increase va ratingIf you are a Veteran who has been granted VA benefits for a service-connected disabling condition, you know how VA ratings work. The VA assigns a percentage rating from 0% to 100% in 10% increments based the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities and on the severity of your condition.

But if the VA incorrectly rated your disability or if your condition has gotten worse since you were initially granted your rating, you may be eligible for an increase in your disability rating, which would mean a higher monthly benefit amount. Getting the VA to increase your rating can be a difficult process, but it can be done. Here are your four options for winning a rating increase:

  • File an appeal to increase your VA rating
  • File a new claim for an increased rating
  • File for TDIU, (Total Disability Based On Individual Unemployability)
  • File for secondary service disability

1. File an Appeal to Increase Your VA Rating

If you believe that the VA incorrectly rated your disability too low or that the effective date is incorrect, you can appeal the VA’s decision. You can choose from 3 decision review options and if you aren’t satisfied with the results of the first option you choose, you can try another eligible option. Here are your options:

    • Higher-Level Review,
    • Supplemental Claim,
    • Evidence Docket and Direct Lane Docket and
    • Board of Veterans Appeal.

Keep in mind there is a time limit for filing an appeal to increase your VA rating. You or your attorney must submit  a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) using VA Form 10182 within one year of the date the VA mailed its decision regarding your claim. If you don’t submit within this time limit th VA’s decision becomes final. Our recommendation is to submit your NOD as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the longer it will take to get a decision from the VA.

Select the Higher Level Review option if you have no additional evidence to submit in support of your claim, but you believe that there was an error in the initial decision. The Higher-Level Reviewer will only consider evidence that was in the VA’s possession at the time you opted-in. You or your representative will not be able to add new evidence with a Higher Level Review. To file for a Higher Level Review you or your attorney must submit a completed VA Form 20-0996 online, in person, or by mail. The average amount of time to complete a Higher Level Review is about four to five months.

If you have additional evidence that is new and relevant to support your benefit claim, then you will want to select the Supplemental Claim option. To begin a Supplemental Claim you or your attorney must submit a completed VA Form 20-0995 online, in person, by mail, or to a Veterans Service Officer. The average amount of time to complete a Supplemental Claim is also about four to five months.

There is also an option to appeal to the Board via the evidence docket and direct lane docket. Both options do not give you the option to testify. You simply brief the case. The evidence lane is a lot like supplemental claims with the ability to add evidence within 90 days of the NOD filing. The direct lane is a lot like Higher Level Review.

If you wish to submit evidence for an increased rating and you want to testify in front of Veterans Law Judge, then the Board of Veterans Appeals is your best choice. However, while it can sometimes be helpful to make your case in person and directly answer the judge’s question, this option has a significantly longer wait time than the other options—typically a year or more. 

2. File a New Claim for an Increased Rating

If you believe you deserve increased compensation because your service-connected disability has gotten worse and it has been more than one year since the VA set your last rating decision, you can file a new claim for an increased rating. To submit a claim for increased disability compensation you or your attorney should use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.

3. File for TDIU, or Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability

Under VA regulations, the agency must consider whether your medical condition prevents you from maintaining employment.

Total Disability Individual Unemployability—with the acronym TDIU—is part of the VA’s disability compensation program. If your disabilities prevent you from being able to get and keep a job, TDIU allows you to have your disability rating raised to 100% even though the rating on your service-connected disabilities do not equal 100%. Unemployability is the VA’s way of acknowledging that some Veterans with disability ratings below 100 are unable to work due to their impairments.

Here are some general guidelines for TDIU eligibility:

  • You must be honorably discharged from the military.
  • You must have performed active duty.
  • Your military service must have caused or worsened a physical or mental condition.
  • Your service must have been in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard, or Reservists.

(To better understand TDIU and how to avoid mistakes that may sabotage your chances to obtain the benefits you have rightfully earned, download our free book The Road Map to a 100 percent VA Rating—What Veterans Need to Know About TDIU from our website,

4. File for Secondary Service Disability

Secondary service disability means that a service-connected illness or injury directly caused another illness or injury. For example, diabetes is all-too common among vets. A Veteran may be eligible for compensation for a number of conditions that are judged as secondary to Type 2 diabetes such as diabetic neuropathy, coronary artery disease, hypertension and a list of other conditions. These conditions are all eligible for benefits starting when the disease first occurs. (To be precise, secondary service disability benefits are not a ratings increase but additional compensation.)

Proving secondary service-connected disabilities can be tricky and unfortunately, the VA often denies secondary service-connected disabilities. To win your case for secondary benefits first you must prove that your initial disability was service-connected, that is, directly caused by your military service. To establish this proof you will want to submit evidence of your diagnosis, medical tests, treatments, and any other relevant evidence. Then you will need to provide evidence of nexus—a connection—between your primary and secondary disabilities. Here it is critical that you have testimony or reports from medical experts to back up your claim.

Because filing for disability compensation or an increase in a disability rating can be complicated and sometimes frustrating, it’s important to hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help with your claim. There’s no easy, one-size-fits-all formula for addressing Veterans’ claims. At Cuddigan Law, we examine each case individually, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied. Call or email us for a free evaluation of your situation.

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