If a veteran has a service-connected disability, the VA will rate it according to the “Schedule for Rating Disabilities.” In this document, which is in the Code of Federal Regulations, the VA listed every disability or condition they could think of that might affect a veteran. If a veteran’s disability is not listed, the VA will rate it by using a comparable disability. The ratings range from 0% to 100% and are meant to compensate the veteran for how much the disability affects her ability to work. The rating corresponds to how much compensation she will get each month. For example, if a single veteran with no children is rated 50% for his disability, he will get (as of the date of this blog) $879.36 per month. If the rating goes up to 100%, he will then get $3057.13 per month. If the rating is 0% this means the VA agrees the disability is from service, but does not believe it affects the veteran’s ability to work.
If the VA underrates a disability the veteran can appeal the rating. If the rated disability gets worse, she can file a claim to increase it. A claim for increase is stronger if a doctor or medical person of some kind writes a statement indicating that the disability has worsened and explains how so. Statements from family members, co-workers, friends and the veteran herself explaining how the disability has worsened can also help. In response to an increased rating claim the VA may schedule the veteran for a Compensation and Pension exam. (For more on the ins and outs of this exam, see my blog from March 22, 2018 called How to Handle a VA C&P Examination).
All this sounds pretty straight forward, right? Well put on your seat belts folks because things are about to get complicated as we move onto VA math. When a veteran is rated for several disabilities, the VA does not add them together. Instead, they combine the ratings. For example, say a veteran has two disabilities, one rated at 30% and the other rated at 20%. Using the VA’s method, 30% + 20% does NOT = 50%. It actually equals 44%! Don’t try to understand just trust me on this. The combined rating is rounded up or down to the nearest whole number, so here it will be 40%. Things get even more illogical the closer a veteran gets to 100%. For example, if the veteran who has the 30% and 20% ratings then gets a 90% rating for another disability, her combined rating is 94%. In this scenario her rating will be rounded down to 90%. So even though 30% + 20% + 90% = 140%, her rating is actually 90% and her monthly benefit will be the 90% amount. Yes, I know. Don’t even try to make heads or tails of this.
Finally, the VA can generally lower a veteran’s rating if they decide that a service-connected disability has improved. One example is prostate cancer. When it goes into remission, the VA will likely lower the rating. This usually makes sense. However, sometimes the VA incorrectly lowers a rating and this has to be challenged or appealed. One thing to remember, if a service connected condition causes another disability the veteran can file a new claim for that disability. For example, if the prostate cancer rating is reduced but the cancer caused other conditions, the veteran could put in new claims for those new conditions and raise his overall rating. For more on this, see my blog from May 14, 2018 titled, Secondary Service Connection: When a Service Connected Disability Causes a Second Disability.
Questions? Feel free to contact Catherine Cornell at the Veterans Practice, Ltd.