If you’ve been approved for service-connected disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the agency will assign a disability rating that specifies the seriousness of your condition. You can be given a rating of 0 to 100 percent, and this percentage is associated with a certain monetary amount you’ll receive for the disability. Even if you’re assigned a 0 percent rating, the VA still acknowledges that the service-connected condition exists, but it doesn’t impact your ability to hold a job or function on a daily basis. Additionally, a 0 percent can increase your healthcare eligibility, and if your condition worsens in the future, you can file to increase your rating instead of starting the application process over. To receive VA benefits, you don’t have to be completely disabled; however, your condition must have a 10 percent rating to receive financial compensation.
Making the Case for a Rating Increase
There may come a point after you’ve received VA benefits for a period of time that your disability begins to worsen. You may experience greater pain, suffer broader or more challenging symptoms, or find that your day-to-day functioning has decreased. You may even find that it’s getting harder to work and sustain gainful employment. If this happens, you may feel that the percentage rating you were assigned when your claim was first approved is no longer high enough to represent the deterioration and regression in your health due to your disability. Ultimately, you may want to ask the VA for a rating increase.
The process for making this request isn’t difficult. However, the outcome of this request may not be exactly what you expect or intend. It’s possible that making a request for this change can actually lower your disability rating. Thus, it’s helpful to hire a lawyer who can explain why a request for an increase can mean a higher rating without an increase in financial compensation and why it can ultimately decrease your percentage rating.
Why Your Rating and Benefits Could Decrease
Before you ask for an increase in your VA rating, be sure you’re making the request strictly because you believe your disability has become worse. You shouldn’t request an increase if:
- You need more money to keep up with the cost of living
- You have additional financial responsibilities
- You are suffering sudden financial hardships
The VA won’t award an increase for these reasons. But if you believe your condition has truly deteriorated, you can complete and file a form 21-526b, Veteran's Supplemental Claim for Compensation or a form 21-526EZ to the VA Regional Office (VARO) stating why you believe the increase is proper and appropriate along with medical evidence that supports the worsening state of your disability.
It seems logical that if you’re awarded a higher disability rating, you will receive a larger monthly check from the VA. However, the process doesn’t always work that way. It’s possible that a small increase added to your rating will have little impact on the amount of your compensation. For example, if your rating is already at 60 percent, an increase of 10 percent may not impact the bottom line. The VA uses complicated formulas and combined ratings tables to decide the percentage. Thus, an attorney experienced in VA disability benefits can help determine if you’re likely to receive an increased rating and an increase in financial compensation.
When the VA receives your claim, the agency will review your entire file. This means your initial rating will be re-evaluated and all of your medical records scrutinized. This can have a positive or a negative outcome. The VA may actually decrease your rating based on the new medical evidence you provide about your condition. If they don’t see deterioration and, instead, see improvement in your current disability, the VA may reduce your benefits.
Here’s How it Works
At any time, the VA can re-examine your claim, and the agency can reduce or terminate your benefits under some specific circumstances. Most often, however, the VA won’t do this before and until you appear for a reexamination. When you request an increase in your VA disability rating, you are in effect opening up your claim for re-evaluation. In general, here are some basic guidelines the VA uses when determining changes in your benefits:
- If you’ve had your service-connected disability rating for over five years, the VA has to prove that your illness or disease has improved in a consistent way before reducing or terminating your rating.
- If you’ve had your disability for 10 years or more, the VA will not likely terminate your benefits unless the agency can prove that you’ve been fraudulent in your claim. It can, however, reduce your benefits.
- If you’ve had your disability for 20 years, the VA won’t reduce your rating below the lowest rating you’ve received in those 20 years.
To reduce your disability rating, the VA must have specific evidence that your condition has improved. The responsibility of proof is on the VA. However, it’s important to be diligent in protecting your rating. It’s important never to miss a reexamination appointment because the VA can reduce or terminate your rating without warning because of this.
We Can Help
When your service-connected disability has worsened and you want to request a rating increase, contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We can help you with your request to ensure you get the fairest possible rating. Call us to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation.