Can the VA Reduce Your Disability Benefits?

When you are awarded a VA Service-Connected Disability rating, the VA retains the right to reexamine you to determine if your disability is still present and warrants the original rating. In short, it is possible for the VA to increase, reduce, or terminate, disability benefits based on a reexamination. But don’t let this scare you: not every veteran’s disability rating is scheduled for a reexamination, and not every rating will change.

For example, some service-connected disability ratings are considered protected, and will not be changed. Veterans with a P&T Rating (Permanent and Total) will usually not be scheduled for a reexamination. The same thing goes for injuries that are considered permanent or static. These include injuries that will never change, such as a missing limb.

Let’s take a look at VA Reexaminations to better understand the details of why, when, and how, the VA reexamines disability ratings, and whether or not your rating will be reviewed in the future. And if your VA disability rating is reviewed, keep in mind reviews work both ways: they can increase or decrease your rating, depending on supporting evidence and documentation.

Why the VA Reexamines Veterans with a Service-Connected Disability Rating

The why is easy to answer. Not all medical conditions are permanent. Some injuries heal over time, at least to some degree. The VA wants to ensure they are compensating you for your injuries at an appropriate rate. When you are assigned a disability rating, the VA also determines if they will want to reexamine you in the future. This typically only happens for injuries that have a reasonable expectation of improving over time. Reexaminations are usually scheduled within two to five years after the initial examinations, or they can take place any time there is material evidence in your change of condition. You will receive a Reexamination Letter detailing what will take place, and when.

Notice of Reexamination

The VA must send you a reexamination letter before they can change your service-connected disability rating. It’s essential that you attend this appointment, or work to reschedule it for a better time. If you don’t attend the appointment or provide supporting evidence for your case, the VA can reduce or terminate your benefits. The Notice of Reexamination should include contact information where you can reschedule your appointment if necessary.





The VA may send a Notice of Reexamination at  pre-scheduled interval (such as the aforementioned two to five years), or when they have material evidence there has been a change in your medical condition. This could be evidence that your situation has improved or disappeared. You have 30 days to request a hearing if you wish to contest the VA decision, and you have up to 60 days to submit evidence that a reduction in your rating is not warranted.

Keep in mind, the VA cannot reduce your service-connected disability rating without first sending you notice. Failure to do so on their end should result in a full reinstatement of your benefits.

When the VA Will Not Schedule You for a Reexamination

The VA will typically not request to reexamine your rating under the following conditions:

  • The veteran is over age 55.
  • The disability is static (such as a loss of limb).
  • The disability is considered permanent and is not expected to improve (e.g. blindness, deafness).
  • The disability is already at a minimum rating for that particular disability.
  • Reducing an individual rating would not affect the total combined disability rating.

These conditions are significant. The VA will not schedule are reexamination for permanent and static disabilities, so you can safely assume those ratings will remain the same. Age 55 is significant because it represents an age at which the VA assumes the veteran is too old to reasonably reenter the workforce (keep in mind VA disability ratings represent your ability to perform work at the level you were able to before you had the injury while you were serving in the military).

Finally, the VA will not look to reduce your VA disability rating when reducing one rating wouldn’t have a material impact on your overall disability rating. This applies to veterans with multiple medical conditions and disability ratings.

If you have been contacted by the VA to have your case reexamined and you meet any of the above criteria, then contact them with the phone number listed on your Notice of Reexamination and explain why you do not believe you should be reexamined. You may be able to have the reexamination canceled. The VA will not usually be able to reduce your disability rating without a reexamination, so your rating should be safe if you meet any of the above criteria.

Protected VA Disability Ratings

Certain VA disability benefits are considered Protected Ratings, according to the VA (though others say the term “protected” is a misnomer). This is where it helps to be able to find and read the appropriate regulations, or find an expert who can help you through the task. Here is a document that quotes some of the ratings protections for the 10 and 20 year rules (Word doc on VA site).




