What is the VA Disability Rating System? by Dr. David Anaise, MD
Disabled VA Benefits
What is the VA disability rating system?
Unlike the SSA, which grants benefits for persons who are unable to work at any job in the national economy, the VA grants benefits for persons whose impairment can potentially decrease their ability to earn a living. The VA disability rating system provides degrees of impairment from 0-100% in increments of 10. The lowest compensable rating is 10% which pays a claimant $115/month (as of December of 2006). A 100% rating provides for monthly benefits of $2,471.
A detailed rating grid is broken down by sections pertaining to various organs or classes of diseases. Each body system contains a series of diagnoses, each with a numerical diagnostic code. Each diagnosis is then broken down in ratings from 0-100%. The degree of disability increases as the severity of symptomatology becomes greater. For example, a rating of 30% for ulcerative colitis connotes moderately severe colitis with frequent exacerbations, whereas a rating of 100% for ulcerative colitis requires a show of pronounced colitis with marked malnutrition, anemia, and general debility. Obtaining a rating of even 0% for a condition is important, in that it sets the ground for increasing the rating if the condition gets worse, without the need to prove service connection. Where there are two or more service-connected disabilities, the overall percentage is computed by “combining” the individual ratings, not by adding them together. For example, a 30% service-connected rating for one condition, plus a 20% service-connected rating for another condition, will result in a 40% combined rating, not 50%. Analogous ratings are for disabilities that are not listed in a rating schedule, but that could be rated under a closely related disease or injury
The Schedule for Rating Disabilities is comprised of ten grades representing the effect a disability has on the veteran’s earning capacity. As the following table shows, the compensation to veterans with increasing disability grades is not linear – a veteran with 90% disability rating could almost double his award by adding an additional 10% to his rating.
2011 VA Disability Compensation Rates for Veterans
Veteran’s Disability RatingMonthly Rate Paid to Veterans
The highest possible disability grade is 100 percent. A rating of 100% means a veteran is totally disabled. It is very rare for an injury to one organ or limb to amount to a rating of 100% and most veterans with a 100% rating have injuries to two or more organs or limbs. Multiple disability ratings for various organs and limbs, however, are not simply added to reach a total disability grade. The VA uses a complex combination formula that considers how additional disability ratings impact a veteran’s already disabled state, rather than considering how multiple disability ratings would impact a non-disabled person.
Consider, for example, a veteran with a 60% disability rating for one organ and a 30% disability rating for another. As mentioned above, the veteran does not simply have a cumulative disability rating of 90%. Instead, the VA looks at the veteran’s most disabling condition, the 60% rating, and considers the veteran to then be a 40% efficient person. The next disability rating, 30%, is then considered in light of this 40 percent efficiency, and the veteran is now considered to lose 30% of his remaining 40% efficiency (12%). This means the veteran is now considered only 28% efficient, which leaves the veteran with a disability rating of 72% (rounded down to 70% under VA rules). The ratings system is published in a table (38 C.F.R. § 4.25) that allows rating officials to quickly determine combined ratings. This formula ensures that combined ratings for multiple organs will never reach a full 100%, making it almost impossible for veterans with multiple disability ratings to reach 100%.
The VA, however, has recognized that this ratings system often fails to reflect the combined effect of the veteran’s multiple injuries on his ability to work. If a veteran cannot achieve a 100% disability rating under the system detailed above, the VA may, nevertheless, assign a total (100%) disability rating if the VA determines that the veteran is unable to secure a substantially gainful occupation. 38 C.F.R. § 4.16.
Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) ratings consider the effect that combined service-connected disabilities have on a particular veteran’s ability to work. An award of TDIU is based on an acknowledgement that even though an objectively correct rating under the ratings schedule produces a disability rating of less than 100%, subjective factors may permit assigning a 100% disability rating to the particular veteran under particular facts. Norris v. West, 12 Vet. App. 413 (1999). A TDIU determination is considered in the context of an individual veteran’s specific vocational capabilities, regardless of whether an average person would be rendered unemployable under similar circumstances. Hattlestad (II) v. Derwinski, 3 Vet. App. 213 (1992). See also VA Gen. Prec. 75-91 (Dec. 27, 1991).