At some point, you may need to return to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase your VA disability rating. Many times your rating is too low from the start. Or your condition may worsen over time.
Your VA disability rating determines your monthly compensation. Any time there is a significant change in your medical condition, you should seek an increase in your VA disability rating.
The 2022 disability compensation rates take effect 12/1/2021 and the difference between the benefit for a 10 percent disability rating ($152.64) and 20 percent rating ($301.74) is $1,789.20 a year. And for a veteran without dependents, the difference between a 50 percent rating ($958.44) and a 70 percent rating ($1,529.95) is $6,858.12 per year. If you haven’t pursued an increased rating for your service-connected disability, you could be leaving a significant amount of money on the table.
The Berry Law Firm helps disabled veterans seek higher disability ratings to increase their VA benefits. It is supposed to be simple to request a change to a rating, but it is often a lengthy, complex, and confusing process. A veteran unfamiliar with the VA system or unable to deal with the VA bureaucracy can easily be short-changed. You have the right to be rated for the disabilities incurred during your military service.
Since 1965, two generations of military veterans at the Berry Law Firm have helped thousands of military veterans obtain the disability benefits they have earned. We know the way forward. We can help you gather or develop the evidence you need to file your claim in order to get the higher VA disability rating you deserve.
Lawyers at Berry Law Firm are veterans, military family members, and other patriots who help veterans pursue VA disability benefits.
Our veterans’ law practice began when John S. Berry, Sr. began to represent fellow Vietnam veterans who suffered from PTSD. Since then, he and our other attorneys, many of whom are also military veterans, have helped thousands of veterans appeal denied benefits claims and recover millions of dollars in benefits they deserved.
John S. Berry, Sr., John S. Berry, Jr., and other members of our firm have served in multiple branches of the military in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. We have experienced first-hand the sacrifices that veterans make on deployments and at home. We also know how veterans’ selflessness affects their lives forever afterward.
We have experience successfully guiding veterans’ cases through the VA appeals process. Our work litigating issues in VA claims at the federal appellate court level has resulted in case law that has changed VA rules to help not only our clients, but all veterans.
We know the way forward.
We want disabled veterans to have the full disability compensation they have earned by their service and sacrifice. And we know the way forward.
The VA pays monthly disability benefits according to the severity of an eligible veteran’s service-connected injury or illness. Based on evidence in the veteran’s claim, the VA assigns a disability rating in 10 percent increments (0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, etc.) for each service-connected disability. For many disabilities, a 0 percent rating is possible—meaning that even though the VA decided the disability is related to the veteran’s service, it isn’t severe enough to impair the average veteran’s earning capacity. A 100% disability rating indicates total disability and the highest amount of basic monthly compensation paid to disabled veterans.
VA disability ratings are assigned according to a series of rating schedules in VA regulations. Every service-connected disability is assigned a Diagnostic Code, and each Diagnostic Code has its own rating schedule. Some Diagnostic Codes have a maximum rating of less than 100 percent or skip over multiple percentages. For example, for tinnitus, the only rating afforded under the rating schedule is 10 percent, regardless of how severe the tinnitus is or whether it is in one or both ears.
Some Diagnostic Codes are more straightforward than others. For example, for hearing loss, disability ratings are assigned based on a set of tables in VA regulations that turn measurable audio testing results into the appropriate rating. On the other hand, mental-health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and others, are rated more wholistically based on the severity, frequency, and duration of a veteran’s symptoms and how those symptoms affect the veteran’s ability to function in occupational and social settings.
On top of the rating schedules for each diagnostic code, some disability ratings are also affected by additional, overlapping statutes or VA regulations that can affect a veteran’s disability percentage.
In sum, determining the proper rating for a veteran’s disability is a complicated process that requires close attention to medical and other evidence, and thorough knowledge of the many VA regulations that apply to evaluating disabilities. The process is so complicated that it’s not uncommon for the VA to make mistakes by applying the wrong Diagnostic Code, missing important evidence in veterans’ claims files, or relying on inadequate VA examinations.
The experienced attorneys at Berry Law can help navigate this process. We know the ins and outs of VA regulations, Diagnostic Codes, and relevant caselaw affecting ratings determinations, we are familiar with the most common mistakes the VA makes in rating disabilities, and we know what evidence to develop to give veterans the best chance at increasing their ratings.
All of the ratings for a veterans service-connected disabilities are combined to determine what the veteran’s overall combined disability evaluation is. But it’s not as simple as adding together the ratings for each disability. So in order to reach a 100 percent combined rating, a veteran needs more than, for example, two disabilities each rated at 50 percent.
Even if a veteran’s service-connected disability ratings don’t combine to reach 100 percent, it is also possible to reach 100 percent by qualifying for a total disability rating based on individual unemployability due to service-connected disabilities (TDIU). There are special rules applied to determine whether a veteran is entitled to a TDIU. Click here to learn more about how to get a TDIU.
