pyramidingAs a veteran, you have the right to file for disability compensation for multiple service-connected impairments. Each impairment will be rated separately and the ratings combined which can increase the amount of your monthly compensation. (But keep in mind that the ratings are combined, not just added together. For more see our video: “What is VA Math?)  

If you are filing a claim for multiple disabilities you need to know about the VA’s rule against pyramiding. Pyramiding is the VA term for rating the same disability or same symptom more than once (even if the cause of the symptom comes from two or more different disabilities). By federal law pyramiding in VA disability claims is prohibited. The VA’s objective here is to avoid overcompensating a veteran.

On the surface the prohibition against pyramiding seems simple and obvious, but in practice it can be confusing and, at times, overwhelming. Disabilities can manifest — that is display symptoms — in unusual ways. The VA uses the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) which lists the common symptoms for each specific disability or condition which is eligible for disability compensation. But a veteran’s symptoms may not always line up with the set of symptoms in the VASRD. Or in other instances the veteran might experience the same, or overlapping, symptoms as a result of two separate conditions. For certain types of multiple impairments, like respiratory diseases or mental health conditions for example, symptoms frequently overlap.

Examples of Pyramiding

Because this is a complex area of VA law, let’s look at a couple of examples to help clarify what constitutes pyramiding. A veteran who is coping with PTSD may be suffering from depression and anxiety. Although these are two separate mental health issues, the VA will consider these to have a common cause and issue one rating for this mental health condition. Let’s consider a veteran who has been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Although they are separate conditions, because they both affect the same body part (the digestive system) and present similar symptoms, the VA will only issue one rating; issuing two ratings would violate the prohibition against pyramiding.

(Even if the VA only issues one rating, by regulation the VA must apply a rating criterion that is most favorable — typically higher — to the veteran applying for disability benefits.)

When the VA Gets Pyramiding Wrong

In their zeal to keep from overcompensating disabled veterans the VA has a tendency to over apply this rule. As a veteran who served their country, you are entitled to a separate disability evaluation when an illness or injury results in two different disabilities. As long as you’re your symptoms do not overlap each other, the rule against pyramiding is not violated.

How an Accredited VA Attorney Can Help You

The key to getting a better rating when the VA applies the rule against pyramiding is for your attorney to present a case demonstrating that your conditions do not impact the same body system, and if they do, then they do not affect it in the same way.

Filing for VA disability benefits for multiple impairments can be complex, but you don’t have to take on the VA by yourself. At Cuddigan Law we know what it takes to get you the maximum benefits you deserve. Call us at 402.933.5405  or email our VA Disability Attorneys today for a free evaluation of your case.




Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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