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What Does It Mean to Be 100% Disabled by the VA?

What Are VA Disability Ratings?

A VA disability rating is a percentage assigned to a service-connected disability based on the severity of the condition.  Disability ratings are meant to compensate veterans for the average impairment in earning capacity caused by their service-connected condition(s).

VA uses the Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) to assign diagnostic codes and disability ratings from 0 to 100 percent.  Generally, the more severe a disability, the higher the disability rating.

The monthly benefit increases incrementally with each higher rating.  A 0 percent rating offers no monthly monetary y compensation, but veterans with this rating may be eligible for ancillary benefits, such as health care.  A 100 percent rating provides the maximum schedular benefit in monthly compensation.

If a veteran has multiple service-connected conditions, VA combines the multiple ratings together using VA math.  Importantly, a veteran’s combined disability rating determines their monthly compensation amount.

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
100 Percent VA Ratings: What It Means To Be a 100% Disabled Veteran

What Is a 100% Disability Rating?

A 100 percent disability rating, or total disability rating, is the highest percentage that can be given for service-connected compensation purposes.  This rating is reserved for veterans with extremely debilitating service-connected conditions that typically make them unable to work and mostly unable to care for themselves.  A veteran must meet stringent criteria to qualify for this rating.

As mentioned above, 100 percent ratings also provide the highest schedular amount of disability compensation.  Some veterans can get additional compensation if their disabilities are especially severe.

How to Get a 100% VA Disability Rating

Are 100% VA Ratings Permanent?

VA disability ratings at 100 percent are not automatically permanent; however, they can be granted permanent status in certain situations.

For example, if a 100 percent rating is in place for 20 years or more, VA is not going to reduce that rating unless there is evidence of fraud in the initial rating assignment.

If it is less than 20 years, VA can pursue a rating reduction, but there needs to be both material improvement and improvement under ordinary conditions.  Importantly, VA cannot rely on a simple examination showing improvement when issuing a rating reduction.

Having a rating for 20 years does not mean it automatically becomes permanent; but, if VA determines your rating cannot be subject to reduction after 20 years, your 100 percent rating will remain the same (i.e., become permanent).

Is My VA Disability Rating Permanent?

Types of 100% VA Disability Ratings

There are several types of 100 percent disability ratings.  These include:

  • 100% Schedular VA ratings – A 100 percent disability rating for one condition or multiple conditions.
  • Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU): Veterans who are unable to secure and follow substantially gainful employment due to their service-connected conditions.
  • Permanent and Total (P&T) VA ratings: Veterans whose disabilities are total (rated 100 percent disabling by VA) and permanent (have zero or close to zero chance of improvement).
  • Temporary Total VA ratings: Veterans who are rendered temporarily incapacitated due to a service-connected condition.
  • VA ratings for cancer: Veterans service-connected for active cancer should automatically receive a 100 percent disability rating.  This rating continues for as long as the cancer is active, and then for another six months following the successful completion of a treatment program, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.  VA will then reevaluate based on residuals.
Types of 100% VA Disability Ratings

100% Schedular VA Ratings

There are two ways in which veterans can receive a schedular 100 percent disability rating:

  1. A 100 percent rating based on one disability alone; or
  2. Multiple service-connected disabilities that combine to 100 percent.

However, it is important to note that disability ratings are not added together in the traditional way.  Instead, as mentioned above, VA uses its own form of math when combining disability ratings.  To avoid doing VA math by hand, use our VA math calculator here.

Importantly, if the VA math calculator produces an outcome of 75 percent, it means you are likely entitled to an 80 percent combined disability rating.  On the other hand, if the VA math calculator produces an outcome of 73 percent, then you are only entitled to a 70 percent combined disability rating.

Can Veterans with Schedular 100% VA Disability Ratings Work?

If a veteran has a schedular 100 percent disability rating for one or more service-connected conditions, they are fully entitled to continue working.  However, veterans should keep in mind that the VASRD is based on average impairment to earning capacity.  This means that a veteran’s ability to work is one of the factors VA considers when trying to determine whether there has been an actual material improvement to a service-connected condition.

Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU)

Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, is a benefit that allows veterans to be compensated at the 100 percent level, even if their combined rating does not equal a schedular 100 percent.  TDIU is awarded to veterans who are unable to secure and follow substantially gainful employment as a result of their service-connected conditions.

Furthermore, a veteran may be unable to work due to a combination of service-connected conditions.  That is, veterans do not have to show that their depression alone prevents them from working.  Instead, veterans can argue that their depression combined with their knee and back conditions make them unable to work.

Schedular vs. Extraschedular TDIU

VA outlines TDIU regulations under 38 CFR § 4.16, which encompasses schedular TDIU (subsection a) and extraschedular TDIU (subsection b).  To qualify for TDIU on a schedular basis under 38 CFR § 4.16(a), veterans must demonstrate the following:

  • They have one service-connected condition rated at 60 percent or higheror
  • They have multiple service-connected conditions, one of which is rated at least 40 percent disabling, with a combined disability rating of at least 70 percent.

