How can you increase your VA Disability Rating?
Published July 1, 2022
You have already received a decision on your VA disability benefits claim, agreeing that you have a service-connected disability and assigning an individual VA disability rating for each disability and an overall (or combined) VA disability rating. You want to increase your VA disability rating(s), though, because you don’t think it is correct.
You have options, either through the VA claim appeals process or a separate request for an increase in your VA disability rating. This article will explain how that works.
What is a VA Disability Rating and what does it mean?
VA disability ratings are assigned through the VA disability benefits application process. It is an automatic part of the evaluation process. VA examiners must decide whether you currently suffer from an identified physical or mental condition and whether it is service-connected (caused or made worse by your military service). If those two things exist, then the VA needs to assign a number based, in a general sense, on how severe your condition is – your disability rating. The good news about having any disability rating, even a 0%, is that the VA acknowledges that you have a diagnosed condition related to your service, which, if it later worsens, will entitle you to benefits.
Individual VA disability ratings are numbers assigned to a veteran’s disability as part of the VA disability claims process. On a scale of 0-100%, a number is assigned based upon a series of statutory and regulatory criteria for each type of disability. A 0% rating means you have a diagnosed condition, but your symptoms or conditions don’t match the criteria for a higher rating. A 100% is the highest level rating.
Overall (or combined) VA disability ratings are given when a veteran has more than one disability. Calculation of this overall rating is not simple addition. 10% condition A + 20% + condition B + 20% condition C may not equal a 50% overall disability rating. You can run calculations on our VA disability benefits calculator.
Here’s an example. A Vietnam-era veteran (who meets the criteria of service timeframe and location) is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. One of the presumptively connected conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure is diabetes mellitus (Type 2 diabetes). If this veteran is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and then files a VA disability claim, the VA will verify the service timeframe, location, and diagnosis and determine that the diabetes is service-connected. However, those facts, without any more, only get the veteran a 0% disability rating. If the diabetes is manageable by a restricted diet only (cutting out desserts and carbs, for example), the rating would be 10%. To get to 20%, the veteran would also require insulin or oral medication. To get to 40%, the veteran’s condition would require both insulin and a restricted diet and regulation of activities. To get a 60% rating, the veteran would have to require all of these treatments and have a record of episodes of ketoacidosis or hypoglycemic reactions requiring multiple hospitalizations per year for frequent doctor visits and may include other physical complications that come with serious diabetes.
The VA maintains lists of ratings levels and the corresponding symptoms for various conditions. Those lists are the point of reference for VA examiners and medical professionals who evaluate veterans during a C&P Exam (Compensation & Pension Examination). It is also the framework that your lawyer will use to help you prepare your request for an increased VA disability rating. They will help you compile the necessary information to prove that your condition falls within a higher bracket for ratings purposes.
Your VA disability rating is used as part of the equation for calculating your monthly benefit payments. Higher ratings will often have higher monthly payments than lower ratings. If you have more than one disability claimed, however, a higher rating for one condition does not automatically result in higher monthly payments. There is a complex system of calculating a combined disability rating when you have more than one compensable disability.
Is my VA Disability Rating permanent?
Yes, and no. Veterans are allowed to appeal their initial VA disability decision on any grounds, including underrating a disability, within one year of the decision. This can increase VA disability rating, so that is a good thing. The VA can also ask for a re-evaluation and possible reduction of a VA disability rating within the first five years after their decision. This is usually only done when there is an expectation of substantial and sustained improvement since the initial decision. After five years, it is rare and difficult for the VA to reduce your disability rating, though you can ask for increases repeatedly over the years if your condition(s) worsens over time.
How can I increase my VA Disability Rating?
If you believe that the VA underrated your disability in their initial decision on your VA disability claim, you have one year to appeal that decision. You can also ask the VA to increase your VA disability rating based on a worsening of your condition. This frequently happens with certain physical or psychological conditions that tend to get worse over time.
Keep in mind that individual ratings are re-evaluated based upon the specific criteria for that disability, whereas overall VA disability ratings are simply a complicated mathematical computation based upon those individual ratings. Sometimes an increase in an individual rating will not actually increase your overall rating and thus may not make any difference in your monthly benefit payments.
If you request an increase in your VA disability rating within a year of the initial decision because you believe it was wrong, that is an appeal. If you request an increase later than that because your condition has changed, that follows a different procedure. For either approach, you do not have to start from scratch. You are piggybacking on your original claim and any factual issues already decided in your favor. For example, the VA has already acknowledged that you have a disability-related to your service, so you don’t have to re-prove that. But If your condition has deteriorated enough since then that they need to evaluate its severity, that is what you will need to prove. What you would argue is that your current condition, symptoms, and impact on your work and personal life better match a higher disability rating.
There is no reason to ask for an increased disability rating for small changes in your condition. If you have PTSD and you are now having anxiety attacks twice a month instead of once a month and have started having a few nightmares as well, that probably isn’t enough of a change to get an increase. However, suppose you were regularly employed and able to manage your PTSD symptoms when you first applied but now cannot seem to hold down a job because your symptoms keep playing out at work, resulting in you being fired again and again. In that case, that is a significant change that may warrant an increase in disability rating.
There is another consideration to remember if you are considering seeking an increase in your individual disability rating. A slight increase in your disability rating may not change your overall benefit amount at all, especially if you have other rated conditions. An overall (or combined) disability rating calculation scheme means that sometimes small increases, after rounding numbers, etc., end up at precisely the same combined disability rating number and thus the same monthly benefit payments.
Another strong consideration if you are looking at asking for an increased disability rating is if your condition’s deterioration is affecting your ability to stay regularly employed at a decently paying job. If you cannot maintain a regular position, find yourself skipping from one part-time job to another because of your condition, or are unable to earn above the federal poverty rate during the year, you might want to look at whether you qualify for TDIU (total disability based on individual unemployability). A TDIU finding means that you are treated as having a 100% disability rating, even if the calculations of your individual ratings do not result in a 100% disability rating.
Should I consult an attorney to increase my VA Disability Rating?
Absolutely, yes. Experienced VA disability claim attorneys can help you decipher the often confusing VA disability process and help you determine whether you are entitled to an increased individual VA disability rating on one or more of your rated conditions. Most importantly, these attorneys can help you determine if the increased VA disability rating would, if granted, increase your overall VA disability rating and monthly benefit payment amounts. Due to the complicated calculations for combined disability ratings, sometimes small changes in disability ratings will not result in much, if any, increase in your monthly benefit payments. You should know that before embarking on the project of appealing or otherwise seeking an increase in your VA disability rating.
On the other hand, a closer look at your entire situation shows that an increase in your VA disability rating would dramatically affect your overall disability payment calculation. A VA disability attorney can help you evaluate those options.
Most VA disability attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they don’t get paid unless and until you get paid. If they are willing to take your case, it’s because they also think that you were underrated and that they can assemble your case so that it will be easy for the VA to agree with you.
Do you think you are entitled to a VA disability rating increase? Veterans Law Group has helped thousands of veterans like you get disability rating and benefit increases, and they may be able to help you too. Click below for a free evaluation of your case by the experienced team at Veterans Law Group.