Total Disability, Permanent and Total Disability, and Special Monthly Compensation

After Veterans establish service connection for a disability or disabilities resulting from their military service, the Department of Veterans Affairs rates their disabilities from 0 to 100 percent for purposes of determining the amount of monthly disability compensation and disability benefits they receive. The VA disability rating, in theory, is consistent with the degree to which a Veteran is disabled and based on the degree to which the disability or disabilities impairs the average civilian in earning a living. 38 C.F.R. § 4.1 (2012). 

Disability Percentage

The Veterans disability percentages are determined by the VA, and their assessments of the disability received in the line of duty, also known as service connections is part of the VA disability claim. These percentages represent and are directly related to the level of income that the VA has to supplement, based on the inability of a disabled individual to work or live a normal day-to-day life because of the Veterans service in active duty. These are paid out to disabled Veterans because it provides them with a supplemental amount of income to make up for their disability. 

The percentage of disability directly correlates with the amount that a Veteran is paid. It is one of the best ways that the country and the VA can serve the Veterans. When the percentage is below 100%, that means that the person who is receiving the VA disability compensation is not entirely disabled, and is still able to work to some extent. Their quality of life and ability to work may still be diminished. 

These percentages are determined by the VA through a long series of evaluations, gathering evidence through many means, including medical history, work history, and the events that led up to the disability. It’s a very long and extensive process to go through, but there are many articles on our website that walk you through getting assessed for disability and making sure that you can get all of the compensation that is due. It can be difficult to sometimes fight through the process, and Berry Law knows that. We are here to help Veterans get all the support they need and deserve. If you have any questions or concerns with your treatment, reach out to us. 

Total Disability Ratings

If a service member is found through his disability and medical records, or combined service-connected disabilities, to be unable to work, he is given a total rating (total disability) as 100 percent disabled. This is possible through either a combined rating that amounts to 100 percent or total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU), through either what is referred to as a “schedular” rating or, in the alternative, an “extra-schedular” rating. 

There are alternative forms of Total Disability, such as Convalescent or “Temporary Total” Ratings. These are when a Veteran has just recently been in a hospital or other form of medical healthcare for an injury or condition sustained or with a service connection to an injury received in the field of duty. These ratings are not permanent, and they last from the period between when the surgery is undertaken to heal or improve an injury and the end of the recovery period. It can last up to three months, starting the first days of the following month after the surgery. This ensures that the Veteran is able to fully heal from their injury, and makes sure that they can get fully recovered from the injury. 

Another situation that calls for a total disability rating is one of prestabalization. This occurs when a Veteran is initially released from the military but has an injury or mental health condition that is service-related which makes it very difficult to self-sustain. Therefore, it will make it very difficult for them to function on their own or get an income. This will provide the new Veteran with a percentage and status of 50 or 100%, depending on the severity of the disability. This status will last for up to one full year until the status changes, even if the percentage does not. It mostly falls to the general circumstances and life placement of the specific situation. 

Permanent and Total Disability

While a “total rating” is equivalent to being 100 percent service-connected, in contrast, a rating of “permanent and total disability” or “permanent total disability” is reserved for circumstances when the Veteran’s impairment is reasonably certain to continue throughout his or her life. 38 C.F.R. § 3.340(b).

There are a fairly large number of disabilities that can be dealt with or healed over time. But if a Veteran is released from the military with detrimental enough wounds, it’s important to make sure that they are supplied with income and compensation that will enable them to live as full of a livelihood as possible. 

A high-level disability leaves a person unable to work and sustain themselves and often makes it so they can’t function fully in many capacities. It is a highly difficult situation to live in, and if there isn’t income provided, it can spell lots of difficulties for the Veteran. That’s why the 100% disability rating exists; to help Veterans who sacrificed the function of their body in the military to help the world. It’s a very honorable thing to serve those who are at 100% disability and make sure their needs are being met in a very real way. 

Examples of disabilities that can qualify as permanent and total include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Permanent loss or loss of use of both hands, or both feet, or one hand and one foot, or the sight of both eyes;
  • Becoming permanently helpless or bedridden;
  • Longstanding diseases and injuries which are incapacitating and when the probability of permanent improvement through treatment is remote;
  • PTSD, TBI, ischemic heart disease, coronary heart disease, or cancers from Agent Orange exposure.

Under any of the above circumstances, a Veteran may be qualifying and be rated as permanently and totally disabled, which means that the Veteran’s 100 percent rating will never be decreased. Although there are many circumstances in which a 100 percent rating can be lowered over the course of a long time, there are some circumstances where that just isn’t possible, and the 100 percent rating readings for the remainder of their lives. 

Special Monthly Compensation

More importantly, a Veteran who is permanently and totally disabled is not just entitled to the monthly payments and compensation for being 100 percent disabled, but likely qualifies for special monthly compensation (SMC), depending on the basis for which he or she is rated permanent and total.

SMC is awarded in addition to the basic VA disability rates of compensation payable under the Schedule for Rating Disabilities. 38 U.S.C.S. § 1114. Under the rating schedule, a single Veteran with no children who is 100 percent disabled is compensated at $2,816 a month; however, a single Veteran with no children who is 100 percent disabled and in addition qualifies for SMC-L is compensated at $3,504 a month. The highest level of compensation for a single Veteran with no children who is 100 percent disabled and qualifies for SMC (SMC-R.2) is $8,059 a month. 

There are multiple different types of Special Monthly Compensation, and these all function in and within special circumstances, pertaining directly to each individual person. These depend on the type of disability and how severe the disability is. These are some of the types of SMC listed: 

  • SMC Levels L through O: These are for a variety of different disabilities that are related to amputations, the loss of use of limbs or extremities, or the loss of use of one or both eyes. These SMC levels are correlated in ways that specifically attend to the needs of a Veteran, and ensure that they are able to fully get all the compensation that they need and deserve.
  • SMC Level R: This may apply in the circumstance that the disabled person needs another person to help with daily needs, such as eating, drinking, dressing, and bathing. This is to account for the need of another person spending a considerable benefit amount of their time and life serving the Veteran, because they are unable to sustain themselves in a way that is viable and helpful.
  • SMC Level S: This is a scenario where the disabled person cannot leave the house where they spend a majority of their time. This requirement to be housebound needs to be service-connected. 


Total disability and all the complicated factors that go into it is a very complex subject. If you are in need of legal help with Total Disability or receiving the full amounts of your Special Monthly Compensation and full Veterans benefits, don’t hesitate to reach out to Berry Law. We are more than willing and able to help any Veterans or family member, such as surviving spouses, dependent children or dependent parents, with the legal and bureaucratic struggles that come with total disability, be it permanent or temporary.