The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides disability compensation to veterans who have sustained injuries or illnesses while on active duty or training. Approximately 13 percent of the over 19.3 million U.S. veterans receive disability payments from the VA annually. This tax free benefit is paid to veterans who apply for disability benefits. How much a veteran can receive for their disability depends on the disability rating assigned to your injury. For the 417, 554 veterans residing in South Carolina, understanding how disability ratings work is crucial to their overall health.
The VA Disability Rating
After applying for disability benefits through the VA, a veteran’s injury or illness will be assigned a disability rating. Disability ratings are meant to reflect the severity of the disability and the impact the impairment will have on the ability of a veteran to work. The VA bases the amount of compensation a veteran receives based on the disability rating. In this way, any loss in earning capacity resulting from military service on behalf of the country is properly compensated.
Generally, more severe disabilities will receive a higher rating while less severe ones are rated lower. The ratings are based on a percentage scale according to the Schedule of Rating Disabilities (VARSD) and range from zero percent to 100 percent at 10 percent intervals.
How Disability Ratings Work
The Schedule of Rating Disabilities is broken down into which part of the body a disability affects. Body categories for injuries include, but are not limited to:
- Musculoskeletal system;
- Respiratory system;
- Cardiovascular system;
- Digestive system;
- Genitourinary system;
- Endocrine system; and
- Hemic and lymphatic systems.
In addition to these systems, there are also categories for mental disorders, neurological conditions, gynecological issues, infections diseases, immune disorders, and more. Within each category, the schedule lists medical problems and their respective symptoms. Symptoms are ranked as mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe, with each level of severity being assigned a ranking. Under the category of respiratory system, for example, there are four subcategories with specific medical conditions:
- Diseases of the nose and throat;
- Diseases of the trachea and bronchi;
- Diseases of the lungs and pleura—tuberculosis; and
- Nontuberculous diseases.
Stenosis of the larynx, classified as a disease of the nose and throat, has symptoms ranked at 10, 30, 60, and 100 percent for the level of severity under Diagnostic Code 6520. Thus a veteran experiencing moderately severe symptoms from this medical problem would receive a rating of 60 percent.
How the VA Assigns Ratings
In order to assign a disability rating, the VA must take any medical evidence in a veteran’s file and best match it to one of the body system categories and its respective diagnostic code. There are, of course, instances when multiple diagnostic codes might apply. However, the VA can only assign one disability rating per disability, meaning when two codes apply, they are required to choose the one the gives the veteran the highest possible rating. Even in cases where a disability is not listed, the VA will evaluate the disability and do their best to approximate a disability rating based on a similar impairment.
What Does Each Rating Pay
Veterans can receive monthly compensation for any disability rated at 10 percent or higher. The benefit is increased for any dependents, including a spouse or children, that the veteran is responsible for. Under the 2016 VA Disability Rates, for example, a single veteran with no children would receive:
- 30 percent – $407.75
- 60 percent – $1059.09
- 90 percent – $1743.48
A disabled veteran with a spouse and single child, however, would be eligible for increased compensation:
- 30 percent – $491.75
- 60 percent – $1227.09
- 90 percent – $1995.48
The disability rates are evaluated on an annual basis and adjusted for increased cost-of-living. It is possible for a veteran to receive zero percent on their disability rating and although this makes them ineligible for disability compensation, it does not necessarily disqualify them from all health care and benefits available from the VA.
Veterans With Multiple Disabilities
Many veterans, of course, may have multiple disabilities due to their military service. When this happens, disability ratings are combined through a special formula. If a shoulder injury is rated as 50 percent and a respiratory disease is rated as 30 percent, it may seem like the veteran should receive a 80 percent rating through addition. This, however, is not the case. According to the Combined Ratings Table, the value would be 65 percent, which would be rounded up to 70 percent, qualifying the veteran for the compensation rate assigned to 70 percent injuries.
Service-Related and Non-Service Related Disabilities
While the VA evaluates any service related disabilities and assigns them a rating on an individual basis, matters are complicated when a veteran has a disability that is not connected to their service. When symptoms of your disabilities become difficult to distinguish between, the VA give the veteran the “benefit of the doubt.” Effectively, this means any symptoms the veteran experiences are assumed to be caused by the service related disability and the veteran will likely receive a higher rating.
Changing a Rating
If your condition worsens at any point, it is possible to petition the VA for an increase in disability rating. The disabled veteran may send in any medical evidence documenting the aggravation of the disability. Typically the VA will schedule an examination to establish whether or not the symptoms merit a change in disability rating. Similarly, the VA may ask veterans to check in periodically on their disability and compensation may be subject to a reduction if the condition improves. These type of periodic check-ins are common for veterans who have been diagnosed with disabilities that usually show improvement over time.
Talk to a Veterans’ Disability Attorney
If you are a veteran in Greenville, South Carolina and have questions about receiving disability compensation, don’t hesitate to contact the dedicated veterans’ disability lawyers in Greenville at the law office of J. Robert Surface, Attorney at Law. For years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping veterans receive the compensation they deserve. We’ll answer any questions you have regarding veterans’ disability compensation and help you get your application under way. Call us today.