When a veteran applies for disability compensation benefits, the VA has to decide if the veteran is eligible and entitled to those benefits and how much they can receive. The VA’s initial decision is called a Rating Decision, where the veteran is assigned a percentage for their service-connected disability that determines how much monthly compensation they will receive.
In order to determine how much compensation the veteran is entitled to, the veteran is assigned a rating. The rating is a percentage, ranging from 0% to 100% and increasing in increments of 10%. The VA rates mental and physical conditions based on the average decrease in earning capacity due to that condition. The VA rating system is meant to be a way to compensate veterans for a loss they suffered in service that decreases their ability to earn a living for themselves and their families. The higher the degree of disability, the greater the compensation because the more severe the condition, the greater the impact it has on the veteran’s ability to earn a living.
The goal for most veterans is a 100% disability rating, also known as total disability rating. This rating entitles the veteran to the most amount of money (currently $2,906.83 per month) because they are considered totally disabled. If the disability would make the average person incapable of work, a total rating is assigned, even if the veteran is working. The other way to get total disability rating, without reaching 100%, is through individual unemployability.
On the other side of the spectrum, the VA can assign a 0% rating, or a noncompensable rating. 0% does not qualify the veteran for monthly compensation, but it does have its advantages. A noncompensable rating establishes service-connection, preserves the right to seek higher compensation if the condition gets worse, and entitles the veteran to other benefits such as preference in federal/state jobs. If the veteran has two or more separate noncompensable service-connected disabilities, the VA can grant a 10% disability rating.
The rating schedule, which can be found here, lists all types of diseases and conditions that tend to result from military service. The ratings are categorized by body system, with each system containing a series of diagnoses and each having its own numerical code. This numerical code is called a diagnostic code, which is then assigned a percentage, and each percentage has a designated compensation amount. For each degree of disability, there is a description of the symptoms the veteran must have in order to qualify for that evaluation. The degree of disability increases with the severity of the symptoms. The rating board will determine the severity of the symptoms and the appropriate rating for the veteran based on the evidence provided, such as service records, medical statements, buddy statements, and VA examinations. This is why it is so important to get the right evidence into the VA so they can make the right decision and assign the highest rating possible. The goal is to prove the highest level of severity in order to get the highest rating and receive the most compensation.
The VA is supposed to choose the diagnostic code with the highest evaluation under which the veteran qualifies, and avoid evaluating the same disability under different diagnostic codes. When there are two different evaluations to apply, the VA will assign the higher rating of the two if the disability meets the criteria for the higher rating (if not, the lower rating will be applied). Not all disabilities are listed in the rating schedule, so when the condition is not included, it will be rated under a closely related disease or injury. This is known as an analogous rating. The analogous condition should affect similar functions in the same part of the body and have similar symptoms.
When there are two separate disabilities, the overall percentage is determined by combining the individual ratings, not adding them together. The VA does this by considering each disability in order of severity, beginning with the highest evaluation, and subtracting that from 100%. The number that remains is what the VA considers the remaining healthy part of the veteran, so the next disability is subtracted from that remaining number. The result is then rounded to the nearest tenth. For example, if there are two disabilities rated at 50%, the first 50% is subtracted from 100%. The second disability of 50% is taken from the remaining 50%, resulting in 75%, which is then rounded to 80%. For a more detailed explanation with examples, click here and here. There is also an app that can help you calculate combined ratings called VetCalc that can be downloaded in the App Store.
If you do not agree with what the VA has decided and you think you are entitled to a higher rating, you can appeal your decision. Find out how to do so by clicking here.