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Funny Math – VA Disability Ratings. When 30 + 20 Doesn’t Always Equal 50 (Podcast 004)

Combined VA disability ratings don't use "normal" math. Instead of adding your disability ratings together with straight math (for example, 10+10 = 20), the VA uses a special formula to calculate combined VA disability ratings. We'll show you how this formula works and how to calculate combined VA disability ratings.
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calculate combined VA disability
Table of Contents
  1. What Do VA Disability Ratings Represent?
  2. How the VA Rates Multiple Disabilities
    1. Calculate Combined Disability Ratings using VA Math
  3. VA Combined Ratings Table
  4. How Bilateral Disabilities Affect Your Rating
  5. Example Using the Bilateral Factor
    1. Bilateral Factor Applied:
  6. What Factors Does the VA Take Into Account for Disability?
  7. How to Increase Your VA Disability Rating
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If I asked you the answer to 30 + 20, you would quickly tell me 50. And you would be right in just about every instance. But for veterans with service-connected disability ratings, the math doesn’t always work out quite so easily. In fact, 30 + 20 might only equal 44, which rounds down to 40. Or it might equal 48.4, which rounds up to 50. Confused yet? Welcome to the world of VA Math!

VA Math - combined disability ratings
Understanding VA math is essential for understanding your benefits.

The VA Service-Connected Disability rating system is complex, not least because of the way the VA calculates final service-connected disability ratings.

VA disability ratings determine compensation payments and access to other service-connected disability benefits. Learning to calculate your rating is important to make sure you’re receiving the right benefits. The difference can be worth hundreds to thousands of dollars a year in compensation payments and other benefits.

Let’s dive in.

What Do VA Disability Ratings Represent?

The first thing to understand is what your disability rating represents. 

In short, the VA takes each individual injury or illness into consideration and gives it a numerical disability rating divisible by 10 (ex: 10%, 40%, etc.). 

A good way to look at this is to consider how disabilities affect your ability to perform work and daily activities. To do this, the VA looks at how your disability affects your overall efficiency. Let’s say you are a normal 40-year-old retiree with no major service-connected injuries or illnesses. Your efficiency would be rated at 100%. 

But, if you just retired from the military after 20 years of service and tweaked your knee while you were deployed, you may be eligible for benefits. 

Let’s say you had an arthroscopic surgery for the injury, but still have some pain and stiffness in that knee. The VA could grant you a 10% service-connected disability rating. The VA determines this rating by looking at your efficiency, which it calls 90%. 

In the previous example, it seems like you can just subtract the 10% from 100% and come up with 90%. But the VA does the math differently: 

We’re going to come back to why we did the math this way.

More than one disability rating? Each injury or illness is rated by itself, without consideration of other illnesses or injuries, unless they contribute to further injuries. We will also need to take into consideration whether or not the injuries are bilateral, which means they affect limbs on both sides of the body (for example, disabilities on both arms or both legs). All of your disability ratings are listed in descending order, then the VA math begins.

How the VA Rates Multiple Disabilities

The aforementioned example with the veteran who had a knee injury covers the most basic situation – a single disability rating. Things get more interesting when you have more disability ratings. Let’s run through an example, building on the previous profile.

Let’s add a few conditions for this 40-year-old retiree.

Let’s say our retiree has the following service-connected disability ratings:

  • 10% rating for his right knee (above example)
  • 30% rating for a back injury
  • 20% rating for right shoulder injury
  • 10% for hearing loss.

Calculate Combined Disability Ratings using VA Math

The VA uses a descending efficiency scale for its calculations. The VA will give each injury or illness a numerical rating. 

When it comes time to determine the overall rating, the VA will start with the highest rating, then work its way down. You will always begin with an efficiency rating of 100. Each new disability gives you a new baseline.

We start by racking and stacking the disabilities. In the example above, we have ratings of 30%, 20%, 10% and 10%. We start with the 30%, then factor in the 20%, the 10% then the final 10%. 

