One commonly misunderstood area of VA disability involves the way the VA combines individual ratings, especially in relation to the bilateral factor. When a veteran has two or more service connected disabilities, each unique disability gets its own rating or percentage of disability. One might think that the VA would simply add those ratings together to get the combined rating, but they do not. Instead, the VA employs a calculation, colloquially known as “VA math,” to combine the ratings using a descending efficiency scale. If you are confused by VA math, you are not alone. To help clients understand VA math, we have put together a 2019 VA disability calculator to help them determine their total disability percentage and monthly compensation.
Before getting to the actual math, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the combined ratings system. Theoretically, a combined rating represents how much the combined disabilities affect a veteran’s ability to work. In other words, approximately how much less efficient the veteran will be at work due to the combination of their individual disabilities.
The combined rating starts assuming a veteran has a 100% efficiency rate. The efficiency rate is multiplied by the disability rating, and the result of that calculation is subtracted from the efficiency rate. So, if a veteran’s highest rated disability were 50%, the first calculation would look liked this:
In this case, 30 becomes the new efficiency rate, and the veteran is considered 70 percent disabled.
The confusion about VA math gets even worse when one takes into consideration the “bilateral factor.” A bilateral factor is an additional 10 percent added to the combined rating because a veteran suffers from disabilities of both arms, both legs, or paired skeletal muscles. The bilateral factor does not abide by the same rules as the other disability percentages. It starts by finding the combined rating of the veteran’s bilateral conditions. That combined rating is then multiplied by 10% to find the bilateral factor.
Going back to our previous calculations, imagine that the 50 percent and 40 percent ratings represent the disability percentages for each of a veteran’s arms. In order to find the bilateral factor, take the combined rating of 70 percent and multiply it by 10 percent to get 7 percent. Then take the bilateral factor of 7 percent and add it 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 represents a concession that having a disability in both of one’s limbs, be it the arms or the legs, causes an extra disability. If a person only had a disability in their right arm, for instance, it would cause them to rely more heavily on their left arm. However, if they could not rely on their left arm due to another disability in that arm, the combined effect of the two disabilities in their arms would decrease the veteran’s efficiency far more than represented by the individual ratings, even when combined using the rating table.
Many veterans wonder, does the bilateral factor only apply if the injuries on each limb are the same? It might seem logical to apply the bilateral factor for left and right wrist carpal tunnel, for instance. 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 differnt (for instance, left wrist carpal tunnel and right shoulder disability).
The VA appeals process can be difficult. It shouldn’t be. Our dedicated veterans appeals lawyers have handled thousands of claims before the VA and have helped our clients fight the VA for the disability benefits they were entitled to. If you or somebody you know has been denied VA disability compensation, contact Berry Law today.
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