Veterans with stabilized ratings have lived with a consistent disability for at least five years. VA ratings are considered protected after 10 years. That’s when it becomes more difficult for the VA to reduce or remove a rating.
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You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a VA disability rating. It would be nice if it lasted forever. Unfortunately, most VA ratings aren’t for your entire life. In most circumstances, the VA can request your reevaluation anytime. But, there are exceptions. This post explains protected and stabilized VA disability ratings and what happens when you’ve had a rating for five or more years.
How often does the VA reevaluate ratings?
The VA does not reevaluate ratings on any set schedule. Whether and when the VA will schedule a reexamination depends on the nature of the disability.
A disability that could improve, such as an infectious disease, physical injury, or mental health disorder, might be scheduled for a reexamination anywhere from two to five years after the VA approves the initial disability benefits claim. The VA chooses this timeframe so that the first reexamination falls before the stabilized rating rule takes effect at year five.
“The VA recognizes that not all conditions are permanent. Some wax and wane, meaning that they fluctuate in severity over time,” said VA-certified disability benefits lawyer Cecilia Ton. “For disabilities that VA recognizes are not permanent, the VA will often order reexamination of the veteran.”
If the VA schedules you for a reexamination, it’s attempting to ensure that the service-connected disability still affects your ability to work and your quality of life in the same way it did.
According to the VA’s rule (38 CFR 3.327), 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 wouldn’t qualify for permanent and total (P&T) disability because they are not rated at 100% but also would not improve.
- Stable: A stable disability has not shown improvement for at least five years.
- Permanent: The VA may not reexamine diseases that are permanent and degenerative, like emphysema.
- Age: Veterans over 55 are usually not scheduled for reexamination, regardless of their disability.
- Minimum rating: No reexamination is scheduled if the disability rating is already at the minimum.
- No rating change: 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. However, this does not mean that you will not be reduced for an individual condition if it would not impact your combined rating. It just means that the VA can issue the reduction without the same due process requirements. This means they do not have to examine you or even provide a proposal to reduce with a notice period and opportunity to respond.
5-year rule and stabilized ratings
A stabilized rating means that your condition has remained stable for at least five years. It hasn’t changed, and the VA consistently gave you the same rating during that time. After that point, it becomes more difficult for the VA to reduce your rating and, therefore, your compensation. It’s known informally as the VA disability five-year rule.
Before the five years, the VA can reduce a disability rating on a single reexamination. After five years, the VA can only reduce a disability rating if the disability shows sustained improvement.
Sustained improvement usually requires multiple reexaminations so 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 or less thorough, inaccurate exams.
What’s a protected rating?
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 if the veteran doesn’t appear for the reexamination appointment, the VA disability benefits typically can be reduced or terminated.
But there are certain circumstances in which the VA’s rules prevent a rating from being reduced or terminated. These ratings are considered protected.
The VA can not sever a service connection for a condition that has been rated for 10 years or more, even if the rating was reduced during that time. Once a veteran’s service connection is protected, the rating still may change, but the VA can’t terminate benefits for that condition.
The only way the VA can reduce a rating that has been at or above the same level for 20 consecutive years is by demonstrating that the veteran obtained the rating by fraud. In this case, the rating itself is protected.
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Can the VA take away 100% permanent and total disability?
The VA assigns a rating of permanent and total disability (P&T) when a totally disabling condition is not anticipated to improve over time. If you receive a P&T rating at any time, it is protected. Veterans with a P&T rating are not reevaluated and receive monthly benefits at 100% for the remainder of their lives.
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 must schedule the reexamination within a certain time, usually 60 days. If this 60-day grace period expires without a reexamination, the VA can reduce or terminate your VA disability benefits.
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. You also don’t need to wait for a reexamination if you believe 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.
Ton advised contacting a certified VA disability lawyer if you believe your condition has worsened and you want to be re-examined.
“Sometimes the VA can propose to reduce after a veteran files for an increased rating,” she said. “Because a veteran’s filings can impact his or her rating, and sometimes there’s a risk of reduction, it’s important to reach out to a representative.”
Woods and Woods can help
Whether you have a protected and stabilized VA disability rating and are called for reexamination or if you think your disability is getting worse, Woods and Woods is here to help. You don’t have to seek the help you deserve alone.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A disability rating is considered stabilized if you’ve received the rating for the same condition for five or more years. After five years, the VA can only reduce a disability rating if the disability shows sustained improvement.
A protected rating means that a rating can’t be reduced or severed. If a condition has been rated for 10 years or more, the VA can not sever a service connection for the condition even if the VA reduced the rating during that time. In this case, the service connection for the condition is protected. If a veteran has had a rating at or above the same level for 20 consecutive years, the only way the VA can reduce the rating is to demonstrate that the veteran obtained the rating by fraud. In this case, the rating itself is protected.