When seeking VA disability benefits, you may find yourself wondering why you received a certain disability rating and level of benefits. Some Veterans may expect that their rating will be a straightforward combination based on their service-connected disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determines your rating as a percentage between 0% and 100% disabled, based on a combined rating of all service-connected disabilities. A higher rating generally means you’ll receive more benefits as a result. However, calculating your rating isn’t as simple as adding percentages together.
The formula used to determine your rating and level of benefits is slightly more complicated, and compensation rates may be subject to being updated by the VA from year to year.
For instance, VA disability compensation rates for 2021 recently took effect, starting on December 1, 2020. These compensation rates can apply to you and your family members, depending on how high your rating is.
Thus, it is crucial for Veterans to know what to expect when it comes to how a disability rating is determined, to understand the level of compensation you will potentially receive.
Some Veterans may choose to consult a disability attorney for their claim. A qualified attorney may be able to help you receive the maximum possible rating based on your conditions.
How Does the VA Define Disability?
In order to receive a rating from the VA, you must first qualify for VA disability, which means you are suffering from service-connected injuries or illnesses.
A service-connected disability is defined as one of the following:
- In-Service Disability: This means you got sick or injured while serving in the military and can link your current condition to the illness or injury.
- Pre-Service Disability: You had an illness or injury before you joined the military, and serving worsened the condition.
- Post-Service Disability: You have a disability that didn’t appear until after you ended your active-duty service, but can be medically proven to be connected to your service.
You may also file a claim for increased compensation for an approved disability, additional benefits, a secondary disability, or new evidence for a denied claim.
Proving your disability requires you to provide certain kinds of evidence to the VA, such as medical and service records, as well as written doctors’ opinions that link your conditions to your service in the Armed Forces (known as a Nexus letter). You may also be required to undergo medical examinations by VA doctors and provide additional types of paperwork.
Between 180 and 90 days prior to discharge from your service is the earliest you are able to file for benefits. If you choose to file during this period, you would do so via the Benefits Delivery at Discharge, or BDD, program.
Some specific situations may prevent you from qualifying for BDD—such as if you are pregnant, have suffered the loss of a body part, or are terminally ill, among others listed on the VA website.
According the VA, it usually takes about three to four months to process a claim.
Determining Your Disability Rating
The VA determines your disability rating using what is known as the “whole person theory.” This basically means your combined rating can never go above 100% disabled.
If you have multiple qualifying disabilities, rather than adding the percentages together, the VA uses a combined ratings table to determine your rating. They first rank your disabilities from highest disability rating to lowest. They then match the highest rating within other ratings on the table to determine what your total combined rating would be, repeating for all disabilities. They round this to the nearest 10%.
For example, according to the table: a 50% disability rating + a 20% disability rating = a combined 60% rating.
If you have a pre-service disability, a rating isn’t based on overall level of disability. Instead, it’s determined based on “level of aggravation”—or how much the condition has worsened as a result of your service.
Your rating helps determine:
- Compensation rates for you and your family.
- Additional qualifying benefits.
Your level of monthly compensation may be adjusted annually based on cost of living and other economic conditions.
For instance, if you have a 20% disability rating in 2021, your monthly compensation will be $284.93.
With a combined rating of 30% or higher, the VA also uses your number of dependents, such as spouse, parents, and children, to determine how much compensation you receive.
Your compensation rates are determined based on the VA’s compensation rate tables for 2021.
You may also be eligible for special benefit allowance rates, 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.
Note: While this is a basic explanation of how your disability rating and compensation rate are determined, there are other complicating factors that arise as the VA considers your level of disability. Ask your attorney for a fuller understanding of these factors.
How an Attorney Can Help with your VA Disability Case
Even if you are familiar with how your disability rating is calculated, you may not qualify or receive the rating you feel you deserve. Or else your condition may worsen over time or cause other disabilities to occur.
VA disability claims may be more complicated when filing multiple, secondary connection, or supplementary claims, or if you’re required to appeal a negative outcome.
The right disability attorney can help guide you through each of these aspects of your case and advocate on your behalf.
Your attorney can help you:
- Prepare for each stage of your claim or claims.
- Gather necessary medical evidence and service records.
- File the correct paperwork and meet all necessary deadlines.
- Appeal for a higher disability rating.
- Advocate for you throughout your case
The law protects veterans specifically regarding legal fees and cases. Additionally, an initial consultation with attorneys at Affleck & Gordon is completely free.
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.