Meaning of Permanent & Total Disability
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 impairs a veteran’s ability to function. In other words, the rating reflects the severity of the disability. 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.
Permanent and Total Benefits
If a disabled veteran has a permanent and total 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.
Other veterans benefits that come with permanent and total ratings include:
- 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. 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.
Getting the VA to Assign a Permanent & Total Rating
You can’t file a VA benefits claim for a permanent and total disability rating, but you can submit a letter to the VA 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 permanent and total, first look at your rating decision. Some rating decisions will include a permanent and total box that will be checked if the VA found you to be permanently and totally disabled. 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.”