It is a real breakthrough when you finally get your VA Disability Benefits award letter. We celebrate in the office every time one of our vets gets approved. That isn’t always the end of our work for you, however. The VA uses terms like VA stabilized rating, VA permanent rating, and VA protected rating to let you know how long those benefits are going to last. Depending on the rating, we might have to help you get an increased rating in another five years.
In this article on stabilized, protected, and permanent VA ratings:
- Overview of Stabilized, Permanent, and Protected VA Ratings
- What is Permanent about the VA’s 100% Permanent and Total Disability?
- Can the VA Take Away a 100% Permanent and Total Rating?
- What is a Protected Rating from the VA?
- What is a VA Stabilized Rating?
- How Often Does the VA Reevaluate Ratings?
- Is Total Disability with Individual Unemployability (TDIU) Protected?
- What is a Protected Service Connection?
- What Can a Veteran Do to Obtain a VA Stabilized Rating, VA Permanent Rating, and VA Protected Rating
Overview of Stabilized, Permanent, and Protected VA Ratings
The protections for veterans come primarily from VA regulations intended to prevent a reduction or termination of benefits. The VA can send a reexamination notice to most veterans receiving VA disability benefits. If the reexamination shows that the veteran’s medical condition has improved or the veteran does not appear for the reexamination appointment, the VA disability benefits can be reduced or terminated.
However, there are certain circumstances in which the VA’s rules restrict when a reexamination notice can be sent, prevent a reduction in disability rating, or prohibit a severance of a service connection.
What is Permanent about the VA’s 100% Permanent and Total Disability?
You can request a permanent and total VA disability when medical evidence shows that your condition is rated at 100% and is not expected to improve. To obtain a permanent and total VA disability rating, you must first obtain a total disability rating.
A total disability rating can either be reached with one disability rated at 100% or multiple disabilities that, aggregated using VA math, give an overall disability rating of 100%. A 100% disability rating is the maximum VA disability rating possible. Technically, you only have to make it up to 95% and then your rating is rounded up the rest of the way to 100%.
Total disability can be obtained for many conditions. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be rated at 100% if it is totally debilitating. Likewise, total deafness and total blindness are also rated at 100%. This rating reflects the impact on an average veteran’s ability to work rather than the particular veteran applying for disability benefits. Thus, veterans with total disability ratings are still allowed to work. For example, many blind veterans can work full time and receive total disability benefits.
Permanent VA ratings can be requested when medical evidence shows that the veteran’s disability is not expected to improve. Not every total disability is considered a permanent disability. In the example above, it might be difficult for a doctor to give a medical opinion that a veteran’s PTSD is not expected to improve. On the other hand, nearly every doctor might agree that total blindness will not improve. However, this is a very individualized determination based on the veteran’s medical condition.
If the VA agrees that a veteran’s condition is not expected to improve during his or her lifetime, the VA can grant a permanent and total VA disability rating.
In this video, one of our certified VA disability lawyers gives insight into reduced ratings from the VA.
Can the VA Take Away a 100% Permanent and Total Rating?
No. A permanent and total rating means that the VA agrees not to issue a reexamination notice. A permanent and total rating benefits both you and the VA. It would be a waste of VA resources to reexamine a veteran whose condition is stable. The veteran can trust that his or her benefits will not be reduced for the rest of his or her life.
Since a permanent and total VA disability rating cannot be reduced, the VA is generally reluctant to grant a request for a permanent and total VA disability rating unless the evidence supports it. This means that you and your VA disability benefits lawyer may be in for a battle to obtain a permanent and total disability rating. We know from experience when we should ask for that from the beginning, and we know when to follow up in a few years to ask for it as your symptoms progress.
What is a Protected Rating from the VA?
A protected rating is secure in two respects.
First, an assigned rating cannot be reduced as a result of a rule change or change in rating schedules. For example, if a disability is rated at 30% in 2018 and the ratings schedule is amended in 2020 so that the same symptoms are now rated at 20%, the previously granted rating of 30% will not be reduced to 20%. Rather, the amended schedule will only apply to new VA disability claims.
