How Do I Increase My VA Disability Rating?
While it is a difficult process, there are a few options to increase your VA disability rating.
How Do I Increase My VA Disability Rating?
Under certain circumstances, VA may increase your disability rating in light of new evidence that your condition has deteriorated. Or, you may think that your condition has worsened since you were initially granted your disability rating and thus file a claim for an increased rating.
If you think your service-connected condition warrants a higher disability rating than the one it is currently assigned, there are two routes you can take depending on which best fits your situation:
- File an appeal; or
- File a claim for an Increased Rating
File an Appeal
When you file an initial claim with VA for service-connected compensation, VA will issue a rating decision either granting or denying your claim. If VA grants your claim, the rating decision will also include an effective date and a disability rating. If you think the disability rating VA has assigned is too low, or the effective date is incorrect, you have one year from the date of the notification letter you received with the decision to file a Notice of Disagreement for an increased rating in the legacy appeals system.
When you receive an unfavorable decision under Appeals Reform, you will have three review options to choose from: the higher-level review lane, the supplemental claim lane, and the Notice of Disagreement lane (i.e. Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals).
Higher-Level Review Lane
By choosing this lane, veterans are requesting that the Regional Office (RO) issues another decision based on a higher level of review. This review is conducted by a more experienced rating specialist at the RO who evaluates the veteran’s claim de novo (i.e. new look). In this lane, veterans are not allowed to submit additional evidence in support of their claims. Instead, the RO will issue a new decision based on the same evidence of record that was available at the time of the prior decision.
Supplemental Claim Lane
This lane allows for the submission of new and relevant evidence. Furthermore, it is the only lane in which VA has a duty to assist veterans in gathering evidence to support their claims. Importantly, veterans will maintain the same effective dates for their claims when submitting new and relevant evidence as long as the supplemental claim is submitted within one year of the RO’s initial decision.
Notice of Disagreement (i.e. Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals)
In this lane, veterans can appeal their cases directly to the Board following an unfavorable decision from the RO. Here, veterans are able to skip the second level of review at the RO. There are an additional three lanes at the Board that veterans can choose from:
- Direct Docket. For veterans who do not want to submit additional evidence to the Board, and do not want a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge. In this docket, the Board will only look at the evidence that was in the veteran’s file when the appealed decision was issued. VA has set a 365-day goal for issuing decisions in the direct docket Board lane, which is projected to be the fastest among all three options.
- Hearing Docket. For veterans who want to have a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge. The only hearing options available to veterans under Appeals Reform include a videoconference hearing and a hearing at the Board in Washington, D.C. Travel board hearings, held by Veterans Law Judges at ROs, will only be available to veterans in the legacy appeals system (i.e. the old appeals system).
- Evidence Docket. For veterans who want to submit additional evidence, but do not want a hearing. In this lane, veterans can submit additional evidence to the Board with their Notice of Disagreement and within the 90 days following their Notice of Disagreement.
File a Claim for an Increased Rating
The disability rating VA assigns in its initial rating decision may be satisfactory at the time. But what happens if later on, you feel that rating is no longer sufficient? If you are outside of the 1-year appeal window to file a Notice of Disagreement with VA’s initial decision, perhaps consider filing a new claim for an increased rating. You can submit any new documentation or evidence you have supporting that your service-connected disability has worsened. VA will treat this as any other claim and issue a rating decision in response. In the legacy appeals system, the evidence must be new and material, whereas under Appeals Reform, it must be new and relevant. Importantly, the “new and relevant” standard does not impose a higher evidentiary threshold than the former. An example of new and relevant evidence may include a medical opinion explaining how your condition has worsened over time.
You may also file a new claim for a secondary service-connected disability. For example, if your service-connected back injury has affected your gait, causing knee problems, you may be entitled to additional compensation for this secondary disability. Technically, this is not an increased rating for your initial disability, but it can still result in increased compensation.
You may also be eligible for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) if your disability or disabilities have worsened to the point that they prevent you from performing mental or physical tasks required to get and keep gainful employment.
Any of these methods can be used to increase your rating and receive additional VA disability compensation.
How VA Assigns Disability Ratings
Disability ratings are assigned based on VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This schedule assigns a particular rating based on a veteran’s symptoms. If your symptoms match the rating you were given, you may not have a strong case for receiving an increased rating. However, if your symptoms have worsened and you believe your symptoms fall under the criteria for a higher rating, filing for an increased rating may be warranted. Evidence such as test results or a medical opinion from a physician can help show VA that your condition has worsened.
Is There Anything Else I Need to Know?
Yes. When you ask VA to take another look at your disability rating, VA will review your entire claim file. It does not only look for evidence in support of your claim. If the VA feels your condition has actually improved, or that it initially assigned you too high of a rating, the VA reserves the right to decrease your disability rating.
Before filing a claim for an increased rating, do your research. Talk to your doctor and your attorney about how realistic your request is, and make sure you have evidence to support your claim for a higher rating.
We will ensure that your claim is strong enough to withstand scrutiny from the VA.
Have Questions? Call 401-331-6300 to Get Help from Our Team
The VA system is notoriously tough to navigate. It can be frustrating to do it on your own. But the team at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD is here to help you. We have helped many disabled veterans receive the benefits they rightfully deserve, and we can put our experience and resources to work for you.
If you think your VA disability rating is too low and that you should be receiving a higher disability rating, we may be able to help. Call now for a free evaluation: 401-331-6300.
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