In today’s Facebook LIVE discussion, Attorneys Bradley Hennings, Emma Peterson, and Jonathan Greene discuss disability ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and how VA calculates a veteran’s rating when multiple service-connected disabilities are involved.
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% in 2018 will receive $136.24 each month, whereas another veteran rated at 50% will receive $855.41. 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’s explain how this works:
VA starts with the premise that a veteran is 100% efficient, or not disabled. If a veteran has a disability rating of 20%, VA will see them as 80% non-disabled and 20% disabled. To include another disability rating of, say 10%, VA will take 10% of the 80% non-disabled portion, and add it to the existing 20% rating, bringing the veteran to a 28% disability rating. 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% will be rounded to 30%.
We know this is complicated. That’s why we’ve 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.
To account for bilateral ratings, the two disabilities are combined as usual and then an additional 10% of the combined rating is added. For example, a left shoulder disability rated at 20% and a right elbow disability rated at 20% are combined to yield a 36% rating. The bilateral factor then adds 3.6% to the 36% rating, resulting in a 39.6% rating which is then rounded to a 40% rating.
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 s/he is 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% rating for the first two years of adjudication and a 20% for the last two based on the status of the veteran’s disability according to medical evidence.
Permanent and Total VA Ratings
Permanent and total ratings are 100% ratings that are protected from being reduced because the condition has been found not likely to improve. 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% 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 similar to 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.