If you are receiving VA disability benefits, it's understandable to wonder if your compensation can change. While it is possible that your benefits may be adjusted, this becomes less likely once you turn 55.
How VA Disability Ratings Work
The VA provides monthly cash compensation for Veterans with service-connected disabilities. Compensation is based on the Veteran's assigned disability rating.
The VA rates disabilities on a scale from 0% to 100% in 10% increments. A 0% rating means the VA recognizes a service connection but does not consider the condition serious enough to qualify for monthly compensation, while a 100% rating indicates that the Veteran is completely disabled and unable to work.
If a Veteran has two or more service-connected disabilities, there is a formula referred to as "VA math" that is used to calculate the combined disability rating. Ratings for individual conditions can't be simply added together because a person can never be more than 100% disabled.
Revaluating VA Disability Ratings
When you are under 55, you may be reevaluated by the VA to see if your condition has changed. These Compensation & Pension (C&P) exams typically happen every two to five years. Based on the results of the exam, your disability rating may increase, decrease, or stay the same.
Once you turn 55, you are typically "protected" and will no longer have to attend an exam to prove that your condition has not changed unless there is reason to suspect fraud. This is sometimes called the 55-year rule.
One noteworthy exception to the 55-year rule is that Veterans with certain types of cancers may need to be reexamined six months after completing treatment. For example, a Veteran with prostate cancer can receive a 100% disability rating for six months after surgery but will need to be reevaluated to obtain a rating for their prostate cancer residuals.
Protected Ratings for Veterans Under 55
In some cases, a Veteran under 55 may still qualify for a protected rating. For example, a Veteran's rating is protected when they have:
- Permanent disabilities such as blindness or a lost limb
- A prescribed scheduled minimum rating for a condition such as degenerative arthritis
- Multiple disabilities where a reduced evaluation for one condition wouldn't affect their combined rating
- Disabilities with no recognized likelihood of improvement
A Veteran may also qualify for a protected rating based on the 10-year rule or 20-year rule:
- 10-year rule. Ratings in place for 10 years or more cannot be eliminated unless there is proof of fraud. However, they can still be reduced if the condition has improved.
- 20-year rule. Ratings in place for 20 years or more cannot be reduced below that level or eliminated unless the Veteran has committed fraud.
Requesting an Increase in Disability Compensation
As time passes, it's common for Veterans to find that their condition worsens or that they've developed additional service-connected disabilities. For example, a Veteran with diabetes caused by Agent Orange exposure may develop kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, cataracts, or high blood pressure. Or, a Veteran with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may develop depression or a sleep disorder.
When a rating has been in place for more than one year, a reevaluation is referred to as a request for reconsideration. An experienced VA disability attorney can guide you through this process to ensure you're receiving the maximum possible compensation.
Do You Need to Speak With an Experienced VA Disability Attorney?
If you are unhappy with the results of your examination or believe you've been incorrectly asked to attend a C&P exam, the office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, is here to help. We represent clients from all over the country, handling VA disability claims cases in Colorado, California, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and all other states.
Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation. We also encourage you to download our VA Benefits Handbook. This free guide provides basic tips to help you understand the process of filing your claim and how a decision to award or deny benefits is made.