Veterans who do not meet the rating requirements for schedular TDIU outlined above may still qualify for extraschedular consideration, or extraschedular TDIU under 38 CFR § 4.16(b).  In this scenario, VA will determine if a veteran’s case should be referred to the Director of Compensation Service.  The Director will look at their case and write an opinion on whether their service-connected conditions prevent them from securing and following substantially gainful employment.  VA will then agree or disagree with the Director’s opinion to either grant or deny TDIU on an extraschedular basis.

Can Veterans Work While Receiving TDIU?

There are certain situations in which VA can still consider and grant TDIU when a veteran is working.  Again, the regulation requires that veterans cannot secure and follow substantially gainful employment.  VA considers jobs that result in annual income less than that of the federal poverty threshold to be marginal employment.  Importantly, veterans engaging in marginal employment are still eligible for TDIU.

There are additional circumstances where veterans who earn above the federal poverty threshold may still receive TDIU benefits.  Here, veterans must be receiving extensive and unreasonable accommodations from their employer, resulting in a protective work environment.  If the accommodations are afforded due to the veteran’s service-connected conditions, and without such accommodations the veteran would not be employed, TDIU should be considered.

Is TDIU Permanent?

Similar to schedular 100 percent disability ratings, TDIU is not automatically permanent; however, it can be granted permanent status.  Oftentimes, the veteran must apply for permanent status and demonstrate to VA that their service-connected conditions are not going to improve over time, thereby rendering them permanently unemployable.

VA Individual Unemployability (TDIU) Myths and Facts

100% Permanent and Total VA Disability Ratings

Permanent and total disability ratings mean that VA has determined the veteran is both permanently and totally disabled.  It is a classification that means veterans no longer need to attend Compensation and Pension (C&P) exams.

In addition, veterans with permanent and total disability ratings are typically no longer subject to rating reductions.  If you believe you are entitled to a permanent and total disability rating, you should apply through VA.

Permanent and Total Disability (P&T)

How Do You Know if Your Rating is Permanent?

If a veteran is rated permanent and total for a service-connected condition, there are several ways in which VA may notify them.  In most cases, it will be indicated in the decision letter.  On some Rating Decisions, there is a Permanent and Total box that will be checked.  On others, there may be language like “eligibility to Dependents Chapter 35 DEA/CHAMPVA are established” or “no future exams are scheduled” – both of which indicate permanence.  The exact language may differ between VA Regional Offices.

100% Temporary Total Disability Ratings

Veterans who are rendered temporarily incapacitated due to a service-connected condition may be entitled to receive temporary and total disability compensation equivalent to a 100 percent VA rating.  VA offers three forms of temporary 100 percent disability ratings:

Prestabilization

A prestabilization rating is a temporary, immediate disability rating assigned to veterans who have recently been discharged from military service with a severely disabling and unstable condition that is expected to continue for an indefinite period of time.  These veterans are considered “most likely in need and least likely to be self-sufficient.”

Prestabilization ratings are assigned in increments of 50 and 100 percent over a period of 12 months following the veteran’s discharge date.  Veterans who receive a 100 percent prestabilization rating are suffering from an unstable condition incurred in service that will result in a severe disability.   According to 38 CFR 4.28, a 100 percent prestabilization rating is only assigned if “substantially gainful employment is not feasible or advisable.”

In order for VA to reduce your prestabilization rating, a reevaluation must be conducted to assess the  condition’s status.  These examinations are scheduled six to 12 months following separation from service.  VA will reduce your prestabilization rating if the evidence following a reexamination warrants a reduction.

A prestabilization rating is not assigned if the veteran is immediately eligible for a 100 percent schedular rating “under the regular provisions of the rating schedule,” or a 100 percent rating due to TDIU.  To the same effect, a 50 percent prestabilization rating will not be assigned to those who would otherwise qualify for a schedular rating of 50 percent or higher “under the regular provisions of the rating schedule.”

Hospitalization

Temporary hospitalization ratings are assigned to veterans who have been hospitalized for over 21 days as a result of a service-connected condition.  This rating is also assigned to those who remain under hospital observation for more than 21 days at the expense of VA.  In order to qualify for a temporary hospitalization rating, you must be receiving treatment at a VA medical center or other VA-approved hospital.

If a veteran is assigned a temporary hospitalization rating, their effective date will be that of when continuous hospitalization began.  Benefits will continue until the last day of the month in which the veteran stopped receiving treatment for their service-connected condition.  According to 38 CFR 4.29, if a veteran is hospitalized for more than six months, their “claims folder will be referred to the rating activity for consideration of a schedular 100 percent rating.”

