Military Law

Receiving a VA Disability Rating

The VA uses disability ratings to set the amount of your veterans disability compensation.

Are you a veteran who was injured during your military service? You may be entitled to disability compensation if your medical condition is considered to be service-connected. Disability compensation for veterans is provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

VA Disability Ratings

To determine how much money to give you for your physical or mental disability, the VA tries to determine how much your earning capacity has been reduced by your disability. The VA will give you a rating, expressed as a percentage, based on the severity of your disability. The ratings range from 0% all the way to 100%, in 10% increments (mental conditions are rated only at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%). The higher percentage, the more disability compensation you will receive.

Veterans who receive 0% disability ratings will not receive compensation, but they are placed in a higher priority group for receiving VA health care services and may be eligible for other benefits.

VA Rating Schedule

The VA has a disability guide called the Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This schedule is used to help evaluate and assess the severity of hundreds of different medical conditions, grouped under different body systems. Examples of body systems include:

  • musculoskeletal system
  • cardiovascular system
  • digestive system
  • respiratory system, and
  • mental disorders.
The schedule consists of more than 700 diagnostic codes that are organized under the body systems. The subpart for each body system lists the symptoms that are required for various ratings of disability for each diagnostic code.

For example, under diseases of the ear, two of the diagnostic codes are recurrent tinnitus and Meniere's syndrome. Under Meniere's, diagnostic code 6205, three different ratings are described, all of which require some level of hearing impairment:

  • attacks of vertigo and cerebellar gait more than once a week, 100%
  • attacks of vertigo and cerebellar gait one to four times per month, 60%
  • attacks of vertigo and cerebellar gait less than once a month, 30%.
The VA will look at all your medical exam reports to assess which diagnostic code to use and which rating you qualify for. You can only get a rating under one diagnostic code for each disability. If two diagnostic codes could apply, the VA should choose the one that will give you the higher rating. If it needs more information, the VA may request a medical examination with one of its own doctors.

Combining VA Disability Ratings

Do you have more than one service-related disability? If you do, you'll receive a rating for each disability. The VA will then give you a single combined disability rating.

The VA doesn't add the percentages for each rating together. It uses a combined ratings table to calculate a single rating from two or more disabilities. After you find the appropriate percentage on the chart, it is rounded to the nearest 10% increment. This number will be your combined disability rating. Your rating can never be more than 100 percent.

If there is equal amount of evidence to support two different ratings, the VA should decide in your favor because of the benefit-of-the-doubt rule. For example, if evidence exists to support either a 40% rating or a 60% rating, you'll receive a 60%rating.

Amount of Disability Compensation

The amount of disability compensation you receive will mostly depend on your rating. Compensation can range from the low hundreds to a few thousand a month. You'll receive a bit more money if you have dependents, including a spouse, children or parents. You can find the actual monthly amounts in the VA's Compensation Benefits Rate Tables.

If you lost the use of specific organs or extremities, you will receive additional compensation called "special monthly compensation" (SMC). The amount will depend on the number of dependents and your exact medical condition. Examples of disabilities that the VA will consider for SMC include:

  • loss of sight
  • loss of hearing
  • loss of use of a reproductive organ, and
  • loss of speech.

Special Types of VA Disability Ratings

The VA will calculate ratings differently for certain types of cases. Most importantly, you can get a 100% rating based on individual unemployability or a temporary 100% rating if you are hospitalized or recovering from surgery or a short-term injury. The VA also has special ratings processes for traumatic brain injuries and muscle injuries, as well as pre-existing injuries. For more information, see Nolo's article on complex types of VA disability ratings.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Am I legally required to take a medical examination in order to receive disability compensation?
  • What can I do if I disagree with the disability rating assigned to me by the VA?
  • How do I apply for special monthly compensation (SMC)?
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