A common complaint among clients is that the VA took away part of a veteran’s service connected disability compensation benefits when it granted an award. So, while the VA awarded an increased disability rating, the overall compensation did not change, or the disability ratings assigned do not “add up” correctly. It appears that the VA granted more benefits with one hand, but took away all or part of them with the other. But this is not the case, and understanding why involves learning the basics of “VA math.”

Unfortunately simple addition is not a central feature of “VA math.” For example, a veteran may be awarded compensation at the 60% rate for one disability and the 50% rate for another disability. Basic math would tell you that you should have a combined total 110% disability rating. However, the VA does not award that rating. Instead it assigns you an 80% rating, which, at first glance, appears to be a 30% reduction in your rating.

However, a 110% rating is not possible.  Congress only allows VA to award disability ratings from 10% to 100% in 10 percent increments.  A 100 percent rating is the highest possible 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.  

Many veterans have multiple disabilities. Rated independently, 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 combine multiple ratings into a single award. According to § 4.25, the VA compares the effect of the most disabling condition against the veteran’s least disabling condition.

Under this system the VA looks not only at the VA disabled rating but also the non-disabled percentage. For example, if a veteran carries a 60% disability rating, he or she is 40% non-disabled. Therefore this veteran has 40% of the ability to work. If that same veteran also has a 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.

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It may be easier to think of it this way: 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.

But because Congress only authorized disability ratings in 10% increments, VA rounds the final calculation to the nearest 10%. Therefore, VA will award our veteran a 70% disability rating.

The same math applies to those whose combined ratings are above 100%. Keeping the VA formula in mind, the 60% and 50% disability ratings combine to create an 80% disability rating.

“VA math,” therefore, makes it so that every additional disability rating does not necessarily correspond to additional compensation. For another example, say that a veteran with a 80% rating is awarded another 20% rating—the combined figure would stay the same. In this case, the VA takes the 80% rating and factors the 20% additional disability onto that, resulting in an 82% rating, which rounds down to 80%. So, while is seems that the VA ignored the initial reward, it did not.