Veterans with respiratory conditions, hearing problems, and mental disorders may see some changes to the VA disability rating schedule in the future. On Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced the proposed changes would allow VA to incorporate the most up-to-date medical knowledge to make "more accurate and consistent decisions."
VA uses its rating schedule to determine the level of compensation for service-connected disabilities. VA bases a veteran's rating on the severity of the condition - but judging "severity" can be challenging. Does VA take the veteran's word for it? Do they let the doctor decide how severe a condition is?
Most service-connected health conditions have their own criteria for determining severity. For example, a veteran may receive a 100% disability rating for PTSD if their doctor, friends and family, and medical experts agree that the veteran has "total occupational and social impairment." There is no way they could maintain gainful employment, so they deserve full compensation.
Currently, VA says it is in the process of updating the disability rating schedule for all body systems "to reflect modern evaluative criteria based on advancements in medical terminology, diagnostics, and treatment."
Basically, VA is changing the way it determines the severity of conditions, and it's starting with respiratory, mental, and hearing conditions.
Veterans Affected by Proposed Disability Rating Changes
Veterans who currently receive benefits for service-connected hearing, respiratory, or mental conditions won't be affected by the update, but future applicants will.
Veterans who will be affected by the update include veterans applying for benefits or increased compensation after the change is final.
For veterans who currently receive benefits for respiratory, hearing, or mental conditions, VA says if their condition changes, VA will use the last rating schedule it used for that veteran to assign their new rating.
Proposed Updates to VA Rating Schedule
Various changes to the disability rating schedules have been proposed, including:
- Evaluating mental disabilities according to impact on the veteran's cognition and ability to maintain relationships, complete tasks, navigate the environment, perform daily activities, and perform hygiene needs.
- Eliminating the requirement for "total occupational and social impairment" to attain a 100% rating for service-connected mental health conditions – replacing it with a 10% and up rating system.
- Considering underlying diseases that may be causing tinnitus (ringing in the ears) instead of evaluating tinnitus as its own disability.
- Evaluating sleep apnea disability levels based on response to treatment
For example, rather than offering a high rating for severe sleep apnea based on symptoms alone, VA proposes it should consider how a veteran's sleep apnea symptoms respond to CPAP therapy or other treatments.
If the CPAP machine works for the veteran, that veteran would get a 0% rating – no compensation. If the CPAP machine helps but doesn't fix the problem, the veteran may receive a 30% or 70% rating or whatever VA deems appropriate.
Somewhat similar to, if you broke your leg during service, but you have crutches, you are just fine and don't need VA's help.
VA says: "This will bring the rating criteria for sleep apnea more closely in line with the stated purpose of the rating schedule, which is to provide evaluations based upon average impairment of earning capacity."
For veterans suffering from tinnitus, under the proposed changes, the VA would seek to discover the underlying health condition causing the tinnitus, then offer service connection for that underlying condition and secondary-service connection for the resulting tinnitus (if it is associated with that underlying condition in the scientific literature).
So if you have debilitating tinnitus and cannot pinpoint some underlying condition that is causing it, you're out of luck.
For mental health conditions, VA says it "plans to use new evaluation criteria to more accurately capture the different domains of impairment caused by mental disabilities and provide more adequate compensation for financial losses experienced by veterans with service-connected mental disorders."
Instead of rating a veteran's mental disorder severity by the type and number of symptoms they experience, the update would evaluate mental disorder severity by how severely the symptoms impact the veteran's life – ability to think, get around, socialize, complete tasks, and take care of themselves.
For respiratory problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, VA says the proposed changes would lower requirements for 100% ratings by incorporating modern medical knowledge demonstrating the effect of these conditions on the ability to work.
How To Comment on VA's Proposed Updates
Veterans and the public have 60 days – until April 16, 2022 – to provide comments and opinions regarding the proposed updates. VA will consider the comments and address them in a later final rule.
Submit your comments on proposed changes to ear, nose, throat, and respiratory condition VA ratings schedule here.
Submit your comments on proposed changes to mental condition VA ratings schedule here.
Remember, you can still secure VA disability benefits and increased ratings despite the proposed updates with the help of qualified medical expert opinion and a compelling, detailed medical nexus letter.
Our veterans disability lawyers regularly secure VA disability compensation and increased ratings for veterans' initial claims and appeals using compelling scientific literature and medical expert opinion.
If you have questions about how the proposed rule may affect your VA benefits, or how you can ensure maximum VA compensation despite the proposed changes, we can help. Contact us today at 888.878.9350 or Use This Online Form.