Veterans with a service-connected health condition are eligible for VA disability pay. The VA relies on a rating system to determine the amount of compensation. Here’s how VA ratings work: first, veterans complete an initial application explaining their injuries, diseases, or other physical or mental health conditions. Then, after reviewing evidence and confirming the service connection, the VA issues a rating decision and uses a chart from the Code of Federal Regulations to determine the appropriate monthly compensation. Veterans who disagree with the VA’s decision can file an appeal.
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In this introduction to VA disability ratings
- How does VA disability pay work?
- How does the VA make a disability rating decision?
- How the VA uses the Schedule of Ratings
- How the VA uses the combined ratings table
- How does the VA decide how much money you get?
- What if I disagree with a VA rating decision?
- How can Woods and Woods help?
How does VA disability pay work?
More than 5 million veterans receive disability compensation from the VA for the mental or physical disabilities they developed as a result of their military service.
Any veteran with a service-connected health condition is eligible for VA disability benefits, if the following criteria are met:
- The injury or health condition was sustained while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
- The veteran was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
To get started, veterans first complete an application explaining their injuries, diseases, or other physical or mental health conditions. Then, after reviewing evidence and confirming the service connection, the VA issues a rating decision and determines the veteran’s monthly compensation. Veterans who disagree with the VA’s decision can file an appeal.
How does the VA make a disability rating decision?
When the VA receives the initial application from the veteran, it reviews the evidence to determine if there is a connection between the health condition and the veteran’s service. This is called a service connection.
- A direct service connection means the condition began during service, or was caused directly by service-related activities or exposures.
- If a veteran had a condition before service, and the time in service made that condition worse, it’s determined to be service connection through aggravation.
- A secondary service connection is for a condition that develops or worsens because of a previously service-connected condition.
- Some disabilities are automatically labeled as service-connected. The VA determined that these presumptive service connections were more likely than not caused by specific military situations. For example, respiratory cancers are presumptive conditions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
What evidence does the VA review?
Typically, the types of evidence the VA considers include:
- Military records to prove the veteran’s service and the location and time of their service
- Military medical records
- VA medical records
- Private medical records
- Supporting statements
Supporting statements may be written by family, friends, coworkers, or co-service members about their disabilities. These are sometimes called lay or buddy statements.
The VA may also require the veteran to complete a compensation and pension (C&P) exam. This medical exam aims to evaluate the severity of the disabilities to provide an accurate rating or to offer a medical opinion about the condition’s connection to military service.
Are there any other requirements to receive VA disability compensation?
Veterans need an honorable, general, or medical discharge to be eligible for VA disability benefits. You can find information about your character of discharge on your DD214, or discharge papers.
How the VA uses the Schedule of Ratings
Once the VA has received all of the completed paperwork, reviewed the evidence, and has determined a disability was service-connected, it needs to decide how much, if any, compensation the veteran should receive.
To do this, the VA reviews the symptoms of the condition and their impact on a veteran’s daily life. The VA then uses the Schedule for Rating Disabilities in the Code of Federal Regulations to determine the veteran’s schedular rating. This rating ranges between 0 – 100% and represents the loss of income a veteran may experience because of the disability. For example, suppose a veteran’s back injury has a schedular rating of 50%. In that case, the VA is saying that the veteran will likely be unable to make half of what a non-disabled person would make because of their service-related injury.
Ratings of 10% or more receive compensation, and veterans with more than one disability are rated separately for each condition.
“Each service-connected impairment you’re compensated for will carry its own rating,” explains Lori Underwood, a VA-certified disability benefits lawyer. “The VA adds each rating into what is called a combined rating, and then your payment is based upon your combined rating.”
How the VA uses the combined ratings table
Veterans who receive disability benefits have an average of 5.95 service-connected disabilities, each with its own rating. Unfortunately, veterans cannot just add them all together using simple math to get a combined rating. Instead, the VA uses a table to determine the final combined rating.
In the combined ratings table, you may be surprised to find that 40% and 20% equals 52%, not 60%. Additionally, for the purposes of monthly disability compensation, the VA issues ratings in increments of 10. In this example, a 52% combined rating would round down to 50%.
To help avoid the confusion that comes with this “VA math,” Woods and Woods developed a calculator that uses the logic from the table and includes some additional nuances–like the bilateral factor–to help veterans understand what they can expect for their final combined rating.
How does the VA decide how much money you get?
After determining your combined rating, the VA uses a compensation chart to determine the monthly payment amount. If a veteran has a rating of 30% or more, the amount increases with the number of dependents a veteran has. Dependents may include spouses, children, and parents. Most years, the chart is revised to keep up with the cost of living adjustments, and veterans can expect to see the amount of the payments increase.
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How is VA disability different from Social Security disability?
The U.S. issues VA disability payments and Social Security disability payments from two different departments in the government. While VA disability benefits are available only to eligible veterans, Social Security payments are available to disabled citizens who cannot work and those over 65. Veterans are eligible to receive both Social Security disability and VA disability.
Is a VA rating based on financial need?
A VA rating is given based on the severity of the disability and does not consider the veteran’s current financial situation. Disability compensation is then given based on that rating and the veteran’s number of qualifying dependents.
The VA does have different resources for veterans experiencing financial hardship. For example, veterans may be able to set up repayment plans, get assistance or waivers for copayments, and get advice or financial help with existing medical debt. This support is not directly related to the VA disability compensation system.
What if I disagree with a VA rating decision?
If veterans disagree with a VA rating decision, they have one year to appeal it. After that year, veterans must file a new claim to pursue those benefits.
Veterans who want to appeal can choose to ask the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to conduct a higher-level review of their claim (with no new evidence) or file a supplemental claim with the VBA which allows them to present new evidence for consideration. A veteran’s third option is to appeal to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA).
How can Woods and Woods help?
Woods and Woods, a family-owned practice, has been helping veterans since its founding in 1985. The team of experienced VA-certified disability lawyers can help veterans file initial claims for free and work with veterans on their appeals to get the benefits they deserve.
Call us and join the thousands of veterans we have helped to receive the VA disability benefits they deserve.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If veterans disagree with a VA rating decision, they have one year from the date of that decision to appeal it. After that year, veterans must file a new claim to pursue those benefits.
After determining a combined rating, the VA uses a monthly rate payment chart to determine the monthly payment amount. If a veteran has a rating of 30% or more, this amount increases with the number of qualifying dependents a veteran has claimed.