As written about in my article on "VA Math," one common complaint I hear from veterans is that the VA does not add together disability ratings. Thus, it appears that VA takes away part of a veteran’s service connected disability compensation benefits when an award is granted because the two disability ratings are not added together using simple addition. In fact, it is quite possible that when VA awards an increased disability rating, the overall compensation rate does not change, so it appears that the VA granted more benefits with one hand, but took away all or part of them with the other.
"VA Math" rears its head when the 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, the VA did not award a 110% rating; rather, it awarded an 80% disability rating, which appears to be a 30% reduction.
The “110% disabled” veteran may then ask why the VA did not simply award him 100% disability, since the ratings show him to be more than 100% disabled? The 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. The chart the VA uses to combine disability ratings may be found here.
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. Thus as additional disabilities are added on, they have less of an effect on a veteran's overall rating.
Congress permits the 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. Because Congress does not allow disability ratings greater than 100%, the VA cannot assign a higher disability rating. In other words, this is the upper limit of what the 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. (This does not include Special Monthly Compensation, which are awards on top of a disability rating).
Some clients have asked me to research the legality of "VA math." Afterall, Congress is the one that sets the rating levels from 10 percent to 100 percent, so how can the VA, through its regulations, take this away from a veteran? Unfortunately, the answer is that Congress left it for the VA to decide how to write the rating schedule and how to apply it to veterans' disbilities, so its likely the courts would find that the application of the law by the VA is correct. However, there is a small opening. Until a few years ago, courts were prohibited from reviewing the VA's rating schedule. Congress removed this prohibition, and now veterans may bring a case challenging individual rating schedules and the combined ratings scheduled. Ultimately, this issue will be dealt with by the Federal Courts in a case brought by a veteran.