  • 5 year rule: If the rating has been in effect for 5 years, it cannot be reduced unless your condition has improved on a sustained basis (The VA must have documentation supporting this is a permanent improvement).
  • 10 year rule: A service connected disability rating cannot be terminated if it has been in effect for 10 years. Compensation can be reduced if evidence exists that the condition has improved. The sole exception is if the VA can prove fraud, in which case the VA can terminate the benefits.
  • 20 year rule: If the rating has been in effect for 20 years, it cannot be reduced below the lowest rating it has held for the previous 20 years. The only exception is if the VA can prove fraud.
  • 100% rule: The VA must prove your medical situation has materially improved and as a result, you are able to perform substantial work.

What do these protected ratings mean? Basically, if you have had a VA service-connected disability rating for 5 years or more, the VA must prove your condition has improved on a sustained basis before they can reduce or  terminate your disability rating. After 10 years, the VA can only reduce your rating; they cannot terminate it (absent proof of fraud). After 20 years, your rating cannot be reduced below the lowest rating you have held for the last 20 years. These distinctions are important, because some ratings can vary over the years, based on the medical condition.

For example, let’s say you have a knee injury that warrants a 30% disability rating when you complete your initial VA evaluation. After 5 years, the VA cannot reduce this rating below 30% unless they can prove the injury has healed on a sustained basis. If it has improved to the point the injury warrants a lower rating, or the injury no longer exists, the benefit can be reduced or terminated. After 10 years, the benefit can no longer be terminated, but it can be reduced if the VA can document substantial sustained health improvements. After 20 years at that rating, your benefit can no longer be reduced below its lowest rating or terminated (unless there is proof of fraud).

The 100% rule is much more difficult to have decreased. The VA must prove your health has materially improved, and you are now able to perform substantial work. If all of your injuries still leave you unemployable, then it is likely your benefit will not be reduced. Most veterans with a 100% rating have one or more major service-connected medical conditions, and possibly additional multiple less-severe injuries. The VA must prove the veteran is able to perform substantial work even with this assortment of medical conditions.

Reducing Your Disability Rating – VA Must Prove Change in Condition

The VA needs to establish substantial evidence of a change in condition before any change can occur to your service-connected disability rating. This puts the onus of the work on them. But you still need to be proactive to protect your rating. If the VA sends you a Notice of Reexamination, you need to show up for your scheduled appointment, or reschedule it, if possible. If you miss your scheduled appointment, the VA can reduce or terminate your rating without additional warning. Reestablishing your rating could take some time, or may be impossible, barring a legitimate reason for missing the appointment.

You can also request a hearing if the VA wishes to reduce your rating. You may find it helpful to enlist the help of a lawyer or your own medical professionals. You will want to ensure you have sufficient documentation to support your claims – whether you believe the rating should remain the same, or if it should be increased.

A Reexamination is Not the End of the World

A Notice of Reexamination can actually result in an increased disability rating if the situation warrants it. The VA will not go out of their way to increase your benefits rating for you. However, if the situation is warranted by your examination, then they will increase your disability rating. Keep this in mind if you are scheduled for a reexamination. It’s also important to understand that requesting an increase in disability ratings can result in a decrease if the VA can prove your medical condition has improved over time.

Bottom line: A VA disability rating is not always a static rating that will remain unchanged over the course of your lifetime. Your rating may remain unchanged, but it could also increase or decrease, depending on circumstances. If you feel there is a problem with your rating, it is best to find someone who specializes in VA disability claims and see if you can get them to help you with your claim.

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Date published: April 1, 2014.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.

Comments

  1. A a disabled Vet myself, I will be 55 in less than three months. That is good information to know. I am only 10% disabled, so it ever got reduced it would be 0.

  2. lonnie anthony says:

    Im just had am exam ..my last one was six years ago… I currently ‘receive 100 payment due to being unemployable…I’ve been rated this way for six yeat s. After getting my exam back im worried I could be reduced…because the examiners report didn’t mention that my knees were still unstable…is it possible a reduction could take place …I was also diagnosed with mmd. Which probably will help but im still concerned due to wording of exam…

    • Lonnie, I don’t have much personal experience here. My recommendation is to find a Veterans Service Officer at a Veterans Service Organization such as the DAV, VFW, American Legion, etc. They offer free claims assistance and can help you with your claim. It’s best to hit this head on so you aren’t caught off guard. The sooner you began building your case, the better. Here are some resources for finding a VSO. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  3. Bruce Reed says:

    I work with veterans and this article is very helpful for synthesizing the data. Can you provide us with a link to where you found this information?

