteran has developed prostate cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and has been presumptively service connected by VA. Cancer is typically rated at 100 percent throughout the course of treatment; following treatment, this veteran would be rated based on the residual symptoms of their cancer, such as urinary incontinence.

Combined Disability Ratings and VA Math

When a veteran has multiple service-connected conditions, each with its own individual rating, VA does not simply add them together—they are combined using VA Math. Let us explain how this works:

VA starts with the premise that a veteran is 100 percent efficient, or not disabled. If a veteran has a disability rating of 20 percent, VA will see them as 80 percent non-disabled and 20 percent disabled. To include another disability rating of, say 10 percent, VA will take 10 percent of the 80 percent non-disabled portion, and add it to the existing 20 percent rating, bringing the veteran to a 28 percent disability rating, which will be rounded to 30 percent. This process continues with each disability rating the veteran has.

Note: Always begin with the highest rating a veteran has first, followed by the second highest rating, and so on. Disability ratings are rounded to the nearest increment of 10, so for example, this rating of 28 percent will be rounded to 30 percent.

We know this is complicated. That is why we have created a VA disability calculator that makes calculating combined disability ratings much simpler.

Bilateral Disabilities and VA Math

Before combining ratings, it is important to first look at any bilateral disabilities the veteran has. Bilateral means affecting both sides. Bilateral disabilities are two conditions of the upper or lower extremities (e.g. right elbow and left wrist) and, are considered to be severely limiting in a veteran’s ability to function, according to VA. Considering the bilateral factor in your VA math equation can increase your VA rating.

To account for bilateral ratings, the two disabilities are combined as usual and then an additional 10 percent of the combined rating is added. For example, a left shoulder disability rated at 20 percent and a right elbow disability rated at 20 percent are combined to yield a 36 percent rating. The bilateral factor then adds 3.6 percent to the 36 percent rating, resulting in a 39.6 percent rating which is then rounded to a 40 percent rating.

How to Use VA’s Combined Ratings Table Instead of VA Math

Veterans can use VA’s combined rating table to calculate their overall combined rating as opposed to the formulation of VA math.

First, it can help if the veteran lists their disability ratings from highest to lowest.  Specifically, start by using the veteran’s highest rating, and then going down the list from the second highest rating down to the lowest.

The veteran will take their highest rating and identify it in the left column of the chart.  Then, the veteran will take their second highest rating and identify that in the top row of the chart.  Where the row and the column intersect is the combined value for those disabilities.

If a veteran has more than two disabilities, they would take the combined value of the first two (which they got from following the above step) and locate that on the left side of the chart (without rounding to the nearest 10).  They will then locate their next-highest rating on the top row and find where the row and column intersect once more.  That is the combined disability rating for those three disabilities.

The veteran would repeat this process for every disability they are rated for, following from highest to lowest.  Then, when the veteran is finished combining their rating, they will round that final number to the nearest 10.  For example, if the veteran’s final combined rating is 56 percent, they will round that up to 60 percent.  If their final combined rating is 54 percent, they will round down to 50 percent.  Importantly, a 55 percent would round up to 60 percent.

VA Rating Reductions and Increases

A veteran’s disability rating can be reduced by VA in the event their condition improves, or increased in situations where the condition worsens. When veterans feel their service-connected disability has worsened since receiving a rating, they can file an increased rating claim with the regional office.

Claims for increased ratings are just like any other claim, and can be followed with appeals until the veteran feels the rating is appropriate or until they are unable to appeal it further. Similarly, if evidence suggests that the veteran’s condition has improved, VA can propose to reduce the veteran’s rating and schedule a re-examination.

Other Types of VA Disability Ratings

Staged VA Ratings

Sometimes VA assigns veterans a staged rating which can change with the severity of their condition, especially while it is being adjudicated. Since a decision from VA regarding a disability rating can take years VA may, for example, assign a veteran a 30 percent rating for the first two years of adjudication and a 20 percent for the last two based on the status of the veteran’s disability according to medical evidence.

