Veterans disability ratings can get quite complicated. (When the VA grants an application for service-connected disability compensation, the agency rates the disability according to its Schedule of Rating Disabilities. Nolo’s article, How Does the VA Rate and Pay Veterans Disabilities? explains the rating process in more detail.)
Some injuries have more complex ratings processes; for example, traumatic brain injuries and muscle injuries. Similarly, the rating process for injuries that predated, but were worsened by, military service (called aggravated preexisting injuries) is a bit different than for first-time injuries.
In addition, there are other types of disability compensation that are sometimes available to veterans. These include:
- special monthly compensation for certain severe disabilities (in addition to disability compensation)
- temporary 100% disability ratings, and
- 100% disability ratings based on individual unemployability (as an alternative to disability compensation).
This article will discuss thse special ratings and the differences in how certain disabilities are rated.
How Traumatic Brain Injuries Are Rated
When rating the impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI), the VA evaluates the current impact on the veteran, not the severity of the original injury.
A TBI rating may be assigned for:
- cognitive issues such as poor memory, lack of concentration, and difficulty with analytical thinking
- mental health problems (if diagnosed, emotional problems can be independently evaluated for a higher rating; if undiagnosed, emotional problems can be rated under TBI criteria)
- physical/neurological effects such as pain, poor balance, hearing loss and seizures, and
- subjective symptoms for which there may be no medical evidence such as vision problems, inability to sleep, headaches and fatigue.
Also, the VA has developed some new rules for approving brain injuries.
How Mental Illnesses Are Rated
Psychiatric conditions are rated at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100% depending on the symptoms and limitations of the condition. The VA sets out specific guidelines for each rating percentage, which you can read about in Nolo's article on how the VA rates service-connected mental illnesses.
How Muscle Injuries are Rated
The VA is required to rate a muscle injury on the basis of each muscle function that has been impaired. Under the Schedule for Rating Disabilities, traumatic muscle injuries are evaluated under the musculoskeletal section as one of the following:
- injury due to gunshot or shrapnel wounds
- loss of function and/or feeling in the muscle (nerve damage)
- scars, or
- limited motion or stiffened joints.
If more than one muscle, nerve, or joint function is impacted, a veteran can potentially receive more than one rating for conditions stemming from a single injury. However, complex rules govern when more than one condition resulting from a muscle injury can receive an independent rating. In this case, it can be worthwhile to enlist the help of a veterans disability attorney for assistance.
How Pre-Existing Disabilities are Rated
Disabilities that a veteran had prior to entering military service that are deemed service-connected are rated according to the Schedule of Rating Disabilities. However, these disabilities are not typically rated at the severity level of the actual disability. Rather, they are rated based on how much the military service worsened the condition. If a disability is found to have been 20% disabling at entry into service and an incident in service worsened the disability such that it is now 50% disabling, a 30% rating will be assigned.
Special Monthly Compensation
In addition to disability compensation, veterans can receive an additional monthly benefit, special monthly compensation, for certain severe disabilities. The VA rules are complex, but the types of eligible disabilities include:
- loss of use of hands or feet
- loss of sight
- loss of use of limbs, and
Combinations of the above types of disabilities will result in a higher special monthly compensation rates.
Temporary 100% Disability Ratings
Veterans can be eligible for a temporary 100% disability rating for service-connected disabilities during:
- a period of hospitalization longer than 21 days
- post-surgical recovery
- recovery from a broken bone, or
- unstablized conditions causing severe disabilities; for example, a veteran recovering from a gunshot wound to the head incurred during combat.
100% Disability Ratings Based on Individual Unemployability
Veterans who can't do a significant amount of work may be eligible for a 100% disability rating based on unemployability, even though they could not be rated 100% disabled under the Schedule for Rating Disabilities. The VA calls this Total Disability for Individual Unemployability (TDIU). TDIU takes into account the impact of disabilities on a veteran’s ability to work. This is more subjective than the standard ratings, which are based on the impact of a disability on the average person’s ability to work.
To be awarded Total Disability for Individual Unemployability (TDIU), a veteran must show that he or she is unable to engage in a “substantially gainful occupation." This generally means an occupation with an annual income that is above the poverty rate. This inability to work must be linked to a service-connected disability. Also, the service-connected disability must be rated at 60% or higher, or, if the veteran has more than one disability, at least one of the disabilities must be rated at 40% and the combined rating must be 70% or more.
Veterans can apply for TDIU using VA Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability.
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