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Veterans Law

VA Math and Disability Ratings Explained

April Donahower

November 3, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2023

VA Math and Disability Ratings Explained

When a veteran has multiple service-connected conditions, each with its own individual rating, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) combines the ratings using VA math.

To help veterans better understand the confusing and challenging process of VA math, below is a general overview of how VA assigns disability ratings, followed by an explanation of combined ratings and the VA disability math process.

VA Disability Ratings Explained

The Department of Veterans Affairs assigns disability ratings to veterans who developed medical conditions as a result of their military service.  VA disability ratings are meant to compensate veterans for the severity of their condition and how much it impairs their earning capacity.

To receive a disability rating, veterans must first file 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 rating percentage rating based on severity, ranging from 0 to 100 percent in 10 percent increments.  Veterans with a 100 percent disability rating, the highest schedular rating, are considered totally disabled by VA.

Each percentage corresponds to a specific monthly dollar amount, as seen in the 2022 VA disability pay chart.  Essentially, the higher the veteran’s disability rating, the more compensation they will receive each month.

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

As of December 1st, 2023 the VA disability rate benefit amounts are as follows:

  • 0 percent disability rating: $0.00 per month
  • 10 percent disability rating: $171.23 per month
  • 20 percent disability rating: $338.49 per month
  • 30 percent disability rating: $524.31 per month
  • 40 percent disability rating: $755.28 per month
  • 50 percent disability rating: $1,075.16 per month
  • 60 percent disability rating: $1,361.88 per month
  • 70 percent disability rating: $1,716.28 per month
  • 80 percent disability rating: $1,995.01 per month
  • 90 percent disability rating: $2,241.91 per month
  • 100 percent disability rating: $3,737.85 per month

Disability ratings are determined using VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities and evidence of record.

VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD)

VA adjudicators look to VA’s Schedule for Rating Disability (VASRD) when assigning disability ratings.  Within the rating schedule are more than 800 diagnostic codes (DCs), each relating to a specific medical condition or set of conditions.

Each diagnostic code provides criteria that correspond to percentage ratings.  For example, a veteran experiencing only symptoms A and B for a certain condition may receive a 10 percent rating, whereas a veteran experiencing symptoms A, B, C, and D may receive a 60 percent rating.

Who Assigns VA Disability Ratings?

VA adjudicators at the VA Regional Office (RO) have the authority to assign disability ratings.  When the claim is on appeal, members of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) can also assign disability ratings.

VA employees look at the evidence of record – such as the veteran’s C-file and VA examinations – when adjudicating claims.  These raters look for symptoms and impairments documented within the evidence of record and match them to the correct diagnostic code to assign a disability rating.

VA Disability Ratings for Residuals

Cancer is one example often used to explain residual ratings.  Say a veteran developed prostate cancer due to Agent Orange exposure 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, VA assigns ratings 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, VA does not simply add each individual rating together—they are combined using VA disability math.  Let us explain how this works.

VA starts with the premise that a veteran is 100 percent efficient, or not disabled.  For example:

  • If a veteran has a disability rating of 20 percent, VA will see them as 80 percent non-disabled and 20 percent disabled.
  • If the veteran has another disability rating of 10 percent, VA will take 10 percent of the 80 percent non-disabled portion (i.e., 8 percent) 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 for each of a veteran’s disability ratings.

Note: Always begin with the highest rating a veteran has, 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 ratings a lot simpler.

va math and disability ratings explained infographic

What Is the Bilateral Factor?

Before combining ratings, it is important to first consider bilateral disabilities (i.e., disabilities affecting both sides).  Bilateral disabilities are two conditions of the upper or lower extremities (e.g., right elbow and left wrist).  VA acknowledges that having bilateral disabilities severely limits a veteran’s ability to function.  Through the bilateral factor, veterans can be compensated for the severity of their disability and the impact it has on their ability to function.

In using the bilateral factor, the two bilateral disabilities are combined as usual.  Then, VA will add an additional 10 percent to the overall combined rating.

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 10 percent of the 36 percent (i.e., 3.6 percent) to the 36 percent rating, resulting in a 39.6 percent rating which is then rounded to a 40 percent rating.

