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How to Increase your VA Disability Rating: Options for Disabled Veterans

June 14, 2023

Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) disability ratings that don’t reflect a veteran’s true degree of disability are a frequent complaint across a wide variety of conditions. Sometimes, the ratings are inaccurate because the veteran’s condition has grown worse; other times, the VA assigned a wrong rating in the first place.

Getting your VA disability rating changed to accurately reflect your condition and limitations can be a frustrating process that feels like an uphill battle. The complicated and slow government bureaucracy doesn’t make it easy for veterans to get the benefits they deserve, which is why it’s important to contact an experienced veterans disability lawyer if you believe your VA rating isn’t accurate.

In this article, our veterans disability lawyers explain how VA disability ratings work and what your options are to increase your VA rating.

What Is a VA Disability Rating?

If you apply and receive approval for VA service-connected disability benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will assign you a disability rating based on their estimation of the severity of your condition.

VA ratings fall on a scale from 0 to 100 percent disability, in increments of 10 percent. Any veteran who has a rating from 10 to 100 percent qualifies for monthly compensation in the form of VA disability benefits.

The VA rating is based on three different factors, according to the VA:

  • The medical evidence you provide (like a doctor’s report, medical examination results, or medical test results)
  • Your VA medical records, including the results of your VA claim exam (also called a compensation and pension, or C&P, exam), if the VA determines you need this exam
  • Information about you that the VA can get from other sources (like other federal agencies)

The VA uses strict guidelines for determining disability ratings. Very often, this results in VA disability ratings that seem far too low considering the degree of impairment.

So, what can you do if you’re one of the many veterans who received an inaccurate VA disability rating that is too low? In that case, you have several options, which we’ll explain in the following sections.

Appeal Your Rating

If you believe the VA made an error when they assessed your rating, you can file an appeal up to one year from the date of the VA’s initial decision.

As examples of errors that would provide grounds for appeal, maybe the VA denied that your disability is service-connected, or they applied a lower rating than you deserve according to the disability benefits formula.

There are three potential “lanes” in the VA appeals process:

  • File a supplemental claim: If you submitted a previous claim that lacked required information or did not include information that could have increased your rating, you can file a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence. The VA will consider this evidence and re-adjudicate your claim.
  • Higher-level review: If you submitted all the appropriate evidence and still got a rating from the VA that you believe is unfair, you and your attorney can request a higher-level review. During this process, you can’t submit new evidence, but a reviewer will re-examine your claim and determine whether any errors were made in the initial decision.
  • File an appeal with the Board: If you disagree with the VA’s rating and have exhausted other options, you can file an appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The Board usually has a significant backlog of appeals, so the appeal process for an individual veteran’s claim can take a long time to resolve.

In all three lanes, the appeal process can be complex and challenging. If you want the best chance for a good outcome, it’s important to work with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process.

File a Claim for a Higher VA Disability Rating

If your condition has gotten worse and your VA rating no longer reflects your current disability, and if the one-year window to file an appeal of the initial rating has passed, then you can file a new claim to try and achieve a higher disability rating and increased disability compensation.

When you file this claim (by either applying online or filing VA Form 21-526EZ either by mail or in person at your VA regional office), the VA will treat it just like any other claim, so you are essentially starting over with the VA disability benefits process. When you submit your new claim, you can include new documentation and medical evidence to show that your disability has gotten worse and make the case that your rating should be higher.

Since the VA will treat this as an entirely new claim, you may have to undergo a new C&P exam. If you fail to attend this exam, the VA can deny benefits, so make sure you follow up on any exam requests from the VA. You may also want to schedule your own private medical exam to build evidence that will support your claim.

RELATED POST: Was Your VA Disability Claim Denied? Here’s What You Should Do Next

File a Secondary Claim for Another Service-Connected Disability

Many veterans have multiple related conditions that might qualify for a VA disability rating. Many disabling conditions also lead to secondary conditions. For example, people with neck problems often develop symptoms in their shoulders and arms as well.