  4. Chris Harding says:

    Thanks!

    As for the 20 year rule:

    US Government Printing Office. 38 CFR 3.951-Preservation of Disability Ratings. gpo.gov[online]. 2014. Available from: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/CFR-2009-title38-vol1/CFR-2009-title38-vol1-sec3-951

  5. Shequira Callahan says:

    I, currently, receive a 10% disability rating for my back. I have been receiving this rating for 13+ years. I wanted to know whether or not I can get re-evaluated being that my condition hasn’t improved?

  6. i have been total permanent since dec 01 100% ptsd i got a letter they are reducing me to 50% ptsd because 1) the doctor said i am full time daycare fore my grandson 2) that i write poetry 3) i am a photographer for a metal detecting club how can they do this? i answered them with 1)i only watch my grandson when my daughter get called into work she gets little notice so i watch him till she gets someone to come get him never more than 2 hours 2) i do write poetry but i have spent 90 days in 7 different va hospitals for combat ptsd all inpatient in these last 14 years so because its been 8 years since my last i am ok are they crazy they told me to write it helps they say will they have not seen what i write it all about the war ugly side and killing 3)i have never been in or in contact with any metal detecting club d

  7. My disability got lowered a few years back is it possible to get another exam and get it back

    • Jimmy, Yes, you can apply for an increase in disability compensation. My advice is to work with a Veterans Service Organization to get assistance with your claim. They generally offer free VA benefits claims assistance. Here are some recommended organizations: http://themilitarywallet.com/veterans-service-organizations-benefits-claims/

      Keep in mind that when you refile your claim the VA will likely review your entire claim and it may be possible that some of your current disabilities may be downgraded. a veterans Service Officer can give you more information when you speak with him/her.

  8. I am a 68 year old Vietnam veteran that has prostate cancer. After waiting many months go get in to see the doctor at our local VA clinic, finally, in January 2013 I got an appointment. When my blood tests came back my PSA was at 100. They did another PSA test one week later and it had gone up to 155. I went though many tests and scans at the VA hospital. And even though I had a very high PSA, the scans all came back that the cancer was only in my prostate gland. I was awarded 100% disability in March of 2013 along with SMC-K in April 2014. I went through 40 radiation treatments and am now on Eligard shots every 3 months. These shots have side effects which include hot flashes and night sweats. But they have reduced my PSA down to 0.1. I am to remain on these shots for a few more months and then the doctors want me to stop with the shots to see what my PSA will do. My eBenefits web page has the following two statements.
    You are not considered to be permanently disabled due to your service-connected disabilities because your case is scheduled for
    review on: January 1, 2015
    You are not considered to be permanently disabled due to your service-connected disabilities at this time because you are scheduled for a future reduction in rating on: January 1, 2015
    My question is this: Will I remain at 100% disability as long as I am taking these shots, which I consider as active treatment for cancer. Or will the VA reduce these benefits since my PSA is now very low?
    No one seems to know the answer to this question.
    Thank you.

  9. Galen, your story and my husbands is almost identical! He received the implant/shot for 3 yrs and got full benefits during that time. Once he was reviewed, 6 mns after last shot, the benefit was drastically reduced. We are praying the cancer is truly gone and watching his numbers like hawks!! Personally, I feel they made the decision too quickly, he still had the medicine in his system that stopped testosterone production, doesn’t seem like results would be valid. I hope you stay well. It certainly can be a roller coaster ride!

  10. When I Got out of the Air Force I received a 40% rating for Degenerate disk disease. I think this diagnosis is a generic one because I think I have a damaged nerve but I was talked out of perusing it. I’ve had a few treatments but for the most part was told it was something I would have to learn to deal with and it would never get better, its been 13 years and I have learned to deal with it. My last eval 2 months ago the doctor ask a few questions and asked me if I wanted to get new xrays and a MRI because my old ones where out of date, then warned me that with the new technology the new ones could should that because of my age now (37) that my rating could be decreased. So he advised against the new x-rays and MRI. Then he asked me to bend forward and back and tell him when it hurts like they always ask and sent me on my way. Sometimes they put a tool on my back to measure the percent I can bend with out pain ( not much). Two weeks later, which is the fastest the VA has ever replied to me, I got a letter stating that my last to evals show improvement so they are reducing my % to 10 present. Im dumb founded. My back is just as bad as ever, I just have learned to deal with the pain and how not to agitate it. Who can I contact to help me challenge this? I don’t have money for a lawyer and I have about 30 days left before they adjust my rating.. Then.. two week later I get a letter from the VA that they are increasing the rate of pay for some disability’s here soon. This just all sounds weird to me.

