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 VA rates their disabilities from 0 to 100 percent for purposes of determining the amount of monthly compensation. The 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).

If a veteran is found through his disability, 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.

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).

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 totally 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 qualify and be rated as permanently and totally disabled, which means that the veteran’s 100 percent rating will never be decreased.

More importantly, a veteran who is permanently and totally disabled is not just entitled to the monthly 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 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.