For disabled Veterans, a higher VA disability rating can mean more crucial benefits for you and your family.
However, proving a higher level of disability can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to understand the VA’s disability rating system and what factors could help you receive a higher rating.
When the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determines that a Veteran suffers one or more service-connected disabilities, they assign a rating between 0% and 100%. This rating is based on a combination of all approved disabilities.
However, it's not just a straightforward combination. For instance, if the VA has rated one service-connected disability 20% and another 30%, that does not mean you will be rated 50% disabled.
Instead, the VA uses a complex ratings table to determine your rating. This is based on the “whole person theory,” or the concept that a person can never be more than 100% disabled. The ratings table is then used to determine exactly what level of compensation and other qualifying benefits you receive.
VA disability attorneys have professional knowledge of how the VA ratings system works and what factors help determine a lower or higher rating.
Here’s how the unique circumstances of your claim can impact your disability rating.
How the VA Determines Your Disability Rating
If the VA grants a Veteran benefits based on a service-connected condition or conditions, they assign each disability a rating between 0% and 100% based on severity. They determine disability using medical evidence, service records, and other factors.
A Veteran may be considered disabled if the evidence shows they are “as likely as not” to suffer from a service-connected condition. In other words, if the evidence is 50-50, the benefit of the doubt goes to the Veteran.
Once a Veteran is determined disabled, their combined disability rating is determined as follows:
- Your disabilities are ranked from highest percentage to lowest.
- Your highest-ranking disability is matched with successively lower-ranking disabilities on the VA’s combined ratings table.
- The ratings table is used to determine your overall combined disability rating, rounded to the nearest 10%.
For pre-service disabilities (pre-existing disabilities that were worsened by service), a rating is determined based on “level of aggravation.” This means how much your condition has worsened as a direct result of your service.
Your combined rating is then used to determine the level of benefits your family will receive.
What Benefits to Expect Based on Your Disability Rating
Once you receive a combined rating for your disabilities, this rating will determine what benefits you’ll receive. The rates of compensation may be updated each year by the VA.
If you have from a 10% to 20% disability rating, the compensation rates table will be used to determine a fixed monthly amount that you receive, regardless of your dependents.
For Veterans whose disability ratings reach 30% or above, monthly compensation amounts will increase when you have dependent spouses, parents, or children.
For instance, a Veteran with a 70% disability rating with a dependent spouse would receive $1,566.71 per month, based on 2021 rates. A Veteran with that same 70% rating, but without a spouse, would receive $1,444.71 per month.
However, a Veteran with a 20% rating would receive $284.93 per month regardless of their dependents.
If your spouse receives “Aid and attendance” benefits, or if you have more than one dependent child, this can make determining your benefits more complicated.
You may also be eligible for additional special benefits such as:
- Money for a specially-equipped vehicle, if your disability keeps you from driving
- Compensation to replace clothing damaged by prosthetics or orthopedic devices
- An additional pension for Medal of Honor recipients
If you check the VA’s compensation rates table and find you are unsure how to calculate the benefits you may receive, talk to a VA disability attorney or other VA representatives.
Increasing Your VA Disability Rating from 80% to 100%
Generally, increasing a disability rating from something as high as 80% to 100% can be difficult unless there are special circumstances that justify this. The VA’s technique in determining your combined rating, discussed above, is called “pyramiding.”
Because of how your rating is calculated, the higher rating you receive, the harder it is to earn an increased rating.
However, if you feel you can prove your combined rating should be higher than it currently is, it is always worthwhile to seek the increased rating through a supplemental or additional claim with the VA.
There are several circumstances that would warrant a ratings increase:
- Your condition has worsened, you have an additional condition to report, or you have a secondary disability (a condition caused by an approved disability) – In this instance, you have new evidence to present, such as medical and service records, VA medical records, Nexus letters from doctors connecting your disability to your service, and VA medical examination results. You would need to submit a claim based on the nature of your increased level of disability.
- The VA made an error. If this is the case, you may need to appeal the decision by, for instance, asking for a more senior reviewer to review your claim, submitting additional evidence, or appealing to the Board of Veterans' Appeals.
- You have less than 100% disability but can’t work. If your rating is below 100% and you can prove that you cannot work to support yourself financially, you may qualify for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). According to the VA, you must have at least one disability rated at 60% or more disabling, or a combined rating with at least one rating of 40% or more and a combined rating of 70% or more.
When seeking an increased disability rating, a qualified attorney can guide you through the process and give you the best chance of winning the additional benefits you deserve. An attorney will advocate for you and represent you during court hearings should you need to appeal for a higher rating.
If your VA Disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for decades. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-7165.