  11. Oh and they never used the tool, he just eyeballed my bend radius.

  12. Help?? I will apply for an increase next month i need an opinion, is this letter properly done as a request? ?

    DEAR Sir or MADAM:

    I am currently rated for (lumbosacral strain, bulging disc at L5-S1) at 20%

    My condition has severely decrease and getting worse since it was first awarded. My back injury has kept bothering me over the past couple months, preventing me from physical therapy sessions and has forced me to stop working as of November 25,2014. I am no longer working due to the fact that my pain has dramatically increase and my range of motion has been severely affected, since I went from a bulging disc to herniated discs on L4-L5 and S5-L1 and some wear and tear around the same area has been discovered, as you will see in my new MRI reading. My pain fluctuates from ” 8 to 9 ” on a daily basis it completely affects my range of motion and daily chores. At times I need help getting out of bed and with daily chores since I cannot bend foward more than 30 degrees. I have also experienced small lost of bladder and bowel control and sharp pains going through my right leg and hip with some numbness and tingling sensation. Since my right leg is weak at times, it forces me to put more pressure on my left leg hurting my left knee sprain again in a few occasions. I have taken all kinds of medications that the VA doctors gave me for inflammation and pain and nothing helps. All I can do for now is to continue to go to my appointments at the VA hospital and explore the back surgery options in my future, since the doctors say that it seems to be the next step in my case. I have compare my current condition to that listed in the schedule for rating disabilities and I see that It would be more appropriate that I would now be rated at 40% .

    I am applying for that rating increase.

    Thank you for your time and consideration of my request.

    Respectfully,
    My name

  13. To Dan Bandy: You need to contact Allison Hickey who is the undersecretary for VA affairs. She can direct you to the right source. allison.hickey@va.gov

  14. Greetings. I am scheduled for my 1st exam. It will be 5 years since the initial exam. Out of curiosity, what would warrant the VA needing to keep a vet in the hospital for examination? Thanks in advance.

  15. Geraldine Trumbo says:

    My husband received a 70% rating based on Agent Orange presumptives in September. During the course of his VA exams, a doctor found a suspicious growth. Told him to get it checked. It is a lung cancer tumor. So he went back to the VA and filed another paper for 100% disability. He should be entitled to 100% as long as he is being treated for the lung cancer and 6 months after treatment ends. My question is how long does it take before they give him 100% and what kind of back pay (if any) can he expect? He was told just the one paper he filed is sufficient for them to give the 100% rating.

    • Geraldine, I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s cancer. I pray he will recover. Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact answer to your question, because each case is handled separately. But here is the process as I understand it:

      The first step is for the veteran to file the new claim seeking 100% disability. That starts the clock for the increased pay rate. Once the VA approves the new disability rating request, they will send out an award letter stating the new disability rate. The increased payments generally start a month or two after the award letter is sent. The veteran will normally receive back pay to the date they filed for the increased disability rating. (Back pay is normally paid out shortly after the award letter is sent, but it will probably be in a separate payment from the monthly compensation).

      This is the general series of events, but keep in mind each case is unique, so it may vary somewhat. I hope this helps, and again, I will be praying for your husband’s health.

