Scars are the fifth most common disability among veterans, affecting nearly 830,000 in total according to VA’s Annual Benefits Report for Fiscal Year 2016. Scar disabilities are rated under 38 CFR §4.118, diagnostic codes 7800-7805. Scars are rated based on the number of scars or disfigurements a veteran has, the area of the body affected, their permanence, and the presence of pain or instability. The VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) notes eight characteristics of disfigurement that VA incorporates into how it rates scars for disability compensation purposes:
The Eight Characteristics of Disfigurement
- Scar is 5 or more inches in length;
- Width of the scar is one-quarter inch at the widest part;
- Surface of the scar elevates or depresses when pressed upon;
- The scar is adherent to the soft tissue underneath it;
- Hypopigmentation (loss of skin color) or hyperpigmentation (darkening of skin color) in an area larger than 6 square inches;
- Abnormal skin texture (e.g. tight, shiny, scaly, etc.) in an area larger than six square inches;
- Underlying soft tissue beneath the scar is missing in an area larger than six square inches;
- Skin is inflexible (does not move) and indurated (hard) in an area exceeding six square inches.
7800: Scars or disfigurement of the head, face, or neck
There are three main categories VA takes into account when assigning a rating for scars under diagnostic code 7800: tissue loss; distortion or asymmetry of features; and characteristics of disfigurement.
- Veterans who display tissue loss and “gross distortion or asymmetry of three or more features” such as the nose, chin, forehead, eyes (including eyelids) ears, cheeks, or lips; OR display six or more characteristics of disfigurement should receive a disability rating of 80%.
- Veterans who experience tissue loss and gross distortion or asymmetry of two of the features listed above; OR have four or five characteristics of disfigurement should be rated at 50%.
- Those who present with tissue loss and gross distortion or asymmetry of one of the aforementioned features; OR two or three characteristics of disfigurement may be assigned a disability rating of 30%.
- Veterans who display one characteristic of disfigurement may receive a disability rating of 10%.
7801: Scars elsewhere on the body that are deep and nonlinear
Nonlinear scars located in different areas of the body (e.g. one extremity, two separate extremities, front or back of the torso, etc.) are rated separately. Each rating is based upon the area of qualifying scars that affect a portion of the body. This means that if a veteran has one qualifying scar on their right arm and a qualifying scar on their left leg they will receive separate ratings for each scar, which will then yield a combined disability rating.
Nonlinear, deep scars that occupy an:
- Area(s) of 144 square inches or more may receive a 40% disability rating;
- Area(s) of at least 72 but less than 144 square inches warrant a 30% rating;
- Area or areas of 12 square inches minimum, but under 72 square inches may be assigned a 20% disability rating;
- Area or areas of at least 6, but less than 12 square inches should receive a 10% VA rating.
7802: Superficial nonlinear scars not of the head, neck, or face
Superficial scars are not permanent in nature and do not affect underlying soft tissue, only the skin. Similar to diagnostic code 7801, these scars are rated separately for each area of the body affected. Veterans are only able to receive a 10% disability rating for superficial nonlinear scars affecting one area of the body other than the head, face, or neck:
- If the area or areas of the scar(s) are 144 square inches or more, the veteran should be rated at 10%.
7804: Painful or unstable scars
According to the Veteran Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities, an unstable scar is one where “there is frequent loss of covering of skin over the scar.” If more than one scar is considered unstable, an additional 10% may be added to the rating. Additionally, scars rated under diagnostic codes 7800, 7801, 7802, or 7805 can also receive an evaluation under 7804 when applicable. Veterans who have:
- Five or more unstable or painful scars can be rated at 30%;
- Three or four painful or unstable scars may receive a disability rating of 20%;
- One or two painful or unstable scars should be rated at 10%.
7805 Other scars including linear scars
Disability ratings for these conditions are based upon the disabling effects the scar presents. For example, if a veteran has a linear scar running along the elbow that prevents flexion, he or she will be rated on limitation of motion of the elbow.
All other scar conditions not listed in the VASRD are rated analogous to diagnostic codes 7800 to 7805.