Veterans Disability Info Blog

Advanced VA Math: Understanding the Bilateral Factor

Our overview in VA Math continues with a topic that’s bound to excite anyone who ever threw an Algebra book out the window. We’re talking about the “Bilateral Factor,” a ratings adjustment you’ll find in your VA Award Letter, if you have a ratable condition affecting both sides of the body. And by “both sides,” we really mean both arms and/or both legs.

The good news is that you can get an additional 10 percent factored into (not added onto) your overall rating, simply by having a ratable condition diagnosed in both arms; or legs. They don’t have to be the same condition and count for the bilateral factor, even if one of those conditions has been rated at 0 percent. Even if you don’t completely grasp the math below, we hope this article impresses upon you the importance of documenting bilateral conditions. If you file a claim, leaving off a service-related condition because it’s not disabling in itself, you could miss the opportunity at a higher overall score.

Rest assured, we understand the frustration many vets have with the way the VA calculates disability ratings, so we’re going to try to make this discussion as simple and straightforward as possible. Now, without further ado, let’s demonstrate with an example.

Let’s take Sgt. Pete, an Afghan conflict vet, who has the following rated conditions:

  • Cervical spine 30%
  • Right knee 10%
  • Left foot 10%

You may recall from our previous blogs on the VA Award Letter, that the standard process is to begin with the higher-rated conditions and move down. If we were to follow that process, Sgt. Pete’s disability rating would come out as follows:

Whole body minus cervical spine: 100% – (100% x 30%) = 100% – 70 = 70 percent

Adjusted body minus right knee: 70% – (70% x 10%) =70% – 7% = 63 percent

Adjusted body minus left foot: 63% – (63% x 10%) = 63% – 6.3% = 56.7 percent

The VA will round down to the next whole number, meaning that Sgt. Pete has 57 percent whole body function, or a 43 percent disability rating. This does not pass the 50 percent threshold for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payment (CRDP), so the VA would not pay that benefit.

Fortunately for Sgt. Pete, the bilateral factor will get him over the hump.

When a vet is claiming a bilateral factor, the VA will begin by getting a combined rating for those conditions, as follows:

Whole body minus right knee: 100% – (100% x 10%) = 100% – 10% = 90 percent

Adjusted body minus left foot: 90% – (90% x 10%) = 70% – 9% = 61 percent

After rounding, Sgt. Pete is 61 percent functional, which means he is 39 percent disabled. Now he gets his 10 percent adjustment due to the bilateral factor.

39% + (10% x 39%) = 39% + 3.9% = 42.9%.

The VA will round this up to the next whole number, giving these conditions a combined rating of 43 percent.

Now we begin the process over, starting with the whole body at 100 percent. We see that even after the adjustment, the cervical spine is rated more highly than the bilateral conditions. So, we’ll begin with that rating of 30 percent, as follows:

  • Whole body minus cervical spine: 100% – (100% x 30%) = 100% – 30% = 70%
  • Adjusted body minus bilateral leg: 70% – (70% x 43%) = 70% – 30.1% = 39.9%

Sgt. Pete is now functional at 39.9 percent, or 60.1 percent disabled. The VA will round that rating down to 60 percent, but that is just enough for Sgt. Pete to qualify for CRDP.

In our example, the bilateral factor made the difference in whether a veteran would receive monthly benefits. And although this example showed two conditions that were roughly equal in severity, there are situations where one condition could be practically nonexistent. Still, the bilateral factor made the vet eligible for benefits.

The bilateral factor is a nuance that many veterans miss. If their doctors don’t know of its significance, bilateral conditions can be left out of medical records, penalizing veterans who are applying for disability benefits. This is another reason why it’s important to show your VA Award Letter to a veterans’ rights attorney if you have any trouble understanding your disability claim.

About the Author

Charlotte M. Sardiña obtained her Juris Doctor from the Pontifical Catholic University in Ponce P.R. and since then has dedicated her career to assisting the disabled community obtain benefits they deserve. She currently serves as the Intake Director at Gang & Associates, where she passionately assists Veterans with their VA Disability Compensation benefits process. Having a family full of Veterans has made her endeavor to assist Veterans even that much stronger.