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When a former service member makes a disability claim through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA assigns a disability rating to their claim. This rating is based on how much the disability impairs their ability to work, so the disability compensation can make up for lost wages. If they are unemployable, the compensation would need to cover the loss of full-time wages.
In some cases, a veteran has a disability that qualifies for a 100 percent disability rating AND their disability is permanent. In these cases, an eligible veteran would receive permanent and total disability rating. This rating makes veterans eligible for VA disability compensations and a number of other benefits for the veteran and their family members. We will break down the basics of permanent and total disability ratings below.
Meaning of Permanent & Total Disability Benefits
First, let’s break down each word in the phrase “permanent and total.” Permanent means that a veteran has a disability that has no chance, or close to no chance, of the disability improving.
The Department of Veterans Affairs considers a disability to be permanent when the medical evidence shows that it is reasonably certain the severity of the veteran’s condition will continue for the rest of the veteran’s life. In determining this, the VA is allowed to take into account the veteran’s age.
Total means a veteran’s disability is rated at 100% disabling. Ratings are assigned to disability based on the VA’s rating schedule. A rating is meant to represent how much the disability leads to functional impairment. In other words, the rating reflects the severity of the disability.
While the VA has the final say whether a VA claim warrants permanent and total disability, some common conditions associated with this type of rating may include loss of use of both legs, total blindness, or a condition that causes a veteran to be bedridden. If a disability is rated at 100%, then that indicates the veteran is completely, or totally, disabled. Of course, the higher a disabled veteran is rated the higher the disability compensation awarded.
A veteran might have a VA disability rating at 100%, but it might not be considered a permanent disability. If a disability is not considered permanent, it is called temporary disability. Vice versa, a veteran could have a disability that the VA has determined is permanent, but it is not rated at 100% so it isn’t total.
However, when a veteran has a disability that is considered permanent AND total, there are certain disability benefits that come into play.
It’s also important to note that former military service members who qualify for total disability based in individual unemployability (TDIU) may not always receive a permanent and total disability rating. The VA can award TDIU for disabilities that are temporary, but that’s not the case with permanent and total disability.
We will break down these distinctions in more detail below.
Can You Be Rated 100% Permanent and Totally Disabled and still Work?
Better known as IU, this is a rating that is more complicated than just a regular 100% scheduler rating. A schedular rating is when the veteran’s ratings combine to 100%. A veteran can claim IU when he is unable to maintain substantially gainful employment because of his service-connected disability. Substantially gainful employment is a VA term for not being able to work.
When considering IU, the VA looks at what the veteran earns. If the veteran makes less than the poverty level then VA considers that the veteran cannot work. Alternatively, VA considers if the veteran is in sheltered employment. This kind of job is where a veteran works for a family member or friend. It can also be where a boss gives a veteran breaks that he may not give others.
To qualify for IU, there is a complicated formula. Essentially, the veteran must have one disability rated at 60% or at least 70% combined disabilities. VA will not award a 100% rating simply because the veteran met the initial criteria for IU. A veteran must provide evidence showing he is unable to work in both a physical and a sedentary work environment.
Temporary 100 % Disability Rating
VA gives this rating when a veteran has been hospitalized for 21 days or longer. Alternatively, VA awards the rating when a veteran’s service-connected disability required surgery that resulted in over 30 day convalescence period. VA will pay the veteran at the 100 % rate while the veteran is in the hospital or convalescence period.
Additional Benefits to Permanent and Total VA Rating
If a disabled veteran has a permanent and total disability rating, they do not have to worry about getting scheduled for VA re-examinations. The VA has already made the determination that the medical evidence shows the disability is not going to improve when they found the disability to be permanent.
Veterans who are awarded a permanent and total rating may be eligible for additional benefits, including:
- CHAMPVA (The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs) – This is a comprehensive health care benefit program for spouses and children of veterans. If a veteran has a P&T rating their spouse and children can receive health care benefits under this program. Also, if a veteran who passed away had a P&T rating at the time of death their surviving spouse and children can receive health care benefits under CHAMPVA (Note: the veteran’s cause of death must have been from a service-connected disability).
- Chapter 35 Dependents Educational Assistance Program – This provides education and training opportunities for eligible dependents (spouse, son, daughter, stepchildren, adopted children) of a veteran who has a P&T rating. Unlike CHAMPVA, if a veteran dies from a non-service-connected disability, dependents can still receive Dependents Educational Assistance benefits as long as the veteran had a P&T rating when they passed away. There is a lot of information regarding Dependents Educational Assistance benefits, so for more details on this program click here.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) – DIC benefits only become applicable when the veteran has passed away. If a veteran had a P&T rating for the 10 years immediately prior to their death, qualifying dependents will be eligible for DIC benefits. However, if the veteran had a permanent and total rating for LESS THAN 10 years prior to their death, qualifying dependents are only eligible for DIC benefits if the veteran’s cause of death was service-connected.
- Certain state-level benefits – state-level benefits for veterans that have a P&T rating range from college and employment resources to free hunting and fishing licenses. Some states may also offer job training and help with veterans housing. For example, in Florida, a veteran with a P&T rating and an honorable discharge is exempt from paying property tax on their residence. For a comprehensive list of each state’s benefits click here.
Many veterans ask if they can work while receiving permanent and total disability payments. Typically, the answer is no. You may be able to hold sporadic employment like pet sitting, house sitting, babysitting, or other odd jobs while receiving permanent and total disability payments. You can learn more about these veterans’ benefits on the VA website, and the VA.gov links are linked above.
How to Get Permanent and Total Disability Ratings from the VA
You can’t file a VA benefits claim for a permanent and total disability rating, but you can submit a letter to your VA regional office requesting they find you permanent and total. When submitting this request, you should also send medical evidence that shows your service-connected disability or disabilities are not going to improve in the future.
The VA typically makes a determination of permanent and total on their own, but if you have not been found permanent and total it is worth letting the VA know why you should be due to your service-connected medical conditions.
If you’re unsure whether you’ve been found eligible for total disability individual unemployability, first look at your rating or combined rating decision. Some compensation rating decisions will include a permanent and total box that will be checked if the VA found you to be permanently and totally disabled, and qualifying for the individual unemployability benefit. Another indicator of rating decisions is if there is some language that says something like “eligibility to Dependents Educational Assistance Benefits (Chapter 35 DEA benefits) has been established.”
Disabled veterans who have questions about their VA disability claim can contact the attorneys at Hill & Ponton. Our law firm focuses on veterans disability law, providing legal advice and representation to veteran clients and their family members. If the VA has denied your claim, or you disagree with the rating in your claim decision letter, contact us today for a free case evaluation.
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