VA compensation benefits are generally rated on a schedule between 10 and 100, depending on the disability and degrees of disability. However, in VA world the combination of the ratings is not a simple matter. To most of us, 30 + 20 = 50. in VA world, 30% + 20% = 40%. The reason for the unique combination of ratings according to 38 C.F.R. §4.25 is that, “the consideration of the efficiency of the individual as affected first by the most disabling condition, then by the less disabling condition, then by other less disabling conditions, if any, in the order of severity.” Therefore, if a veteran has one disability, for example PTSD, rated at 30% impairment, and another disability, for example diabetes mellitus type II, rated at 20%, based on the combined ratings table, this veteran would be assigned a rating of 40%.
One can see that if a veteran has several smaller ratings, it can be difficult to reach a 100% rating. However, ratings 10% through 90% net substantially lower benefits than a 100% rating. Currently, a veteran with no dependants who is rated at 100% is $2,769.00. However, a 50% rating is only $797.00 and a 90% rating is $1,661.00. An attorney or advocate reviewing your case should assess whether achieving a 100% schedular rating is likely or possible.
Another way to achieve 100% without the restrictions inherent in the combined ratings table is to argue total disability due to individual unemployability. 38 C.F.R. §4.16 provides that if a veteran has a rating of 60% or higher for one disability, or a combined 70% rating based on at least one disability rated at 40% and the veteran is unemployable due to service connected disabilities, the veteran is entitled to receive compensation at the 100% rate. Even if the veteran does not meet the rating standards, if they are unemployable due to their service connected conditions they may still be eligible for this benefit.
Notice that just getting the proper rating amount is not enough. The service connected disability must also be the reason the veteran is unable to obtain substantial gainful employment. However, the existence of non-service connected disabilities is to be “disregarded” if the percentages for the service-connected disabilities are met and cause the veteran to be unemployable.
It is imperative that the veteran present evidence that will prove the requirements of 38 C.F.R. §4.16 in order to prevail on a claim for total disability based on individual unemployability. Often times, the opinion of a vocational expert is helpful in flushing out these issues. As with all other claims for compensation, the issues of an event in service, current disability, and a nexus between the two must be addressed.
By: Marcia L. Moellring