When being evaluated for a disability claim filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is possible to be assigned a percentage of disability and the corresponding compensation due within a range of 0 percent to 100 percent.
Veterans with multiple service-connected health issues may receive individual disability ratings at varying percentages with the combined disability compensation percentage coming from the combination of ratings up to 100 percent.
The VA rationale for its disability percentage scale includes recognizing that no VA disability compensation award may be made for more than 100 percent–you may have two medical issues rated at 60 percent each, but the maximum claim awarded will top at out 100 percent.
That seems a bit confusing to some new veterans–at first. But what sometimes brings more confusion? The difference between a VA compensation rating at 100 percent and a different VA disability rating that is categorized as 100 percent “permanent and total” disability or disabilities.
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How The VA Rating System Works
The Department of Veterans Affairs publishes a “schedule” of disabilities and the accompanying VA disability percentages that can be awarded for such medical issues. Not all medical issues are rated the same and some can never exceed a certain percentage, while others may only be permitted to be rated at 0 percent.
It all depends on the nature of the injury, illness, or condition and the VA regulations that govern how such conditions must be evaluated in the VA medical claims process.
You can have more than one type of service-connected medical issue, and when making a disability claim you can have lower VA disability ratings on individual problems adding up to 100%. A combined rating is one that takes into account the individual conditions and adds up all the percentages.
Here’s an example of a hypothetical combined rating:
- Hearing damage/hearing loss: 10%
- Knee injuries affecting range of motion, etc.: 50%
- Loss of foot: 40%
The total disability percentage based on the list above would be 100%. The knee injuries may or may not be considered permanent; hearing loss would likely be considered permanent as would the loss of a foot.
But the knee damage is the main factor in this particular example–if the VA raters deem the knee problems an issue or issues that could improve, the veteran would not receive a 100% permanent and total disability rating even though the overall combined rating is 100%.
VA Presumptive Conditions Decisions
The VA has created a list of medical conditions it presumes are related to certain types of military service. For example, if you served in Vietnam and develop symptoms associated with Agent Orange exposure, the VA presumes the condition to be connected with Agent Orange.
The VA has a set of medical issues it presumes will be permanent. Those who are awarded VA claims of 100% for PTSD may find the VA has rated them as “100% permanent and total disabled”
The Claim Process
The veteran submits a claim to the VA, including all relevant medical records and supporting evidence. The VA receives the claim, reviews it and determines the veteran’s service-connected disability percentage and updates the record.
The veteran, once the disability compensation award has been officially made by the VA and the record updated, can print out documentation explaining the nature and amount of the VA compensation.
This documentation can be used to claim other VA benefits (such as when a qualifying veteran exempt from paying the VA loan funding fee due to service-connected disabilities needs to apply for a refund of the funding fee) including state and local government benefits offered to disabled vets.
Did you know that veterans with VA disability ratings may be eligible to apply for first-time home buyer programs, state government assistance or grants, tax exemptions, and discounted licenses issued by the state?
Some of these programs are offered to any veteran with a VA disability rating; others may only be provided for those rated at 100% permanent and total disability.
VA Claims Processes and the 100% Permanent and Total Disability Rating
The VA claims review process for assigning disability ratings has everything to do with the nature of the medical issue, when and how it developed, and whether or not the problem is service connected and/or permanent.
That rating process does not take into consideration whether or not employment difficulties were caused by the condition. There IS a process that rates veterans in terms of how employable they are having the VA rated medical conditions, but this is done when applying for Total Disability Individual Unemployability Claims, not the initial VA claim.
The VA Individual Unemployability benefit mentioned above does NOT require a 100% total and permanent disabled rating, you can receive this benefit AND still work even after being VA rated at 100% disabled under the right circumstances.
However, there ARE circumstances where you can lose the VA Unemployability benefit if you start working. You will need to discuss your circumstances with a VA rep to see what is permitted in your specific case.
100% Disabled Versus 100% Service-Connect Disabled
There IS a difference between a 100% service-connected disability rating and a 100% permanent and total disability. The easiest way to tell them apart? The VA does not simply issue a 100% disability rating and leave things there.
Any disability that has a chance to improve may still disable the veteran at such a level as to warrant A 100% “total” rating. But if the VA does not declare you PERMANENTLY disabled, that 100% “total” rating is subject to review.
State governments do their best to advise veterans of this nuance of the VA rating system, but it’s still easy to get confused. The City of Nashville official website reminds veterans, “If your rating is NOT permanent and total, you WILL be re-evaluated and the rating MAY be adjusted based on the VA’s determination.”
The Nashville site adds that veterans can tell when a 100% rating is deemed “permanent and total” because “the decision will approve Dependents Educational Assistance and Chapter 35 Benefits.”
How to Tell if Your VA Rating is 100% Permanent and Total
You can learn a lot about the VA rating you’ve received by carefully reviewing the VA Rating Decision letter. Check the letter to see if you have any future examinations, read the VA explanation of the determination it has made on your case, and be sure to double check the letter for a section featuring a check box indicating that your VA rating is “Permanent and Total.” Call the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000 if you have trouble understanding the VA award letter.
A Surviving Spouse May Be Entitled to Certain VA Benefits if the Veteran Dies
Surviving spouses who were married to veterans with 100% total disability ratings are permitted to apply for VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) after the death of the veteran.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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