Again, we aren’t subtracting here; we’re doing VA math. 

You start with your efficiency rate of 100, multiply it by your disability rating, then subtract the result from your original rating. 

In this case, you would multiply 30% times 100 and get 30. You subtract that from 100 and come up with 70. 

Your new efficiency rating is 70, and your disability rating is 30. 

This is the starting point for the next calculation. You repeat the process for the next rating. You take 20%, multiply it by 70, and come up with 14. You subtract 14 from 70, and you get 56. 

Your new efficiency rating is 56, and your disability rating is 44. You repeat the process for each additional disability rating.

Va Math How To
The VA rounds final ratings to the nearest 10 (ex: 56% disability would be 60%, 54% would be 50%).  Approximately symbols (?) in the example above indicate rounding to the nearest whole number.

Caption: The VA rounds final ratings to the nearest 10 (ex: 56% disability would be 60%, 54% would be 50%).  Approximately symbols (?) in the example above indicate rounding to the nearest whole number.

VA Combined Ratings Table

The math can be a bit confusing if you try to do it manually; that’s where this combined ratings table may be helpful. 

Let’s try the same example with the table below. 

We start with the 30% disability. Look at the combined ratings table and scroll down the left column until you find the number 30. 

Then go to the right column until you find the 20. The 30 and 20 combine for 44. If those are your only two ratings, you would have a 44% VA service-connected disability rating, which would round down to 40%. But, we’re not done. We still have to add two 10% ratings.

Start on the left column again. This time, you will look for the 44 in the left column. Then find the intersection point with the 44 and 10. Your new rating is 50%. 

Repeat this one more time, starting with 50, and meeting up with 10. Your new combined rating is 55%, which rounds up to 60%.

Table Instructions: List all disabilities in descending order. Start with the highest disability rating, find it in the left column, and find the intersecting point with the next highest disability rating. This is your combined rating for these two disabilities. If these are your only two disabilities, you can round to the nearest number divisible by 10 (all numbers 4.9 and lower are rounded down; 5 and higher are rounded up). 

Repeat this process until you have run the numbers for all disability ratings.

(Article continues below table):

 102030405060708090
19273543516068768492
20283644526068768492
21293745536168768492
22303845536169778492
23313846546269778592
24323947546270778592
25334048556370788593
26334148566370788593
27344249566471788593
28354250576471788693
29364350576572798693
30374451586572798693
31384552596672798693
32394652596673808693
33404653606773808793
34414754606774808793
35424855616874818794
36424955626874818794
37435056626975818794
38445057636975818894
39455157637076828894
40465258647076828894
41475359657176828894
42485459657177838894
43495460667277838994
44505561667278838994
45515662677378848995
46515762687378848995
47525863687479848995
48535864697479849095
49545964697580859095
50556065707580859095
51566166717680859095
52576266717681869095
53586267727781869195
54596368727782869195
55606469737882879196
56606569747882879196
57616670747983879196
58626671757983879296
59636771758084889296
60646872768084889296
61656973778184889296
62667073778185899296
63677074788285899396
64687175788286899396
65697276798386909397
66697376808386909397
67707477808487909397
68717478818487909497
69727578818588919497
70737679828588919497
71747780838688919497
72757880838689929497
73767881848789929597
74777982848790929597
75788083858890939598
76788183868890939598
77798284868991939598
78808285878991939698
79818385879092949698
80828486889092949698
81838587899192949698
82848687899193959698
83858688909293959798
84868789909294959798
85878890919394969799
86878990929394969799
87889091929495969799
88899092939495969899
89909192939596979899
90919293949596979899
91929394959696979899
92939494959697989899
93949495969797989999
94959596969798989999

Source: 38 CFR 4.25 – Combined ratings table. Downloadable PDF: You can download this table here (pdf, courtesy of PurpleHeart.org).

Online VA Disability Ratings Calculators: It’s great to know how to use the combined ratings table so you can verify your disability rating for yourself. But it’s also nice to be able to use a calculator that takes all these factors into consideration. There are several websites that have useful calculators. 