If you submit a claim for a disability with a secondary service connection, the VA will rate that claim separately and then combine it with the rating for your primary condition. As long as the primary disability is service-connected, the VA will award disability benefits for a secondary condition that developed because of the primary one – even if the secondary condition didn’t develop until after you left the service.

Keep in mind that the VA’s math when combining multiple disabilities into a single rating is very confusing. For example, if you had a service-connected back injury with a disability rating of 20% and sleep apnea with a disability rating of 50%, you might think the combined disability would be 70% (50+20). But that’s not correct – the combined rating would be 60%.

Why? Because the VA doesn’t simply add the ratings of multiple disabilities together. Instead, your disabilities will be ordered from highest VA rating to lowest and then multiplied against each other to reach a combined overall rating.

The VA’s confusing math process also means that if you don’t have any one disability that has a 100% rating, then you will need a combined rating of 95% or higher to round up to 100%.

File for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU)

For many veterans with service-connected disabilities, filing a for total disability based on individual unemployability may be the best option when the VA’s disability rating doesn’t match the reality of their condition.

If you can prove to the VA that your service-connected disability prevents you from obtaining or keeping gainful employment, then TDIU can provides VA disability compensation benefits at 100% rating – even if the combined rating for all your VA disability claims doesn’t add up to 100 percent.

The VA defines gainful employment as a job that pays above the federal poverty guideline. Marginal employment and protected work environments (such as jobs specifically created to provide employment to individuals with severe disabilities) don’t count as substantially gainful employment.

To be eligible for TDIU, you must have either:

  • One service-connected disability with at least a 60% VA rating; or
  • Multiple service-connected disabilities with a combined 70% rating, and at least one service-connected disability rated 40% or higher

Do you want to learn more about the appeal process? Order a free copy of my book “Fight the VA and Win”

Fight The VA and Win

Whether you are Army Strong, one of The Few and the Proud, Not for Self but Country, you Aim High, or are Always Ready, you have represented the colors of this great nation. No matter old or young, this country owes you a debt—especially if you have physical lasting effects of your time in service. Your benefits may only be a few forms away.

Proving a Service Connection

Not every disabled veteran can qualify for VA benefits. To file a successful claim and receive VA compensation, you will need to prove to the VA that your disability was the result of an injury, illness, or other event that occurred during your service.

To prove that your disability is connected to you service, you must provide evidence that shows:

  • You have an identified disability that qualifies for VA benefits
  • During your military service, you experienced an injury, illness, or other event that either caused or aggravated your disability
  • There is a medical link between your service incident and your disabling medical condition

Can an Attorney Help Me?

Filing a VA disability claim can feel frustrating, confusing, and downright unfair. The resources made available to veterans aren’t nearly enough to help them navigate the complex claims process on their own. And after you’ve filed a claim, you could wait months or even years to get a final result, especially if you need to appeal the initial decision.

You don’t have to go through this process by yourself. An experienced attorney can serve as your guide and help you through the process. A good VA attorney will not only know how to handle all the details, evidence, and potential strategies involved in a successful VA claim, but they’ll also care about your well-being, treat you with compassion, and make sure you understand exactly what’s going on with your claim at all times.

Count on the Colonel for Help With VA Disability Claims

Attorney Karl Truman and his team are fierce advocates for disabled veterans. Karl served for 28 years in the Army Reserves, retiring as Lieutenant Colonel.

These cases are personal for us. We understand the struggles that veterans and their loved ones face and the frustration of dealing with the VA. You served your country honorably, and you shouldn’t have to fight so hard to get the benefits you deserve.

Whether you need help filing your disability claim with the VA or you’ve just received a ruling you disagree with and are considering your options, contact our team today or call us at (502) 222-2222. Our VA disability attorneys are happy to provide a free case evaluation, discuss your legal options, and advise you on your next steps.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.