VA Math Chart and Disability Calculator: No VA Math Required

Again, calculating a combined disability rating using VA math can prove to be a challenging and confusing process.  To simplify the VA disability math process, the team at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick developed a VA compensation calculator.  This comprehensive rating calculator accounts for several additional factors, including:

  • Qualifying dependents
  • Rating considerations, such as the bilateral factor
  • Aid and Attendance
  • Any additional benefits that can increase the monthly payments a Veteran receives.

To use the veterans’ disability calculator, you can start by selecting your ratings from the list of 0 through 100 percent.  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, you can select your number of dependents.

Taking all that information into consideration, the disability calculator will then produce an estimate of your monthly compensation amount.

Learn more and access the VA disability calculator here.

Using the VA Combined Rating Table and VA Math

How to Use VA’s Combined Rating Table

Veterans can also use VA’s combined rating table to calculate their overall combined rating as opposed to using VA math.  Follow these guidelines to effectively use VA’s combined rating table:

  • Veterans should start by listing their disability ratings from highest to lowest.  Specifically, start with your highest rating, followed by the second highest rating, and so on.
  • Next, take your highest rating and identify it in the left column of the chart.
  • Then, take your 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 you have more than two disabilities, take the combined value of the first two and locate that on the left side of the chart (without rounding to the nearest 10).  Then locate your next-highest rating on the top row and find where the row and column intersect once more.  That is the combined rating for those three disabilities.

Veterans should repeat this process for every disability they are rated for, from highest to lowest.  When you are finished combining your rating, round that final number to the nearest 10.

For example, if your final combined rating is 56 percent, round that up to 60 percent.  If it is 54 percent, round down to 50 percent.  Importantly, a 55 percent rounds up to 60 percent.

Other Types of VA Disability Ratings

Staged VA Ratings

Staged ratings are when VA changes a disability rating based on the severity of the condition over time.  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 rating with staged ratings involves a more complex VA math equation, in which you would have different ratings over multiple years.

Permanent and Total VA Ratings

If VA has determined that a veteran’s condition is not likely to improve, it will assign a permanent and total (P&T) rating.  P&T ratings are 100 percent ratings that are protected from being reduced.  These ratings are combined using VA disability math to reach a schedular 100 percent rating.

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 sufficiently compensated by their disability rating in relation to their impairment in earning capacity.  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 are assigned an analogous rating.  Essentially, VA assigns a rating based on what condition most closely matches the symptoms or treatment the veteran is experiencing.  VA looks at the bodily functions affected, the anatomical location of the condition, and the symptoms.

Secondary Service Connection

Secondary conditions are those that develop due to 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.

VA Rating Reductions and Increases

If a veteran’s condition improves, their disability rating can be reduced by VA.  Conversely, when a veteran’s service-connected disability has worsened since receiving a rating, they can file an increased rating claim with VA.

Claims for increased ratings are just like any other claim.  If denied, the veteran can appeal until they feel the rating is appropriate or 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.

VA Rating Reductions

VA Disability Payment Schedule

VA disability benefits for a particular month are usually 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.  Based on this, the VA disability payment schedule for 2022 is as follows:

MonthPayment DateDay of Week
January 2022February 1stTuesday
February 2022March 1stTuesday
March 2022April 1stFriday
April 2022April 29thFriday
May 2022June 1stWednesday
June 2022July 1stFriday
July 2022August 1stMonday
August 2022September 1stThursday
September 2022September 30thFriday
October 2022November 1stTuesday
November 2022December 1stThursday
December 2022December 30thFriday

Do You Need Assistance with Your Claim or Appeal?

If VA denied your claim for disability benefits or if your combined rating is too low, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help.  The accredited claims agents and attorneys at CCK have decades of experience assisting veterans in securing the highest possible VA benefits on appeal.

Call CCK today at 800-544-9144 to speak with a member of our team.

About the Author

Bio photo of April Donahower

April joined Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick in August of 2016 as an Associate Attorney. She currently serves as the Appellate Supervisor in our Veterans Law practice. April’s practice focuses on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about April