How Do VA Disability Ratings Work?

doctor talking to her male patient at office

Once the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs determines that your disability is service connected, they will schedule you to see a VA compensation and pension doctor for an evaluation.

This doctor’s job is to review your condition to determine how disabled you are and assign what’s called a disability rating.

“The intent of VA compensation benefits is to compensate a veteran for the impact to their earning capacity that was the direct result of an injury or condition that service in the military caused or aggravated,” said Jillene Vojack, a paralegal at The Sawaya Law Firm. “It is not simply a disability program for veterans, but rather programs that aim to compensate a veteran for medical conditions incurred (or aggravated) while in service that impact the veteran’s ability to make money in the future.”

What is the Schedule of Disability Ratings?

The VA Schedule of Disability Ratings is a manual the breaks down various conditions by function and group. Each group will then list various symptoms and assign a rating based on severity.

For example, the cardiovascular section is broken down into conditions such as valvular heart disease, cardiomyopathy and aortic aneurysm.

“Disability ratings are determined by the severity of symptoms caused by a service-connected impairment.  The VA uses [The Schedule of Disability Ratings] and veteran’s statements to determine the impact (or severity) of symptoms,” Vojack said.

How Does the VA Assign a Rating?

Each condition within the Schedule of Disability Ratings will list various symptoms and corresponding ratings. For instance, if your condition is mild, you would probably receive a disability rating between 10 and 30 percent, but if your condition is severe, your rating would be between 70 and 100 percent.

The VA assigns ratings to signify how disabling your condition is when it comes to your ability to earn a living. The compensation it pays is meant to make up for any economic loss you incurred due to serving your country.

How Much Can I Expect to Receive?

The compensation you will receive is tied to your disability rating. The number of dependents you have will also affect how much you receive each month.

For example: a veteran with a 40 percent disability rating will receive $587.36 per month. A veteran with a 40 percent disability rating plus children and a spouse will receive $699.36 per month.

You can see the VA’s disability compensation benefit rates table at http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/resources_comp01.asp.

What If I have Multiple Conditions?

If you have multiple conditions and ratings, you cannot simply add them together to calculate your final rating.

“The VA doesn’t just add disabilities together. If you have a 50 percent rating and a 30 percent rating it doesn’t add up to 80 percent. This is very tricky and confusing for most veterans,” said David Standridge, a veteran disability attorney at Lawyers Helping Warriors.  “Instead the VA uses a combined ratings table.

You can view the combined ratings chart at http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp#combined.

For example, using the table, if you received a disability rating of 40 percent for one condition and 30 percent for another, your overall disability rating would be 60 percent (the VA rounds to the nearest 10), not 70 percent.

If you have both a service-connected disability and a non-service disability, the VA will only evaluate the service-connected one. However, if you have a symptom that could be attributed to either condition, the VA is required to apply the “benefit of the doubt” rule and assume that your service-connected condition is the one causing it.

If a non-service disability was made worse by service, the VA will evaluate that disability by assigning a rating tied to how much they think service worsened the condition, not the actual severity of the condition.

How Long Can I Receive Benefits?

The short answer: it depends.

It depends on whether your condition is expected to improve over time, or if there is a procedure to cure it.

“Generally, disability ratings can be modified if a person sees an improvement in their condition. Thus, if a person has a PTSD rating of 50 percent and over time is able to see improvement in the condition then it is possible for the VA to reduce the benefits. If a veteran had cancer but then had surgery to remove the cancer and is now symptom free, it is likely the VA will reduce the veteran’s benefits,” said Standridge. “In sum, very rarely should a veteran consider their disability permanent. It all depends on the symptoms. However, before the VA can reduce [your] benefits, they will give a “proposal for reduction.” If a veteran receives that proposed reduction they have a short time frame in which to object. If objected, the VA will give the veteran a chance to explain why benefits should not be reduced.

Overall, the VA disability rating system is meant to compensate veterans for any health problems or economic loss they suffered because of service — whether that be permanent economic loss or a temporary one. Hopefully it provides a little relief for you and your family as you embark on post-military life.

Want more information on the VA’s disability compensation benefits? Read our article “Do I Qualify for VA Disability Compensation.”

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