Again, this makes sense from both the VA’s perspective and the veteran’s perspective. The VA’s resources should not be wasted by retroactively adjusting every disability rating each time the ratings schedules are amended. And the veterans who count on their disability benefits should not be adversely affected each time the VA or Congress changes the schedules.
However, this does not mean that the protected rating is de facto permanent. The VA can send a reexamination notice to the veteran and if it is determined that the veteran’s condition has improved, the new schedule would be used to rate the veteran’s disability.
Second, a rating that has been assigned for at least 20 years cannot be reduced for any reason, including an improvement in the veteran’s condition, except fraud in obtaining the rating in the first place. If the veterans’ condition has had different ratings over that time, the protected rating is the lowest rating assigned during that time. For example, if a disability was rated at 20% before being raised to 30%, after a total of 20 years the rating is protected from being reduced below 20%. As a practical matter, this means that the VA will not send a reexamination notice once you have received disability benefits continuously for 20 years.
One of our VA Disability Lawyers talks about how the VA determines a Permanent Total Disability rating.
What is a VA Stabilized Rating?
Under the VA regulations, a VA stabilized rating occurs after a disability has been rated for five years or more. This is informally known as the VA disability 5-year rule.
Before a VA stabilized rating is granted, that is, during years zero to five, a disability rating can be reduced on a single reexamination. After a VA stabilized rating is granted, that is, beginning at year five, a disability rating can only be reduced if the disability shows sustained improvement.
Sustained improvement usually, although not always, requires multiple reexaminations so that the VA can document improvement over time. As stated in the rule, the purpose is to avoid changing the disability rating based on a temporary or episodic improvement in the veteran’s condition.
How Often Does the VA Reevaluate Ratings?
The VA does not reevaluate ratings on any set schedule. Rather, whether and when the VA will schedule a reexamination will depend on the nature of the disability.
Specifically, a disability that could improve, such as an infectious disease, physical injury, or mental disorder, might be scheduled for a reexamination anywhere from two to five years after the initial disability benefits claim is approved. The time range of two to five years is chosen by the VA so that the first reexamination falls before the stabilized rating rule takes effect at year five.
One of our VA Disability Lawyers talks about the difference between 100% and IU disability ratings.
If you are scheduled for a reexamination, there is no reason to believe that the VA distrusts you or does not believe that you are disabled. Nor is there reason to believe that the VA has any information suggesting that your condition has changed, although occasionally the VA will schedule a reexamination if it comes into possession of such information. Rather, reexaminations are the typical way for the VA to ensure that the claimed disability still affects your ability to work and your quality of life in the same way that it was originally submitted.
According to the VA’s rule, reexaminations are not scheduled in certain types of cases:
- Static: Static disabilities have little or no expectation of improvement. For example, loss of a limb, blindness in one eye, or deafness in one ear, would not qualify for total and permanent disability because they are not rated at 100% but also would not improve.
- Stable: A stable disability is one that has not shown improvement for at least five years.
- Permanent: Diseases that are permanent and degenerative, like emphysema, might not be scheduled for reexamination.
- Age: Veterans over the age of 55 are usually not scheduled for reexamination regardless of their disability.
- Minimum rating: If the disability rating is already at the minimum, no reexamination is scheduled.
- Reexamination would not change rating: The VA will skip reexaminations when multiple disabilities are aggregated using VA math and reductions in any of the disabilities would leave the overall rating unchanged.
You can read more of this law directly in 38 CFR § 3.327 – Reexaminations.
When your case is scheduled for a reexamination, you must appear or reschedule. If you accidentally miss a reexamination, the VA will send a letter stating that you need to schedule the reexamination within a certain time period, usually 60 days. If this 60-day grace period expires without a reexamination, the VA can reduce or terminate your VA disability benefits.
On the other hand, if you appear for your VA reexamination and your disability appears to have worsened, you can request an increase in your VA disability rating to match the worsened state. Moreover, you do not need to wait for a reexamination if you believe that your condition has worsened. You can submit a request for an increased VA disability rating any time that you have medical records to support your request.