A 100 percent rating or a TDIU is not necessarily always what is called a permanent and total rating. Sometimes the VA can reduce a veteran’s ratings. Special rules apply to whether rating reductions are allowed, and additional rules allow for the grant of a permanent and total disability rating, which has extra protections from reduction.
Too many disabled veterans who receive VA benefits receive less money than they should because their VA disability rating is too low. For some, their rating and benefit have always been lower than they should be.
Our experience at the Berry Law Firm has shown us
that a VA rating is more likely to be too low for claims regarding:
Mental health issues, including but not limited to:
Agent Orange-related disabilities, including but not limited to:
Orthopedic injuries, including but not limited to:
In addition, it is exceedingly common for the VA to shortchange veterans even when it grants an increased rating. There are complicated regulations affecting the appropriate effective date for the increase, and the VA often grants an effective date much later than it should. This means that many veterans miss out on a significant amount of backpay.
A disabled veteran who is receiving benefits may ask the VA for a review of their disability rating at any time. However, the timing of the rating request is important.
A veteran can seek either an initial rating increase, or a noninitial rating increase. Understanding the difference between the two types of increases is important because it can greatly affect the amount of backpay a veteran receives if an increased rating is eventually granted.
If it has been less than a year since the VA has granted service connection for disability benefits, and the veteran believes the rating assigned with the grant of benefits was too low, then the veteran can appeal the decision that granted service connection through one of the multiple appeal options available (Higher-Level Review request, Supplemental Claim, or appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals). This appeal is treated as a request for an increased initial rating. The evidence relevant to this type of appeal will show the severity of a veteran’s disability from the time service connection was granted through the present. If an increase is awarded, it should be backdated to the original effective date the VA assigned when it granted service connection.
If it has been more than a year since the VA granted service connection for disability benefits, the veteran may file a claim for a noninitial increased rating using a VA Form 21-526EZ or a Supplemental Claim on a VA Form 20-0995. Veterans seeking a noninitial increase should submit evidence showing that their disability has worsened since the time service connection was granted. This evidence can include VA treatment records, private treatment records (which the Veteran can request VA to obtain free of charge), and statements from the Veteran or friends or family members who are familiar with the disability.
In both initial and noninitial claims for increased ratings, the VA will often direct a veteran seeking an increased rating to undergo a medical examination with a VA facility or outside contractor. It is very important that the veteran attends this examination. If the veteran doesn’t show up for a scheduled examination, and doesn’t provide a written explanation of a good reason he or she didn’t attend, then the VA is likely to deny the claim for an increase.
After veterans receive a decision on their disability rating, they may begin to receive disability compensation and benefits. If your decision shows at least a 10% rating you should receive this payment within 15 days. If this is not received, Veterans should contact the VA Help line.
The VA can call for a reevaluation of your service-connected claim at any point, most commonly within two to five years, depending on your stated medical conditions and disabilities. However, some disabled veterans may never be ordered to reexamination. The original Ratings Decision letter from the VA Regional Office should state when the VA will reevaluate your claim.
Reevaluation of a disability rating requires the veteran to undergo a new Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. You may also submit your own doctor’s opinion as part of the evidence.
One reason the VA schedules future reevaluations of disability claims is that it expects some conditions get better over time. This is true of mental health issues and curable cancers, for example. The effect is that the VA may lower a veteran’s disability rating and, thus, the amount of their monthly benefit, if it determines that a veteran’s medical condition has improved.
To do so, the VA conducts a full review of the veteran’s claims file and gives the veteran a chance to respond to the decision before the new, lower rating takes effect. At this point, the veteran may submit evidence showing the current medical condition is not significantly better, and potentially worse, than previously reported to the VA.
Tips to increase your disability rating
The Berry Law Firm can help you seek the highest disability rating available for your service-connected disability and keep your benefit accurate over time. We can help ensure that the VA considers the most relevant medical and other evidence and applies the law correctly to give you the best chance at increasing your rating.
Our attorneys have extensive experience helping veterans appeal VA decisions or seek reevaluations that increase your VA disability rating. We know how to make VA rules and regulations work for veterans, not against them.
We are veterans helping veterans. Contact us today for a free review of your claim with no strings attached. Our office is located at 6940 O St, Suite 400 Lincoln NE 68510. We do not charge disabled veterans for legal work unless we recover money for them.
Get help from our veteran lawyers today.
“I came to Berry Law, and they really helped me. I like helping other veterans, and Berry Law does such a damn good job. They know the system…’cause everything just has to be just so worded, so correct, till you throw it out… So, I owe a lot to Berry Law.”
-Larry Sabata, Army Veteran
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