VA Disability Ratings, or, Why can’t the VA add?

When we talk about VA Disability Compensation benefits, we inevitably end up talking about disability ratings, aka VA ratings. So what are disability ratings? In short, your disability rating is the VA’s way of saying exactly how disabled you are, and thus, to what monthly benefit amount you are entitled. This seems easy enough, but it gets complicated the more disabilities you have.

What is a disability rating?

A disability rating reflects the average impact your disability has on your ability to work. The ratings are assigned in 10% increments from 0-100%. In assigning ratings, the VA* follows their Schedule of Rating Disabilities, (VARSD). The VARSD contains categories of disabilities broken down into medical issues, diagnoses, and symptoms. In turn, the symptoms are rated mild, moderate, moderately severe, or severe. Each level of severity is assigned a disability rating.

The disability rating is critical because it determines your monthly benefit amount. A veteran with a 10% disability rating and no dependents will receive $136.24/month, whereas that same veteran with an 80% disability rating will receive $1,587.25/month. Veterans with dependents and special needs will receive increased VA compensation rates. See the VA disability pay chart here.

What if I have more than one disability?

The VA uses the Combined Ratings Table to determine your combined disability rating. For two disabilities, the table is fairly easy to use. Find your higher disability rating in the left column, then your lower rating in the top row. You then find where those grids intersect to find your total disability rating. If that number is not a factor of 10, you will round up or down to the nearest factor of 10.

Ex: If your combined rating from the table is 51-54, your combined rating would be rounded down to 50%.

However, the table gets more complicated when you have more than two ratings, so let’s use an example to help explain.

Sgt. Jones has three disabilities: 1) 20% rating for hearing loss; 2) 60% rating for an injured right knee; and 3) 40% rating for an injured back. To find his combined disability rating:

 1. Rank the disabilities highest to lowest.

⇒ 60%, 40%, 20%

2. Plug the highest two ratings into the Combined Ratings Table.

⇒ 60% will be in the left column, 40% will be in the top row.

⇒ The combined rating is 76%.

3. Plug the combined rating from step #2 (76%), and the remaining rating (20%) into the table.

⇒ 76% will be in the left column, 20% will be in the top row.

⇒ The combined rating is 81%.

4. Round the final combined rating from step #3 (81%).

⇒ 81% is rounded down to 80%.

Sgt. Jones’ combined disability rating is 80%. To compare, if we had used simple addition, Sgt. Jones’ combined rating would be 120%.

To make it easier, you can use this VA Disability Calculator. However, I did not create this calculator and do not guarantee its accuracy.

There are other issues relating to disability ratings, such as increased ratings, bilateral disability ratings, and disabilities that aren’t listed in the VARSD. For now, however, this post explains the basics of the VA disability rating system, and acts as a good foundation from which to explore the more specialized issues in later posts.

Are there any specific issues you would like to see me discuss? If so, comment below and I’ll do my best to accommodate.


*VA is short for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Author: Kathryn L. Blevins, Esq.

Attorney. Small business owner. Military family. I am the owner and attorney at Blevins Law, LLC. My firm focuses on Social Security disability claims (SSI and SSDI), Veterans' Disability Compensation, Advance Medical Directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. I also assist veterans assessing other types of VA benefits they may be eligible for. I am licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and am a VA Accredited Attorney. I am the proud wife of an Army veteran, and the proud mother of two amazing children and three rescued fur children.

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