One of the most common complaints we hear is that it appears that VA took away part of a veteran’s service connected disability compensation benefits when it granted an award. That is VA awarded an increased disability rating, but the overall compensation did not change, or the disability ratings assigned, do not “add up” correctly. So it appears VA granted more benefits with one hand, but took away all or part of them with the other.
This normally occurs when VA awards a veteran a compensable (greater than 0%) disability rating for two or more disabilities. For example, a veteran may be awarded compensation at the 60% rate for one disability and the 50% rate for another disability. Simple math dictates that the veteran is entitled to a 110% disability rating. However, VA did not award a 110% rating; rather, it awarded an 80% disability rating, which appears to be a 30% reduction.
Congress permits VA to award disability ratings from 10% to 100%, in 10% increments, for a “schedular” disability rating. No award can be greater than 100% on a schedular basis. To know if a disability has been rated as “schedular,” – that is, based on VA’s Schedule of Rating Disabilities – there usually is a four or eight digit code numeric and a percentage assigned to the disability within the rating decision. (VA may assign extraschedular ratings or special monthly compensation, which are benefits generally beyond those permitted by the Schedule, but these benefits are outside the scope of this post.)
Because Congress does not allow disability ratings greater than 100%, VA cannot assign a higher disability rating. In other words, this is the upper limit of what VA can award on a schedular basis. When a veteran carries a 100% rating, he or she is considered totally disabled; the law uses the phrase “a total rating” to describe a 100% disability rating. Regardless of the number of disabilities or how great the aggregate disability ratings, no veteran may be assigned a disability rating greater than 100% or be more disabled than “total” for VA rating purposes.
The “110% disabled” veteran may then ask why VA did not simply award him 100% disability, since the ratings show him to be more than 100% disabled? VA uses a somewhat complicated formula to determine how each of these disabilities affects the veteran, and that formula is what is responsible for “VA math” – that is, the apparent reduction in the overall disability rating.
Disabled veterans, of course, may have multiple disabilities. Independently rated, the sum of each disability rating is often larger than what VA actually awards. This is so because VA uses the Combined Ratings Table at 38 C.F.R. § 4.25 to calculate how various disability ratings are combined into an award. According to § 4.25, VA considers the effects of the most disabling condition to the least disabling condition on the veteran.
This is how it works, for example: If a veteran carries a 60% disability rating, he or she is 40% efficient (non-disabled). Stated another way, this veteran retains 40% of the ability to work. If that same veteran also carries an additional separate 30% disability rating, of the 40% of his or her original efficiency that previously remained, he or she lost 30% of that 40% (that is, he or she retains only 70% of that 40%). This leaves the veteran only 28% efficient, or 72% disabled.
It may be easier to think of it this way: Presume you have a 10 ounce glass of water, and you pour out 60% of that water. What is left is 4 ounces, or 40% of the water. Of that water that remains, you pour out another 30%. That is, only 70% of the 4 ounces remains. There is now only 2.8 ounces, or 28%, of the water that was in the full 10 ounce glass; 7.2 ounces, or 72%, of the water is now gone.
Analogous to the glass of water is a veteran’s disabilities. In this scenario, ordinary math would result in a 90% disability rating, but when the ratings are combined using the formula in § 4.25, the veteran is considered 72% disabled.
Because Congress only authorized disability ratings in 10% increments, VA rounds the final calculation to the nearest 10%, rounding the end number of 1-4 down and of 5-9 up. Therefore, VA will award our veteran a 70% disability rating.
The same considerations apply for the “110% disabled” veteran as those who have ratings of less than 100%. Using VA’s combined ratings formula, the 60% and 50% disability ratings combine to create an 80% disability rating. If the veteran is service connected for another disability, then that disability will be factored into the overall award. In the alternative, had the veteran already obtained a 100% rating, VA would ignore the additional award out of necessity.
Because of “VA math,” not every award will result in additional compensation. Say VA awards this same veteran, who has an 80% disability rating, an additional 20% disability rating for another disability. The overall compensation award would remain the same! VA takes the 80% rating and factors the 20% additional disability onto that, resulting in an 82% rating, which rounds down to 80%. Therefore, it appears that VA ignored the new 20% award! It did not; that is just the way VA math works.
The Combined Ratings Table can be found here: https://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2005/julqtr/pdf/38cfr4.25.pdf