How Bilateral Disabilities Affect Your Rating

There is one more issue we need to consider that can greatly impact your rating: the bilateral factor. 

What is the Bilateral Factor? The bilateral factor applies to veterans living with disabilities that affect both limbs (for example, both arms, both legs or of paired skeletal muscles). The disabilities don’t have to mirror each other. The VA considers separate injuries affecting the left foot and the right knee, for example, to be bilateral.

The VA combines the individual rates for bilateral injuries and adds 10% of the combined amount to the total percentage, according to the VA.  It uses the new total as one rating when calculating the rest of your combined total. 

Example Using the Bilateral Factor

Let’s stick with the example profile from above, but let’s add another knee disability, one on each leg. So, in total, we’re working with: 

  • 10% rating for right knee 
  • 10% for left knee
  • 30% rating for a back injury
  • 20% rating for right shoulder injury
  • 10% for hearing loss.

The two knee injures would qualify for the bilateral factor. 

The disability rating for each knee was 10%, but when combined, they equal 21%, according to the VA’s Combined Rating Table. Here is how it works:

Bilateral Factor Applied:

A 10% disability combined with another 10% disability = 19%,

Then you add 10% of 19, or 1.9%.

19% + 1.9% = 20.9%, which rounds up to 21%.

The combined rating for both knees is now 21%, and the VA will use 21% as the rating for those disabilities. It is possible to have more than two disabilities combined in the bilateral factor.

Now, using the combined rating table above, we’d start with the 21% rating and the 30% rating. This takes us to 45. Follow the left column down to 45 and find where it intersects with 20. You get 56. 

Repeat the process for 56 and 10, and you get 60. The overall service-connected disability rating for this veteran is exactly 60%.

The previous example was 55%, rounded up to 60%, and this example was exactly 60% without rounding. As your disability percentage increases, it takes more disabilities with higher ratings to move the needle. 

What Factors Does the VA Take Into Account for Disability?

To be eligible for VA disability benefits or compensation, you must: 

  • Have served on active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training and have a current illness or injury that affects your mind or body. 

Additionally, at least one of the following situations must be true: 

  • You got sick or injured while serving in the military and can link this condition to your illness or injury (called an inservice disability claim)
  • You had an illness or injury before you joined the military—and serving made it worse (called a preservice disability claim)
  • You have a disability related to your active-duty service that didn’t appear until after you separated from the military (called a post-service disability claim)
  • You have one of the VA’s “presumed disabilities:”
    • Chronic (long-lasting) illness that appeared within one year of your discharge
    • Illness caused by contact with contaminants (toxic chemicals) or other hazardous materials
    • Illness caused by time spent as a prisoner of war (POW)

When deciding on a disability claim, the VA considers the above eligibility requirements, as well as how your condition affects your daily life, activities and employability. 

How to Increase Your VA Disability Rating

If you feel your VA rating does not accurately reflect the impact your service-connected disability has on your life, you can try to get the VA to increase your disability rating. 

One way to do this is to file an appeal. 

If you’re still within a year of the VA’s decision on your initial claim, you can file a Notice of Disagreement to kick off the formal appeal process. You’ll use the Notice of Disagreement form to declare what you disagree with and indicate how you’d like your appeal to proceed

If you are outside of the one-year period for a notice of disagreement, you can file a new claim for an increased rating. Be sure to include any new evidence, medical opinions or documentation showing that your condition has worsened or is worse than the VA previously rated it

If your condition has worsened to the point that you can not work, you can file for TDIU, or “total disability based on individual unemployability. When in doubt, you can always reach out to a Veterans Service Officer at a Veterans Service Organization. VSOs will help you with your claim free of charge.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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  1. LKO says

    Hi Ryan, I was rated 100% disabled due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. I was 68 years old when I got prostate cancer and had to have my prostate removed. After 2 years the military requested that I get a re-evaluation of my condition and was knocked down to 30% disabled. Is it true that after 55 you can request now to be re-evaluated. I read this in one of the articles on reasons why you can contest re-evaluation. Also, I served as a medic and worked in the hospital and now am having sciatica and back pain. I have had surgery for that problem. Is it possible to claim that now even though I never claimed it while in the service. Thank you for your kind advice.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello LKO,

      Thank you for your question.