  16. Adrienne Schroeder says:

    My husband got out of the military in 2005 with degenerative disk disease and was rated 20%. He requested a re-evaluation last year and they increased him to 40% due to radiculopathy that was not present when he was first rated( he should have requested the re-eval years ago). He has contemplated surgery for years and is in more pain then ever. We are going to meet with a civilian doctor next week as he does not want the VA doing the surgery. My first question is how do we find out if the doctor or hospital that is going to do the surgery is approved by the VA. Second, does surgery automatically change his rating. If he applies for 100% temp disability what happens to his rating after that? TIA

    • Adrienne, Thank you for contacting me. To be honest, this isn’t a question I can answer. You will need to contact the VA for specific information to your husband’s case. Only the VA will be able to tell you if the surgery is approved or not. Regarding his rating, no, the surgery will not automatically change his rating. He may be able to apply for temporary 100% rating, but that is not automatic; it would need to be approved. He would then be reevaluated after his surgery to determine his new rating. It may go back to 40%, or it may be something different. The VA will rate it based on how his condition compares to the documented VA standards.

      You may consider speaking with a Veterans Service Officer for more experience working with these kinds of claims. I hope this helps. Best of luck, and I hope the surgery improves your husband’s condition!

  17. Adrienne Schroeder says:

    Sorry you misunderstood my question. The VA has offered surgery he is just choosing to do it with a civilian doctor and my question was how do we find out if the doctor or hospital is approved by the VA. The Convalescence VA eligibility requirement specifically states: You must have had a surgical or other treatment performed by a VA or other approved hospital or outpatient facility for a service-connected disability. Thanks anyway, I am trying to reach the VA but every time I call they tell me to call at a better time.

    • Thanks for the clarification, Adrienne. I know it’s frustrating, but I would continue trying to contact the VA to get the information for approved doctors and hospitals. This is something that needs to be done by the book. If you need to, contact the VA scheduling department and try to schedule an appointment just to get a referral or get the information you need. Best of luck!

  18. Anthony Fuentes says:

    Hello the VA is trying to lower my benefits. They sent me a notice that they wanted to do a reevaluation appointment. I was in school on all the days that they tried to schedule for me. I could not make it to the appointment times they gave me. They then sent me a letter saying that they were going to drop my benefits from 60% to 40% based off of nothing. They haven’t reevaluated me and they are just telling me my condition is improving with no evidence that it has. I broke my back in a car accident that is the reason for my mechanical back pain. My mechanical back pain has not improved at all. How do I dispute the VA decision. I know I can I just don’t really know how.

    • Anthony, to fight this process, you will need to contact the VA to explain that you couldn’t miss school for the reevaluation appointments, then request they reevaluate you. It is highly recommended you get some one on one assistance with this process. The best place to go is a Veterans Service Officer. Many organizations who offer free benefits claims assistance (DAV, VFW, American Legion, etc.). I hope this points you in the right direction. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  19. Is the VA allowed to pull over a years worth of medical records indicating a disability and then reduce your claim to 10% vs 30% because there are no records in my jacket, like they did to me under the Reagon austerity years and cost cutting? All medical records in my jacket are missing from tbe Naval hospital on the Navy base in Norfolk. Every sigle one 1974 1975 vanished… bet there still in hospital records somewhere!!!

  20. Marsha Emerson says:

    My husband us a viet nam vet and was in the middle if agent orange. He gets disability for pstd and diabetis. His va dr also said he has narapathy. He was considered 60 per cent disabeled. The va sent him for a nerve test and said he does not have nerapathy. They sent a letter his benefits would be cut. He saw his va counsler and he gave my husband papers to take to a regular dr of which he sent him do another nerve test it to showed no nerve damage but both the regular dr and the the dr who did the nerve test said it was due to chemicals from agent orange. My husband took that to his va rep who submitted this. The va still cut his benefits while this process is on going . My question is can they do this. Thank you and I wait for a reply. Marsha emerson

    • Marsha, Based on my understand, yes, the VA can reduce a disability rating if they believe the evidence supports it. In this situation, their doctors stated the medical condition isn’t as it was originally rated, so they changed the rating. It is up to the veteran to show supporting evidence that the condition was caused by a condition that occurred while in the military. So your husband will need to resubmit the medical documents from his doctors. The VA will review those documents, and make a decision. It sounds like you have done everything the right way, and now you are simply waiting on the appeal that has already been submitted. I hope this turns out well for your husband, and more importantly, I hope he is able to receive treatment that will help improve his health.

