When rating a veteran’s disability for monthly compensation benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs considers a number of factors.
Every impairment is different. So, it’s important that the VA calculates your disability rating accurately through the use of diagnostic code numbers.
And if you have a disability on both sides of your body, the VA will use what’s known as the bilateral factor in these calculations.
This guide will break down the basics of the bilateral factor and how it relates to your VA disability claim.
What Is The VA Bilateral Factor?
When a veteran has a disability that affects both arms, both legs, or paired skeletal muscles, their overall combined rating must reflect what’s known as the bilateral factor.
Specifically, the bilateral factor is defined by statute as existing when “a partial disability results from disease or injury of both arms, or of both legs, or of paired skeletal muscles, the ratings for the disabilities of the right and left sides will be combined as usual, and 10% of this value will be added before proceeding with further combinations.”
What is the reason behind the bilateral factor?
The law recognizes that these situations are much more limiting on a veteran. If a veteran has a disabling condition affecting his right arm, and then his left arm becomes disabled, he is severely limited in his ability to function.
A veteran with a disability affecting only his left arm has his right arm to use for daily tasks. However, a veteran with a disability in both arms is able to do far less.
The bilateral factor’s purpose is to compensate a veteran for the additional loss of their ability to function as a result of both sides of their body being affected.
It is important to note that a veteran does not have to have the same disability on both sides in order for the bilateral factor to apply.
VA disability ratings look at whether an upper extremity (such as the arm), or a lower extremity (such as the leg) are affected by a disability.
The bilateral factor will apply as long as the veteran has disabilities affecting the left and right upper extremities or the left and right lower extremities.
For example, the bilateral factor will still apply if a veteran has a right knee condition and a left hip condition because there is a disability affecting the right lower extremity and a disability affecting the left lower extremity.
2023 Update on VA Bilateral Factor
What’s the Update?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made a change to how they calculate disability ratings for veterans with injuries or diseases in both arms, both legs, or paired muscles.
This change can impact how much compensation a veteran might receive.
Why the Change?
The VA found out that in some rare cases, their old way of calculating, called the “bilateral factor”, could end up giving a veteran a lower rating than they deserve.
For example, sometimes when they added an injury of one arm and the other arm together, it might drop a veteran’s total rating from 100% down to 90%. This isn’t fair to those veterans.
How Will It Work Now?
With this new rule, the VA will check to see if excluding certain injuries from the bilateral factor would give a higher rating.
If it does, they’ll use the higher rating.
This ensures that veterans get the highest possible compensation for their disabilities.
What Does This Mean for Veterans?
For many veterans, there will be no change. But for some, this can mean a higher disability rating and possibly more compensation.
The VA will look at current claims and adjust ratings if needed, without veterans having to do anything.
Remember, this new rule started on April 16, 2023.
How The VA Calculates Bilateral Factor
The 10 percent rating associated with the bilateral factor isn’t treated as though the veteran has another condition rated at 10%.
Instead, the 10% is applied to the veteran’s combined rating for their service-connected disabilities, with the resulting number added to the combined rating.
Let’s look at this step by step with an example. A veteran with a right foot condition and a left foot condition has a combined rating of 60%.
In this example, the veteran would have a bilateral factor of 6% (60% multiplied by 10%). This 6% is then added to the 60% for an overall combined rating of 66%.
The 66% is then rounded up to 70%. This example shows how powerful the bilateral rating can be.
With the bilateral factor applied, the veteran now meets the schedular rating requirements for individual unemployability.
The math gets even more complicated when a veteran has service-connected conditions that are bilateral in addition to service-connected disabilities that aren’t bilateral.
When a veteran has bilateral service conditions (for example, a left foot condition and a right knee condition) and also has service conditions that aren’t bilateral (for example, a back condition) the bilateral factor is calculated based on the combined rating of the bilateral conditions only.
Once the bilateral factor is calculated it is added to the combined rating of the bilateral conditions.
The resulting number is then combined with the non-bilateral condition to get the veteran’s final combined rating. Let’s break this down step by step by looking at another example.
The following steps illustrate how this veteran’s final combined rating will be calculated taking the bilateral factor into account:
VA Disability Rating with Bilateral Factor
- The combined rating of the veteran’s bilateral conditions (right foot and left knee) is 28%. For more information on how to calculate this number click here.
- To get the bilateral factor we take 28% and multiply it by 10%. This gives the veteran a bilateral factor of 2.8%.
- We take the 2.8% and add it to the combined rating of the veteran’s bilateral conditions (2.8% + 28%). This gives us a combined rating of 31% for the veteran’s bilateral conditions. The 31% is the result of rounding 30.8% to the nearest whole number.
- To get the veteran’s final combined rating we combine the 31% with the veteran’s back condition rated at 40%. This gives us 58.6, or 60%.
Overall, the bilateral factor has the effect of increasing a veteran’s combined rating.
The steps are complicated, but the reasoning is simple: veteran’s with bilateral conditions are severely limited in their ability to function.
Luckily, the math behind bilateral factors and combined ratings can be done easily by using our VA disability calculator.
By typing in the percentages and extremities affected, the disability calculator automatically applies the bilateral factor when applicable.
Have Questions About Understanding How the Claims Process Works?
Hill & Ponton are here to support you with getting started with your claim.
If you are intending to appeal a denied claim, you can contact us for an evaluation and we can help you with this process.
However, if you are considering filing an initial claim, or even if you are interested in learning about the appeals process, we offer a free ebook to get you started on the right foot!
The Road to VA Compensation Benefits will help break down the claims process from start to finish. Click the link below to learn more.
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