      There are specific rules for certain types of disability ratings. My understanding is that some conditions are considered permanent and some are considered temporary. As an example, losing a limb or having corrective surgery would be permanent conditions, since they cannot be undone. On the other hand, a condition such as cancer can be considered temporary if the individual becomes cancer-free. I recommend speaking with the VA or a veterans benefits counselor about your condition and your rating. They should be able to provide more specific information.

      The same recommendation goes for your sciatica and back pain. Yes, it is possible to submit a disability claim years after the fact, but it may be difficult to prove. This is where speaking with a veterans benefits counselor can help you with the process.

      I wish you the best of health and thank you for your service!

  2. JRHD1 says

    This VA math is really something! I’ve got my head around it for the most part, but what if you have two bilateral disabilities?
    So if you’ve got 10% for both ankles, and also ten percent for both knees, for instance. Do you make one bilateral calculation or two? And if two, how?
    Thanks for the article and your response!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Great question. 

      My understanding is that the bilateral condition will only count once. However, I’m not 100% certain if you can include more than 2 ratings (one on each side)

      Here is the law:

      When a partial disability results from disease or injury of both arms, or of both legs, or of paired skeletal muscles, the ratings for the disabilities of the right and left sides will be combined as usual, and 10 percent of this value will be added (i.e., not combined) before proceeding with further combinations, or converting to degree of disability. (source)

      It doesn’t specify that you can only use one rating for the bilateral calculation. But I don’t have a definitive answer, either. I would take this question up with the VA or a qualified Veterans Service Organization rep.

      I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

      • JRHD1 says

        Right. It wouldn’t be possible to follow the procedure for bilateral conditions separately, e.g. calculate a bilateral condition for two knee ratings and another for two shoulder ratings. You could end up with a 31, say, and another 31. How would you then total your rating?

        So the only thing that makes sense as far as I can tell, is, say you’ve got 10% each knee and 10% each shoulder, you would combine all four together– 10 + 10 = 19 + 10 = 27 + 10 = 34 + 3.4 (10%) = 37.4 as your bilateral rating.

        To only acknowledge one set of conditions as bilateral and disregard all others would not seem to comport with the law, and to calculate them independently would create an impossible situation. Thanks for helping me sort it.

    • Robert says

      Join the discussion…In this case, you put them all together and it yields a 37%, rounded to 40 if they are your only disabilities. If two were for arms and two were for legs, you would do to 10s together twice, both yielding 19% and then together they would still yield 37%, again rounded to 40% if these are your only issues.

  3. Robert Ballard says

    I AM CURRENTLY RECEIVING 70% VA DISABILITY. RECENTLY I WAS AWARDED CLAIMS FOR SLEEP APNEA(50%), RESTLESS LEGS SYNDROME (30%) AND RIGHT SHOULDER BURSITIS(20%). WHAT WILL MY TOTAL DISABILITY BE?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Robert,

      I don’t have enough information to provide an answer. Your total disability rating will depend on your other ratings that add up to the 70%. All of your ratings are combined to give a total rating. I recommend contacting the VA or a Veterans Service Organization that specializes in helping with VA disability claims. They should be able to help you review your claim and provide a total disability rating. The VA should also send you an updated award letter in the near future that will include a full list of all your rated conditions, their corresponding disability rating, your total disability rating, and the effective dates of each of these.

      I wish you the best, and thank you for your service.

    • Robert says

      Join the discussion…My calculation says you will be rated at 90%. The only calculation that can yield a higher number is if the 70 and 50 were bilateral (no other bilateral combination meets or exceeds 95), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. 70 +50 =85 +30 = 90 + 20 = 92 rounded to 90%

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