  21. I am a Disabled Vet of wartime at 40%. Navy. None of my rating is for ptsd. I hurt myself at home ( accidently cut artery in wrist fixing frozen burst pipe ). It was a very horrific scene for me, my wife, and 3yo son. Lots of blood loss. passing in and out. Had emergency vascular surgery and stayed in hospital a couple of days. I am now off work for a couple months due to not being able to pick anything up with the affected wrist. Since then I am having a lot of problems sleepings and staying asleep. I cant stop basically reliving what happened over and over. I cant stop thinking of it. Its affecting my marriage and relationships with children. I seem to always be on a very short fuse. I constantly catch myself on the verge of tears ( I am not one to show emotions )and bad panic attacks. I want to be alone close to the entire time im awake. I went to my family doctor and was put on welbutrin xl and klonopin. They basically only help by keeping me tired all day it seems. Not exactly the way I want to live the rest of my life. I want to talk to the VA about this, but have read many horror storys of going in and then having your rating dropped. I am not looking to have my rating raised. I just want to make sure that I am not a danger to my family or friends. I’m the type that is very used to just sucking it up and dealing with it, ( never even took 1 pain pill after surgery ), but now my wife feels my reactions to certain things that arise are a little extreme. Adding that I worked out problems differently before the accident.

    • Ben, Thank you for contacting me. I’m happy to hear you are seeking treatment for your condition. That is the most important thing you can do, regardless of what else happens with your VA disability rating.

      Did you injury occur while you were in the military? If it is not service related, then I wouldn’t go to the VA, because they most likely will not treat you for conditions that are not service-related (unless you meet the income requirements). Alternatives would be seeking professional help from your current medical provider, or those that are covered on your insurance plan.

      If this is a service-related condition, then you have a decision to make. If you don’t want the VA to reevaluate your other conditions, then you might consider paying out of pocket or using your other health insurance plan if you have one. That keeps this and your other conditions out of the VA spotlight.

      If this is a service-related condition, and you d not have access to other health care or you cannot afford to go elsewhere, then by all means, go to the VA. There is a process the VA must follow for reevaluations, and they can’t drop your rating without cause. If your conditions are scheduled to be reevaluated, you will have time to get examinations and present your case. You can always contact a Veterans Service Organization for assistance with your claim (DAV, VFW, American Legion, etc.). I hope you will be able to get past this issue and regain full health.

  22. And I forgot to mention that I have loss continuous from just telling the story to a friend in a very graphic way. I just refuse to believe that that is normal.

  23. Ryan Guina, I was Hoping foolishly for a reply on the 29 Jan post… can I buy some vowels love this smart phone..

  24. Stephen McQuaig says:

    I recently requested an increase from 20 percent on my back. I just had my C&P exam and I got a copy of it. Every item EXCEPT my forward flexion was 0 to 15 degrees. ..forward flexsion was notated as 0 to 30. This ROM is significatly less than my original back exam a few years back. The examiner also noted that thia disablity affected my ability to work. I have had a hard trying to calculate was percentage I should be getting for my back with the new findings and new ROM. Please help.

    • Stephen, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have a way of calculating disability scores based on exam results. You may try speaking with a Veterans Service Officer, who may be able to give you more insight into how the process works, and the potential rating you may receive.

  25. So I’m a little confused maybe you could help clarify. To my understanding, the VA cannot lower a SC Rating below 10%, so for example if I had my left knee rated at 10% (the minimum rating for this injury), it could not be lowered to 0% after a reexamination? Is that correct? I’m curious because I just got off Army active duty and received my award letter for 40% combined rating. The break down is 10% each for 4 different injuries, plus 2 more injuries are still pending decision from what the award letter says. So my question is, if and when I get scheduled for a reexamination in the future, since all 4 of my rated disabilities are at the minimum rating (10%) for their category, could I be considered “protected” in the sense that the VA cannot lower any of the SC Rating below 10%? I’m just worried that I will lose my 40% combined rating that I just got. Thanks for your help.

    • Alex, I’m not familiar with the reg that states a service connected disability cannot be lowered to 0%. I recommend scheduling a visit with a Veterans Service Officer or a VA representative so you can ask any questions you may have about your ratings and the benefits you are eligible to receive. They should be able to give you a better idea of what to expect.

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