One of the most confusing aspects of a service-connected disability can be trying to understand how the severity of your condition translates into a VA disability rating. It gets even more complicated for Veterans with more than one eligible disability.
Since it’s rarely simple to decipher the calculations behind the rating, many Vets have to trust that it accurately reflects their symptoms without being certain. In addition, the complexity of the rating process can make Veterans reluctant to pursue a service-connection or rating adjustment even when they’re entitled to one.
That’s why we recommend taking the time to understand what your VA disability rating impacts, how it aligns with medical conditions, and the sometimes-complicated math underpinning it.
Your VA Disability Rating Determines Benefits
VA disability compensation is a monthly tax-free payment to Veterans who got sick or injured while serving in the military. It is also available to Vets whose service made an existing condition worse. Once service-connection is established for your disability, the VA assigns a rating that determines the amount and type of benefits you receive.
For Veterans who served in combat, some conditions are presumed to be connected without explicit medical records if they affect Vets who may have been exposed to burn pits and toxins, such as Agent Orange. These “presumptive conditions” were expanded by the recent PACT Act legislation to include the large number of Veterans across several deployments with a high risk for exposure — including Vietnam Vets, Gulf War Vets, and post-9/11 Veterans deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and surrounding areas.
The rating of a disability is a percentage from 0% to 100% to indicate the condition’s severity and negative impact on your overall health and ability to function. As the disability rating grows, the amount of your monthly compensation increases as well. Under the current (2023) rates, a single Veteran with no dependents and a 10% rating is eligible for $165.92 per month, while the same Vet with a 100% rating will receive $3,621.95 each month.
Dependents do not impact payment if the rating is 10% or 20%. However, at disability ratings of 30% or higher, compensation will also increase based on dependents. Your specific disability and rating can also result in access to medical treatments, like physical therapy. Additional coverage, such as dental services, can also be unlocked by a higher rating.
VA Rating Alignment
If you have a service-connected condition that does not impact your health or capabilities, you could receive a 0% rating. This is referred to as a non-compensable VA rating because it acknowledges that a service-related issue exists but does not provide you with monthly cash compensation. Qualifying for a monthly benefit requires a rating of at least 10%.
This doesn’t mean you should wait to submit a claim until your condition is impacting your daily life. Instead, filing a claim for disability immediately, even if it results in a 0% rating, can be worthwhile. You won’t receive monthly compensation, but you could gain access to health care and prescription benefits, depending on your income. A 0% disability rating also means that you are already service-connected, which can make it simpler to file a claim if the condition worsens and establishes an effective date for your disability that could open the door to retroactive compensation down the road.
On the other end of the spectrum, a 100% rating results in the maximum benefits offered by the VA. It can be the result of impairment that precludes employment and makes daily tasks such as eating, bathing, and dressing difficult without assistance. However, because it is often the result of partial disability from multiple conditions, a Veteran who is not noticeably disabled may still attain a 100% rating and be eligible for the highest compensation and all other benefits.
Among the most prevalent disabilities for which Veterans pursue benefits are tinnitus and hearing loss, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), migraines, and limited motion in their extremities. The VA publishes detailed information on how specific conditions and symptoms align with their rating system, which is how the team at REE Medical can assess the accuracy of your rating with confidence.
It’s also worth noting that Veterans who receive a 60% rating may become eligible for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits. These are granted to Veterans deemed unable to work due to their service-connected disability. It provides disability benefits at the same level as a Veteran with a 100% rating. To be considered for TIDU, Vets with multiple conditions need one of them to be rated at least 40% and have an overall rating of 70% or higher.
The Math of Combined Ratings
For Vets with a single condition, the assigned percentage becomes their rating. Yet many Veterans are living with multiple service-connected conditions. In these cases, an overall disability rating is given using a more complex method the VA refers to as the “whole person theory.” The approach is based on the idea that a person cannot be more than 100% disabled.
Rather than adding up multiple disability ratings, the VA subtracts your highest-rated disability from 100% efficiency to establish a new efficiency number. Your next highest rating is multiplied by the new efficiency baseline, and the result is subtracted from that same efficiency number, leading to a lower efficiency baseline. The process is repeated for each remaining service-connected condition, and the final efficiency percentage is subtracted from 100%. The end result is rounded up to the nearest 10% and becomes your combined rating.
It’s not an easy formula to follow, so let’s look at an example: A Veteran with three service-connected disabilities and ratings of 60%, 30% and 20%, respectively.
In this hypothetical, the multi-step math used by the VA provides a final combined rating of 80% rather than the 110% that would result from adding the three ratings together.
Consider the accuracy of your VA rating
With a better understanding of your VA disability rating, you’ll be equipped to find the right path to the benefits you’ve earned. Start by considering a proven process that has helped more than 25,000 Veterans obtain quality medical evidence for their VA disability claim.
While we can’t guarantee the results, 95% of REE Medical clients reported receiving an overall disability rating of 70% or higher.* There’s no cost for a consultation, and we never charge a commission or take a portion of your disability payments. Call us today to learn more.