Calculating your combined disability rating involving staged ratings involves a more complex VA math equation where you would have different ratings over multiple years.

Permanent and Total VA Ratings

Permanent and total ratings are 100 percent ratings that are protected from being reduced because the condition has been found not likely to improve. Permanent and total disability ratings are combined using VA Math to reach a schedular 100% rating. Veterans can find whether their rating is considered to be permanent and total in their decision letter, sometimes on the back in what is referred to as the code sheet; but the area in which this is indicated can vary per regional office. Here, permanent and total status can be indicated specifically as “permanent and total” or as “entitlement to chapter 35 dependents educational systems benefits.” Note: Not all 100 percent ratings are permanent.

Extraschedular VA Ratings

Extraschedular ratings are assigned to veterans experiencing symptoms of a service-connected disability not adequately depicted by its respective diagnostic code. In this instance, veterans can apply for an extraschedular rating, meaning “outside the schedule.” To be awarded an extraschedular rating, veterans must show that they are not being adequately compensated by their disability rating in relation to the impairment in earning capacity the disability presents. Extraschedular cases are rare circumstances and are often complicated. Each extraschedular claim gets sent to the Director of Compensation Service for consideration.

Analogous VA Ratings

Veterans with disabilities that are not listed within VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities will be assigned an analogous rating. Analogous ratings are ratings assigned based on what condition most closely matches the symptoms or treatment the veteran is experiencing. To assign analogous ratings VA looks at the bodily functions affected, the anatomical location of the body, and the symptoms that are produced to match the condition most like the one being experienced.

Secondary Service Connection

Secondary service-connected disabilities are disabilities that arise due to, or are aggravated by, a primary service-connected condition. Although not directly caused by military service, secondary disabilities can become service connected and veterans can be compensated for them. Once a veteran is rated for a secondary condition, it is factored into the VA math equation just like any other rating.

2020 Veterans Disability Calculator: No VA Math Required

Again, calculating a combined disability rating using VA math can prove to be a challenging and confusing process.  When using VA math, 2+2 does not equal 4: this is why Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD developed a veterans disability calculator to help veterans know what to expect from their VA disability compensation claim.

To use the veterans’ disability calculator, users will select their combined disability rating from the list of 0 through 100 percent, with in-between ratings at intervals of 10.  Users must also check whether their service-connected disability involves an arm or a leg.  Including information about extremities will allow the calculator to take the bilateral factor into account, if applicable.  From there, veterans can select the number of dependents they have, including children under the age of 18, children between the ages of 18 and 23 in school full-time, and dependent parents.  Taking all of that information into consideration, the disability calculator will then produce an estimate of the user’s monthly compensation amount.

2020 VA Disability Payment Rates and Schedule

The 2020 VA disability rate benefit amounts are as follows:

  • 0 percent disability rating: $0.00 per month
  • 10 percent disability rating: $142.29 per month
  • 20 percent disability rating: $281.27 per month
  • 30 percent disability rating: $435.69 per month
  • 40 percent disability rating: $627.61 per month
  • 50 percent disability rating: $893.43 per month
  • 60 percent disability rating: $1,131.68 per month
  • 70 percent disability rating: $1,426.17 per month
  • 80 percent disability rating: $1,657.80 per month
  • 90 percent disability rating: $1,862.96 per month
  • 100 percent disability rating: $3,106.04 per month

Importantly, VA disability compensation rates typically increase each year as a result of a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) set by Congress.  The increase is usually announced during the month of October and then takes effect in December.  To learn more about VA disability compensation amounts with dependents, click here.

Usually, disability benefits for a particular month will be paid on the first business day of the following month.  It is important to note that if the first business day of the month falls on a holiday, then VA benefits will be paid on the last business day of the preceding month.  Therefore, the VA disability payment schedule for the remainder of 2020 is as follows:

MonthPayment DateDay of Week
JulyJuly 31stFriday
AugustSeptember 1stTuesday
SeptemberOctober 1stThursday
OctoberOctober 30thFriday
NovemberDecember 1stTuesday
DecemberDecember 30thWednesday

va math infographic