When evaluating a Veteran’s monthly disability benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers many factors. Every impairment is unique, so you need the VA to accurately calculate your disability rating.
If you have a disability on both sides of your body, such as one that affects both arms, legs, or paired muscles, the VA will use the bilateral factor when making these calculations. It will add an additional percentage on top of each limb’s individual rating.
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. We’ll look closer at the bilateral factor for VA disability compensation. But first, let’s discuss the VA rating system and how it combines individual ratings.
The VA determines the severity of your disabilities based on the evidence you submit as part of your claim for VA disability benefits or information the VA obtains through your military records. VA rates each disability from zero to 100 percent in 10 percent increments. If the VA finds that you have multiple disabilities, it will use the Combined Ratings Table to calculate a combined disability rating.
Theoretically, a combined rating represents how much the combined disabilities affect a Veteran’s ability to work—in other words, approximately how much less efficiently the Veteran can work due to the combination of their individual disabilities.
One commonly misunderstood area of VA disability involves how the VA combines individual ratings, especially concerning the bilateral factor. When a Veteran has two or more service-connected disabilities, each unique disability gets its own individual rating or percentage of disability.
You might think the VA would simply add those ratings to get the combined rating, but they do not. Instead, the VA employs a calculation, colloquially known as “VA math,” to combine them ratings using a descending efficiency scale. Here’s how it works.
The combined rating begins by assuming a Veteran has a 100 percent efficiency rate. The VA multiplies the efficiency rate by the disability rating and subtracts the result of that calculation from the efficiency rate.
So, if a Veteran’s highest-rated disability were 50 percent, the first calculation would look like this:
If the second-highest disability were 40 percent, the second calculation would look like this:
In this case, 30 becomes the new efficiency rate, and the Veteran is considered 70 percent disabled.
Returning to our previous calculations, imagine that the 50 percent and 40 percent ratings represent the disability percentages for each Veteran’s arms. To find the bilateral factor, take the combined rating of 70 percent and multiply it by 10 percent to get 7 percent.
Then, add the bilateral factor of 7 percent to the combined overall rating of 70 percent to get 77 percent, which rounds up to 80 percent for the Veteran’s combined rating.
The bilateral factor only applies to the bilateral conditions. If a veteran has bilateral disabilities and a separate nonbilateral disability (such as headaches), the bilateral factor will only apply to the combined bilateral disabilities.
The bilateral factor represents a concession that having a disability in both limbs—whether the arms or the legs — causes an extra disability. If you only had a disability in your right arm, for instance, you might rely more heavily on your left arm.
However, if you could not rely on your left arm due to another disability in that arm, the combined effect of the two disabilities in your arms would decrease your efficiency far more than represented by the individual ratings, even when combined using the rating table.
Many Veterans wonder whether the bilateral factor only applies if the injuries on each limb are the same. For instance, it might seem logical to apply the bilateral factor for left and right wrist carpal tunnel syndrome. However, the bilateral factor extends beyond that. It would apply if the Veteran suffers from a disability in the left and right arm, even if the disabilities are different (for instance, left wrist carpal tunnel and right shoulder disability).
Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) is a benefit the VA provides for Veterans who cannot secure and follow substantially gainful employment due to service-connected disabilities. It allows Veterans who cannot get or keep a job to raise their disability rating to 100 percent. It’s the VA’s way of acknowledging that some disabilities may fall below 100, but impairments may still leave them unable to work. The bilateral factor could play a role in TDIU eligibility.
To qualify for TDIU, besides meeting the criteria mentioned above, the Veteran must have at least one disability rated at 60 percent or more or multiple disabilities rated at 40 percent or more and, when combined, earn a combined rating of 70 percent or more. You can include the bilateral factor with the schedular rating to reach the 70 percent threshold.
VA disability ratings and the formulas used to calculate disability can confuse anyone—especially when considering the bilateral factor.
Our dedicated Veterans disability lawyers have handled thousands of claims before the VA and have helped our clients fight the VA for the disability benefits they earned. If the VA denied you or somebody you know disability compensation, or you qualify for additional compensation under the bilateral factor, contact Berry Law today for help with your claim.
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