Convalescence

Convalescence is the third and final form of temporary total compensation assigned to veterans by VA.  In the case Felden v. West, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) defined convalescence as “the stage of recovery following an attack of disease, a surgical operation, or an injury” and recovery as “the act of regaining or returning toward a normal or healthy state.” Felden v. West, 11 Vet. App. 427, 430 (1998.)

Temporary 100 percent convalescence ratings are assigned to veterans who underwent treatment or surgery for a service-connected disability at a VA medical center or VA-approved facility.  In order to qualify for a temporary and total convalescence rating, the veteran must have:

  • Undergone treatment or surgery with a convalescence time of at least one month; or
  • Experienced severe postoperative residuals that resulted from surgery (e.g., surgical wounds are not completely healed, the veteran is rendered housebound, there is a need for continuous use of crutches or wheelchair); or
  • Experienced the immobilization of one or more major joints “by a cast without surgery.”

According to 38 CFR 4.30, entitlement to a convalescence rating can be corroborated by a medical professional if there is a “clear connection between the claimant’s inability to return to previous employment and surgery or cast immobilization,” and if there is no evidence of record to the contrary.

VA Ratings for Cancer: Temporary Total

If you are service-connected for an active cancer, VA should automatically assign a 100 percent disability rating.  This rating continues for as long as your cancer is active, and then for another six months following the successful completion of a treatment program, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.  Six months after your cancer treatment ends, VA will schedule you for a C&P examination to evaluate the current status of your condition.

If the examination shows that your cancer is no longer active and is in remission, VA will evaluate the cancer based on its residuals.  For example, erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence are common residual symptoms of prostate cancer.  If prostate cancer is no longer active, VA will likely reduce the disability rating for that condition and assign new ratings based on the severity of the veteran’s erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence if present.

Are There Other Benefits Available for 100% Disabled Veterans?

Yes, there are a variety of benefits available to veterans rated at 100 percent, aside from disability compensation.  These may include:

Priority Group 1 for Healthcare

When veterans apply for VA health care, VA will assign you to 1 of 8 priority groups based on:

  • Your military service history;
  • Your VA disability rating;
  • Your income level;
  • Whether you qualify for Medicaid; and
  • Other benefits you may be receiving (e.g., VA pension benefits)

Veterans with service-connected disabilities are given the highest priority.  Importantly, veterans with a 100 percent VA disability rating meet the eligibility requirements for Health Care Priority Group 1.  This group includes the following benefits:

  • Dental care (e.g., regular cleanings, restorative care such as fillings and crowns, x-rays, etc.)
  • Preventive care
  • Inpatient (hospitalization) services
  • Ancillary services
  • Mental health care
  • Geriatrics and extended care
  • Medical equipment/prosthetic items and aids
  • Medications/supplies
  • Nursing home placement
  • Medically related travel benefits
  • Eyeglasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Automotive adaptive equipment (under certain conditions)
  • Home improvement and structural alteration grants (under certain conditions)
  • Clothing allowance benefits (under certain conditions)
  • Dependents’ health care (if not eligible under TRICARE)
  • Emergency care at a non-VA facility (under certain conditions)
  • Foreign medical care (for service-connected and secondary conditions)

Emergency Care Outside of VA for 100% Disabled Veterans

Veterans in the Priority 1 Group described above that have a P&T disability rating are entitled to emergency care outside of the Veterans Health Administration for any disability.  Such emergency care is at VA’s expense.  Veterans must simply show that VA was not reasonably available to provide the care that they needed at the time.

Dental Care Benefits for 100 Percent Disabled Veterans

If you qualify for VA dental care benefits (i.e., you have a 100 percent schedular disability rating or receive TDIU benefits), you may be able to get some or all of your dental care through VA.

The eligibility for outpatient dental care is somewhat different from the eligibility requirements for most other VA medical benefits.  Specifically, eligibility for VA dental care is categorized into classes.  The class you are in determines the benefits you will receive.

Veterans with 100 percent disability ratings are categorized into Class IV.  Importantly, these veterans are eligible for any needed dental care, such as scheduled cleanings and X-rays.  It also includes restorative procedures such as fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures.  Any oral surgeries that you might require, such as tooth extractions, root canals, and reconstructive surgeries due to trauma or serious illness are covered as well.  However, these dental benefits are not afforded to veterans with only a temporary total rating.

Vision Care and Hearing Aid Veterans Benefits: 100% Rating not Required

For vision care and hearing aid benefits, veterans do not actually need a total disability rating.  All veterans with any compensable disability rating qualify for vision care and hearing aids.  Vision care includes routine eye exams, preventive testing (e.g., glaucoma testing, cost of eyeglasses).

CHAMPVA

The Civilian Health and Medical Programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) is a health care program in which VA shares the cost of certain covered healthcare services that exist for the spouses and children of disabled veterans with 100 percent disability ratings.