Is Total Disability with Individual Unemployability (TDIU) Protected?
No. TDIU is a temporary VA disability rating of 100% even though your actual disability is less than 100%. It is granted when you are unable to find gainful employment despite having an overall VA disability rating of less than 100%.
For example, if your overall disability rating is 60% but you are unable to find a job, you can apply for TDIU. If your request is granted by the VA, you will have a temporary disability rating of 100% to compensate for your disability and your unemployability.
TDIU can be terminated for two reasons. First, if you find substantial gainful employment the VA can terminate TDIU. Second, if your medical condition improves so that you can seek substantial gainful employment, the VA can terminate TDIU. In either case, your VA disability rating will be reduced from 100% to the overall disability rating originally assigned.
Answers to Common Questions that Veterans Ask about IU Benefits
What is a Protected Service Connection?
All VA disability claims must include facts to support a service connection. For some veterans, such as POWs, Gulf War Veterans, and Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, a service connection is presumed for certain disabilities. For other veterans, facts must be alleged to support a finding by the VA that the disability manifested during the veteran’s service, was worsened by the veteran’s service, or was directly caused by the veteran’s service.
After a service connection is established, the VA can sever the service connection and terminate disability benefits if evidence comes out that the disability was not related to your service. For example, if a veteran obtained disability benefits for service-connected PTSD, but it was later discovered that the veteran had been misdiagnosed and actually suffered from a pre-existing personality disorder, the VA might sever the service connection and terminate the disability benefits. It may justify this decision by pointing to the fact that it was pre-existing at the time the veteran joined the military and that the personality disorder had not worsened during the veteran’s military service.
One of our VA Disability Attorneys talks about the Presumptive Conditions List for Agent Orange.
However, after ten years of drawing VA disability benefits, considerations shift and the VA’s rules state that it will not seek to sever the service connection unless it can prove that the original claim was fraudulent or that the veteran mischaracterized the veteran’s service or discharge.
In the above example of misdiagnosis, as long as the doctor and veteran were both acting in good faith when the misdiagnosis occurred, it would be an honest mistake rather than fraud. This means that such a severance would likely be prohibited after ten years of drawing VA disability benefits.
What Can a Veteran Do to Obtain a VA Stabilized Rating, VA Permanent Rating, and VA Protected Rating
Some of these protections are automatic. For example, a VA stabilized rating and a VA protected rating both occur automatically. In the case of a VA stabilized rating, there is nothing to do except to appear for any reexaminations ordered by the VA. As long as those reexaminations show that your disability is either stable or worsening, you will obtain a VA stabilized rating at the beginning of year five.
Similarly, all ratings are protected from retroactive adjustment by changes to rules or ratings schedules and individual ratings are protected from reduction after a period of 20 years has elapsed. Like a VA protected rating, a VA protected service connection happens automatically after ten years. In any of these cases, the protections are automatic, and no action is required on the part of the veteran other than appearing for the scheduled reexaminations until the protected status is achieved.
A total and permanent rating, on the other hand, requires a request from the veteran to the VA. This request must be accompanied by medical evidence, usually in the form of medical records and a doctor’s opinion letter, to support the request for the total disability rating to be made permanent. In these requests, the VA is looking for medical reasons why your disability is, more likely than not, to remain the same or deteriorate over your lifetime.
If you have received a notice letter from the VA stating that your VA disability rating or service connection is about to be altered, reduced, or severed, contact a VA attorney to discuss your situation. You may qualify for the VA’s own protections and our VA attorneys can help you prepare to respond to VA notice letters regardless of whether you were deployed or where you are currently located.
Permanent VA ratings can be requested when medical evidence shows that the veteran’s disability is not expected to improve. Not every total disability is considered a permanent disability.
If a condition has not improved or worsened for 5 years, it can be rated as stabilized and may require fewer check-ups from the VA.
A protected rating is one that will not decrease based on changes to laws or rating changes in the future. If discoveries are made in presumptive conditions or diagnoses, your protected rating will not decrease to match the new laws.