Here at the Leak Veteran Services, we have veterans ask us all the time: How does the VA calculate my disability rating? You may have heard the term “VA math” before. The person using the term is usually expressing confusion or frustration with the weird way the VA rates disability. Here’s an example. John, who saw combat in the first Gulf War, has a 60% rating for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a 30% rating for a back injury, a 10% rating for the left knee disability, and another 10% rating for hearing loss. If you add up all these ratings you get 110%. So how is that John ends up with an 80% rating? Let’s find out.
VA Math, Explained
The first thing you need to know about VA math is that the highest disability rating you can get is 100%. The VA uses a concept called the “Whole Person Theory” to determine a veteran’s disability rating. This method ensures that a disability rating can never exceed 100, since a person can’t be more than 100% able-bodied or disabled. There’s nothing sneaky about this, but it does makes thing more complicated when you have multiple service-connected disabilities.
Using the Combined Rating Table to Calculate Your VA Disability Rating
For all the confusion around VA math, determining your disability rating using the Combined Rating Table (also known as CFR 4.25) is actually pretty straightforward. We’ve reproduced the table in full at the bottom of this post for your reference. To use the rating table, you need to start with the highest disability percentage, and from there arrange them in order of severity, highest to lowest. Find the highest disability in the left column and the next highest disability in the top row. The number where the column and row meet will represent the combined value of both disabilities. So, returning to the example of John, we find the number at the intersection of John’s 60% PTSD rating and his 30% disabling back injury, which is 72%.
Next, we use this combined value of 72% for the left column, and then find the next highest disability on the top row, which is John’s 10% left knee. The number at the intersection of 72% and 10% is 75%.
The first combined value and the next highest disability gives us a new total %
Repeating the same process once more, we use 75% for the left column and find the 10% for hearing loss in the top row, giving us 78%. The last step is to round up or down to the nearest 10. That’s how the VA arrived at that 80% rating for John’s combined disabilities. (A combined rating of 74% would be rounded down to 70%. You round down on 4 and below, up on 5 and above.)
It’s very important to make sure your disability benefits are being calculated correctly, because the higher your combined rating, the higher your monthly compensation. Combined ratings are also important in determining if you meet the requirements for a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (TDIU).
Related Resource: How Can I Get a 100% VA Disability Rating for PTSD?
If you have a 30% to 100% disability rating and you have dependents, including children and dependent parents, your compensation rate goes up. Returning to John’s example, his 80% disability rating would get him $1,444 (effective December 1, 2020) if he was not married and did not have any dependents. But since he is married and has a dependent child, he receives $1,922. At the 80% disability rating each additional child under 18 adds an additional $69 a month. If his spouse was receiving Aid and Attendance to help out with the caretaking, they would receive an additional $129. It’s important to let the VA know of any changes to your marital status or dependents. If a child turns 18 and moves out of of the home this could impact the amount of benefits you receive. (Another caveat: if your children are over 18 and were found to be permanently unable to support themselves before they turned 18, or are in college, you may still be eligible to receive some compensation.) For up-to-date compensation rates and more details, consult the VA.gov page on 2021 Veterans disability compensation rates.
How Special Monthly Compensation Can Supplement Your VA Disability Rating
We haven’t talked about Special Monthly Compensation yet. For veterans with severe disabilities, SMC supplements or replaces your monthly disability rating altogether. So if your disability qualified you for SMC-K, you will receive an additional $111 monthly payment. If you qualify for SMC-L through SMC-S, the Special Monthly Compensation rate will replace your regular payment. Don’t worry, the new SMC amount will be a higher amount than what you were previously receiving. To learn more about eligibility, have a look at our extensive guide to Special Monthly Compensation.
Need a little more help understanding VA Math and your disability rating? The VA-accredited claims agents at the Leak Veteran Services have helped countless veterans across the United States navigate the claims process and get the benefits they deserve. To schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 1-888-573-7838, or fill out this quick form to get started. We look forward to learning about your unique situation and helping out in any way we can.
Appendix 1: Combined Ratings Table
note: 10 combined with 10 is 19