VA Disability Ratings
If you were injured while serving in the military or you suffered the worsening of an existing condition during your service, VA disability ratings determine how much you receive in compensation each month. To get a fair rating and compensation that matches your ability to otherwise support yourself, you need medical and other documentation to support your initial claim and any appeals you file.
Joining the military was a big commitment, and you sacrificed significantly to serve our country. If you suffered a service-related injury or condition with lasting effects, you might be entitled to tax-free monthly disability payments from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
These payments cover any disability related to:
- An injury suffered during your service
- A pre-existing condition that became exacerbated during your service
- A condition that wasn’t initially apparent but was related to your time in the military
The VA uses disability ratings to determine how much you receive in monthly compensation payments.
What Are VA Disability Ratings?
The VA assigns a disability rating after examining the relevant medical records and establishing the severity of your disability. The VA then uses that rating to calculate the monthly compensation paid for your service-related condition. The VA assigns ratings in 10 percent increments between zero and 100 percent. The percentage rating reflects how much the disability affects your overall health and ability to perform daily functions. For instance, a 30 percent rating would mean you are 30 percent disabled.
VA Benefits Eligibility
VA disability benefits eligibility rests on showing that the injury or illness was caused by, or made worse by, your active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
You are not eligible for disability if you received a discharge under other than honorable conditions, a bad conduct discharge, or a dishonorable discharge. However, you can challenge your discharge status to try and become eligible for VA benefits.
If you believe you deserve disability pay, you can file your disability claim online, in person, or by mail. You should include VA and private hospital and doctor records and supporting statements from people you served with, family members, or community members who know how your conditions affected you.
How Does the VA Calculate Disability Ratings?
The VA uses several types of evidence to determine your disability rating, including the following: US Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Doctor or hospital records
- Medical test results
- Claim exam results if the VA determines an exam is necessary to supplement your other medical evidence
- Information from other sources that back your disability claim
If you had a disability made worse by your service, the VA bases the rating on your condition’s aggravation level. For example, if you were 10 percent disabled when you entered the military, and your service resulted in the same condition leaving you 30 percent disabled, the aggravation level is 20 percent.
Disabilities Rated by the VA
The VA recognizes physical and mental health conditions in disability rating determinations. These conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Musculoskeletal injuries such as muscle strains, trigger finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, and lower back injuries
- Hearing loss
- Eye conditions such as loss of an eye, inflammatory eye conditions, or cataracts
- Respiratory conditions and asthma
- Nerve and neurological damage, such as migraines, traumatic brain injury, or epilepsy
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Major depressive disorder
- Chronic adjustment disorder
If you have more than one disability, the VA combines the rating of each to reach a final disability rating.
Compensation By VA Disability Ratings
Your monthly disability compensation is determined by your disability rating and the number of dependents you have, including your spouse, children, and parents. These amounts are adjusted annually for inflation. The compensation levels are laid out in charts on the VA website.
If you have a 10 to 20 percent disability rating, you won’t receive a higher rate even if you have a dependent spouse, child, or parent. If you have a spouse and one child and a disability rating of 20 percent, you receive $327.99.
A 30 percent disability rating or higher results in additional compensation, plus compensation for your dependents. With a 30 percent rating, if you are married and have one child, you receive $612.05 per month.
This compensation can range up to $4,295.92 for a veteran who has a 100 percent rating, a spouse, one child, and two parents. You may also receive additional compensation if your spouse has a serious disability, or if you have other dependent children.
Your monthly disability payments may be higher if you have lost a limb, have a severe disability, or need home health care. You can check VA special monthly compensation rates to determine situations where you can receive additional compensation.
There are also situations in which your compensation can be reduced, such as:
- You also receive benefits such as retirement, separation, or disability severance pay
- You are convicted of a felony and spend 60 days or more in a state or federal prison
What if I Have Multiple Disabilities?
If you have more than one disability, the VA determines your monthly compensation based on the ratings for the combination of conditions. It does not just add up the two ratings. It uses a “whole person theory” to prevent your combined rating from exceeding 100 percent.
The VA uses a table to determine where ratings intersect. For example, if you have a lower back injury that is 40 percent disabling and hearing loss at 20 percent disabling, your combined rating in the VA table is 52 percent. It is rounded to the nearest 10 percent, so your final disability rating is 50 percent.
If you have more than two disabilities, the VA uses the above process to get a combined rating and uses the table again to add your third and other ratings.
VA Disability Applications and the Appeals Process
Getting your VA disability rating starts with the claims process. You can appeal if you disagree with the VA’s decision on your initial claim.
Applying for VA Disability Benefits
You can apply for VA disability benefits when you realize you have a disability related to your service. Start by submitting an intent to file a claim as soon as possible. If approved for benefits, you may receive back pay retroactive to your filing date.
You have one year to collect your medical evidence and submit your application. The VA will notify you that it received your claim and let you know if they need additional documentation. You then receive a notice of approval with your disability rating or a denial. If the VA denies your claim, you have a right to appeal.
Appealing Benefits Denials or VA Disability Ratings
You can appeal a VA disability decision, whether your claim was denied or you disagree with your disability rating. You can choose from three levels of review.
In a Higher-Level Review, a senior-level claims adjudicator reviews your initial claim. You cannot submit new evidence.
You can also file a Supplemental Claim Appeal. With this option, you can provide additional evidence not in your initial claim, such as medical records.
The third option is a Board of Veterans Appeal in which a Veterans Law Judge hears your appeal. If you are denied again during the appeal process, you can appeal to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
You can file a VA disability claim or appeal on your own or with the help of an attorney or advocate accredited by the VA. For the complex appeals process, an attorney or experienced advocate can help you collect the evidence you need, make persuasive arguments on your behalf, and make sure you meet all filing deadlines. A successful appeal could result in years of benefits dating back to your original claim.
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