Have you ever received a backpay award that was a lot less than you thought it was going to be?
Have you ever believed you would receive a backpay award for an Agent Orange condition like coronary artery disease or diabetes, but nothing ever came and your monthly award didn’t change?
Don’t worry. Your math isn’t wrong. The VA just does things differently.
A very common question for veterans with several service-connected conditions is why their VA overall rating seems so low when compared to the ratings they have been assigned.
The answer is due to the VA’s Combined Ratings Table, found at 38 C.F.R. § 4.25.
Basic math won’t work if you are trying to determine how much money you can expect in VA disability benefits. The VA doesn’t simply add up disability percentages, as you might expect.
Calculations are relatively simple for a veteran with only one disability. He or she applies for benefits and gets a rating based on that one condition. But if you are like so many veterans, you are living with multiple disabilities stemming from your time in service – and that’s where the rating process gets trickier.
The VA uses a distinct methodology to determine a combined rating for veterans with multiple disabilities. The scale does not use simple addition. For example, a 50 percent disability for sleep apnea, plus 30 percent for lower back pain, plus 10 percent caused by a traumatic brain injury does not equal a 90 percent combined disability rating. Instead, it’s 70 percent.
How could that be?
The VA begins the evaluation process assuming every veteran is 100 percent healthy. It then rates his or her disabilities in order of severity.
For someone who has never seen the VA Combined Ratings Table, it just looks like a grid of random numbers. But for a veteran who is counting on compensation to make ends meet, it is important to understand how to navigate the table.
The theory behind the Combined Ratings Table is that it considers each disability rating as limiting the veteran’s ability to work. A good analogy to this is to consider each veterans’ “ability to work” as a pie (or pizza, if you prefer). With no disability ratings, the VA views a veteran as having full capacity to work. Should a veteran receive a disability rating, for instance 50%, the VA views the veteran as having a 50% remaining “ability to work.”
100% – 50% = 50%
If we take that same veteran, and the VA grants an additional 30% disability for sleep apnea, then the Combined Ratings Table comes in to play. In this case, the VA removes the highest-rated disability from the “ability to work” pie first. So, as above, the veteran only has a 50% “ability to work” remaining.
The VA would then remove 30% more ability to work based on the remaining “ability to work”, or in this case, remove 30% from the remaining 50% “ability to work” pie. To find the percentage to add, you must multiply the additional disability by your ability to work. In this case, the Veteran is 50% able to work.
30% x 50% = 15%
So, take the 50% initial rating and add 15% for sleep apnea. The Veteran is left with a total rating of 65%. Since the VA rates in 10% increments, the overall rating would round up to 70%.
Each additional disability that is service connected is subject to this type of ‘diminished return’ as it removes a smaller and smaller piece of the remaining “ability to work” pie.
While this can be extremely frustrating seeing newly connected disabilities failing to change your overall rating, it does not always mean that seeking service connection for those disabilities won’t be helpful in the long run.
The combined ratings table is often confusing.
If you have service-connected disabilities for both arms, both legs, or paired skeletal muscles, consider the bilateral factor when calculating your combined rating. Under this rule, a veteran adds 10 percent to his or her combined rating for the bilateral disabilities. The disabilities do not have to mirror each other exactly. They do have to affect the same extremities, though (all upper extremity conditions, or all lower limb disabilities).
If you need help understanding the VA Combined Ratings Table or believe the VA hasn’t rated you correctly, please contact us online for a free consultation or call us now.
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