Table of Contents
- What Do VA Disability Ratings Represent?
- How the VA Rates Multiple Disabilities
- VA Combined Ratings Table
- How Bilateral Disabilities Affect Your Rating
- Example Using the Bilateral Factor
- What Factors Does the VA Take Into Account for Disability?
- How to Increase Your VA Disability Rating
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!
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.
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):
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.