This additional benefit is unique insofar as it is not just a benefit that is available to the veterans themselves.  Instead, it is also a benefit that they can use to the advantage of their family members.  Examples of covered healthcare services under CHAMPVA include ambulatory services, hospice treatment, certain inpatient and outpatient treatments or hospitalizations, family planning, medical services, and medical equipment costs.

Dependents Education Assistance Program

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program offers education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally (i.e., 100 percent) disabled due to a service-connected condition, currently receiving TDIU benefits, or who died while on active duty, or as a result of a service-connected condition.

DEA benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training.  Dependents may receive up to 45 months of education benefits if they began using the program before August 1, 2018.  If they began the program on or after August 1, 2018, they have 36 months to use the benefits.

Specially Adapted Housing Program Benefits: 100% Rating not Required

The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) program offers grants to veterans with certain severe service-connected disabilities (which are typically rated 100 percent disabling).  The grants assist with building, remodeling, or purchasing an adapted home.  This can provide independent living that might not otherwise be possible.

To be eligible for SAH grants, veterans must be entitled to disability compensation due to:

  • Loss or loss of use of two or more limbs
  • Loss or loss of use of a lower extremity with lasting residuals of an organic disease or injury
    • Note: VA sets a cap for how many veterans can get benefits based on the loss of one extremity. Currently, only 120 veterans per fiscal year can receive SAH compensation.
  • Blindness in both eyes (i.e., 20/200 visual acuity or less)
  • Severe burn injuries
  • Loss or loss of use of a foot or leg after September 11, 2001 (i.e., unable to move around without braces, crutches, canes, or a wheelchair)

Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E)

Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) is a benefit designed for service members and veterans with service-connected conditions who are looking to increase their likelihood of obtaining employment.  VA will evaluate the veteran’s interests, aptitudes, abilities, and assess how their disability affects their ability to work.  VR&E also provides a range of career services including:

  • Career counseling and rehabilitation planning for employment as job training, job-seeking skills, résumé development, and other work-readiness assistance
  • On-the-job-training, apprenticeships, and non-paid work experiences

If a veteran is entitled to DEA benefits (or if a veteran was entitled to DEA benefits at the time of their passing), their dependents may be eligible for VR&E benefits as well.

Commissary and Exchange Benefits for 100 Percent Disabled Veterans

Veterans with a 100 percent rating can present their Veteran Health Identification Card to gain entry to Department of Defense (DoD) and Coast Guard installations, some commissary stores/commissaries, exchanges, and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) retail activities where they can shop at discounted rates.  These are known as commissary and exchange benefits.

Space-A Flights for 100 Percent Disabled Veterans

In 2018, Congress signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, in which 100 percent disabled veterans became eligible for Space Available Travel (Space-A flights).  Veterans and their families can use Space-A flights to travel around the country and world at little to no cost.  To be eligible for Space-A flights, veterans must have a permanent and total service-connected condition.  These veterans must also obtain a DD Form 2765, “Department of Defense/Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card (TAN).”

The Space-A Program fills surplus capacity and seating on Department of Defense aircraft.  Disabled veterans are in priority group 6, meaning active-duty service members on emergency leave, post-deployment respite, and other important transportation needs will have priority.  As such, disabled veterans should have a contingency plan in case of a scheduling change or sudden unavailability.

Nonetheless, the Space-A program offers 100 percent disabled veterans the chance to travel with ease.  Eligible veterans looking for flights should review schedules through Air Mobility Command (AMC).  Most AMC terminals, on military bases or at commercial airports, have a Facebook page that posts flight schedules and seat availability.  Once a flight and destination are selected, the veteran can register in person at the terminal, or by email/fax.

Additional Benefits for 100% Disabled Veterans

Additional VA Ratings Above 100 Percent

Under the traditional rating scale for compensation, 100 percent is the highest rating you will receive for either an individual service-connected condition or combined service-connected conditions.  However, there are certain circumstances in which veterans can receive additional forms of compensation due to particularly severe conditions.

For example, special monthly compensation (SMC) is awarded to veterans who have severe disabilities that bring them above and beyond the schedular rating criteria.

State-Offered Benefits for 100% Disabled Veterans

Totally disabled veterans should also look into state-offered benefits, such as those associated with property taxes and vehicle registration.

Veterans with 100 percent disability ratings may request a property tax waiver, although each state may have different qualification requirements.  Veterans may also qualify for free vehicle registration depending on where they live.

 

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Get Help Winning a 100% Disability Rating

If VA denied you 100 percent disability, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help.  The attorneys at CCK have a strong track record in securing our clients VA disability.  We know how to fight cases at VA, and we can put our tools and resources to work for you.

We offer a free consultations to veterans.  Call our office today at 800-544-9144.