You have been granted VA disability benefits…now what? After waiting for months (or more likely years) to get your VA disability rating letter, you can celebrate winning a battle but not the war. You want to look at that claim letter and the ratings they gave you for each of your disabilities. You should compare this list to what you applied for and see if you got the full rating possible for each of your claims. You should also go over that claim letter with your VA disability lawyer or VSO representative.
After a 5-year fight with the VA through the rejection, appeal, and award process, your conditions may have worsened. You may have additional disabilities that have developed but you didn’t want to add them into your existing claim and slow down the process. These are all worthy reasons to try to get increased VA compensation.
In this article about getting a higher VA rating:
- Is it Worth The Fight to Get a High Disability Rating?
- What is an Extra-Schedular Rating?
- You Might Get a Higher VA Rating Just by Finding Mistakes
- Get the VA to Fully Understand Your Claim
- Your Disability Is Measured By Work Ability That is Lost
- You Might Not Need to Increase Your Rating above 70%
- How to Apply for an Increase in VA Benefits
Is it Worth The Fight to Get a High Disability Rating?
In every case, you want to at least review the final decision to make sure it is correct. The VA makes mistakes all of the time when it comes to the medical evidence, complete VA claim, and the decisions on the details of your service-connected disabilities. The VA disability claim process is so long and slow, you want to have as many details in your claim as possible. Painting a full holistic picture of your lifestyle and your current needs as well as your full experience during active duty can help you get a higher disability rating. A small change of one hundred of dollars a month will turn into thousands of dollars over the course of the rest of your life and in the benefits for your surviving spouse or other surviving relatives. After all of your military service, you deserve to get the most benefit that is coming to you.
What is an Extra-Schedular Rating?
When you have a disability that affects your way of life in such a way that the typical rating benefit isn’t enough, you can file for an extra-schedular rating. A typical example is when a right leg injury might earn a 30% rating but cause “marked interference with employment and frequent periods of hospitalization.” Because the injury doesn’t by itself earn more than a 30% rating but causes other problems with employment or hospital visits because of the nature of that specific problem, it may be given extraschedular consideration. That might bring in a few extra hundreds of dollars for that vet’s original monthly benefit.
Extra-schedular ratings happen most in unusual circumstances, which actually happen more often than you would think. Since every person, disability, and employability status is different, you want to look this part of your decision letter over to make sure your disability wouldn’t be suitable for an extra-schedular rating. (Sometimes the VA calls this extraschedular and other times extra-schedular. It’s the same thing with either spelling.)
This is all set in the CFR 38 Section 3.321 B:
(b) Extra-schedular ratings in unusual cases—(1) Disability compensation. Ratings shall be based, as far as practicable, upon the average impairments of earning capacity with the additional proviso that the Secretary shall from time to time readjust this schedule of ratings in accordance with experience. To accord justice to the exceptional case where the schedular evaluation is inadequate to rate a single service-connected disability, the Director of Compensation Service or his or her delegate is authorized to approve on the basis of the criteria set forth in this paragraph (b), an extra-schedular evaluation commensurate with the average impairment of earning capacity due exclusively to the disability. The governing norm in these exceptional cases is a finding by the Director of Compensation Service or delegatee that application of the regular schedular standards is impractical because the disability is so exceptional or unusual due to such related factors as marked interference with employment or frequent periods of hospitalization.
You Might Get a Higher VA Rating Just by Finding Mistakes
Mistakes are often made on the review of a case and the assessment of an injury. While the VA is required by law to give the highest rating possible for a listed disability, they may overlook an injury that you mention but don’t explicitly request to be service-connected. You can also challenge the way the VA groups disabilities together so that one rating isn’t overlooked. A combined rating for two disabilities will often get you more than having 2 problems lumped into one thing.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a backlog of almost 80,000 cases, so it’s easy to see where they might move a case through fast and miss an opportunity to give you a higher rating. You want to review all of their decisions and let a professional look them over too. Either a mistake in the paperwork or an incorrect assessment of multiple disabilities can trigger the Duty to Assist rules for the VA. The DTA requires them to investigate the claim further.
Get the VA to Fully Understand Your Claim
Sometimes the VA approves a claim so they can lowball the full claim. They might not do it on purpose, but even a rating of 70 that should have been 100 isn’t a good rating. All ratings are codified in the CFR. The specific percentage based on all of the symptoms listed is not a guessing game as long as you are clear to the VA about all of your symptoms. Have all of your symptoms detailed by a professional expert so that none of them are overlooked. You also need a doctor familiar with VA Law that can explain why some dishabilitating conditions are service-connected, secondary service-connected, or unrelated.
By painting a whole-life picture for the VA Board, we can help you get a fair judgment. The severity of your symptoms is the basis for ratings increases, so this isn’t the time to downplay any of your pain or struggle. PTSD might earn you a specific rating, for example, but if your PTSD makes it impossible to do a daily activity like showering, it should be noted and your rating should be raised up. The VA is required to give you the higher level rating and basically ‘round up’ on your condition.
Your Disability Is Measured By Work Ability That is Lost
Diagnostic codes each carry a percentage. The rating compensates you for the amount of functional loss you have from your service-connected conditions. If you should have been rated higher then you need to appeal your rating. You should definitely appeal it if you are currently unemployed. Any disability that contributes to your unemployment should be noted and explained.
Sure, somebody might think they could get a job as a greeter sitting at Wal-Mart, but since there are only a few openings for jobs like that, you can still argue for unemployability. Just because “There might be a job out there that you can do” doesn’t mean that you can’t appeal for a higher rating to qualify for individual unemployability. The VA isn’t supposed to compare your disabilities to the job openings in your home town. They look at your symptoms, your service-connected disabilities, and the expert testimonials of doctors and your friends and family.
You Might Not Need to Increase Your Rating above 70%
Depending on your total ratings, you may not need to get a VA rating above 70%.
If you have two or more service-connected disabilities at least one disability ratable at 40 percent or more with a combined rating of 70 percent or more, you are eligible for TDIU (Total Disability Individual Unemployability). TDIU awards you the monthly benefit equal to a 100% rating. That is why you might not have to increase disability from 80% to 100%. If you get your reward letter from the VA and they put you at 60%, you definitely should have a professional look over that case to see how to get 100% TDIU.
How to Apply for an Increase in VA Benefits
If you already have your award letter, you probably already have all of the documents you needed to apply for VA benefits in the first place. In order to appeal your rating and get an increase in benefits, however, you’ll need to have some new evidence. Get on Facebook, some veterans’ forums, or ask around at the American Legion and find some of the other veterans you served with. A Buddy Statement can be a great piece of evidence to get a disability service connected. You need to show that your condition is “as likely as not” due to your active duty. Veterans’ law requires that it could be at least a 50/50 chance that your condition came from your service to our country. That makes buddy statements and lay statements from family and friends so important.
If you have also applied for social security benefits while waiting on the VA, their ruling might be used as new evidence in your favor too. The VA isn’t allowed to use any evidence that could hurt your claim, so you have nothing to lose in talking to a VA attorney about appealing your VA Rating.