Applying for a VA Disability Increase

Category: Veterans Disability Law

Article by Daniel J. Tuley

Applying for a VA Disability Increase

As we age, our bodies naturally encounter more problems, which can make living our daily lives more difficult. What might only cause minor issues when you’re young and healthy can become much more debilitating over time. Especially for disabilities that do not heal and which typically get worse.

If you are receiving monthly benefits for a service-connected disability, you may be eligible to file for a VA disability increase to compensate for that disability getting worse.

What Is a VA Disability Rating?

Before you can increase your VA disability rating, you must receive an initial rating from VA. If your claim for service-connected disability benefits is accepted, your rating will be a part of the decision letter from your Decision Review Officer (DRO). It comes as a percentage between 0-100 in increments of 10.

The more severe the injury and the more of an impact it has on your life, the higher your rating will be. 100% VA ratings award veterans with the maximum possible compensation, while 0% ratings do not offer any benefits.

How Are VA Disability Ratings Assigned?

The VA has specific rating criteria which it uses to quantify service-connected conditions. The Schedule of Ratings consists of symptoms with corresponding values for each eligible condition. Depending on your symptoms and your condition, it may be difficult to get an increase in your VA disability rating if your initial rating matches the criteria.

Typically, veterans will look for a VA compensation increase if they believe their disability and symptoms were not properly assessed and therefore do not match the assigned rating.

The other common reason for seeking a change is a worsening of symptoms. If a condition gets worse over time, the initial disability rating may no longer offer enough compensation for the severity of the issue.

Why Would I Want a Higher VA Rating?

A higher disability rating results in more money for the veteran. For individuals who are injured or disabled as a result of their military service, this can become a significant portion of their income. If your disability gets worse as you get older but you still make the same amount of money, your expenses may eventually begin to overtake your income.

Receiving a higher VA rating will in turn increase your monthly benefits to help further cover expenses and compensate for the amount of work you are no longer able to perform.

How to Increase VA Disability Rating

While there are some situations in which VA will raise your disability rating, you can also apply for a higher disability rating on your own. This can be done by appealing your rating decision, filing a brand new claim, applying for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU), or making secondary service claims.

Whichever option you choose, make sure you operate within VA’s deadlines to maximize compensation and minimize delays. You may want to contact a VA disability attorney for assistance raising your VA rating.

Ways to Appeal VA Disability Rating

After you file a VA disability claim, you will receive either a denial or a rating decision that approves your claim. If your claim is granted, the rating decision will have a percent disability rating and an effective date.

The effective date—which represents the time from which you are to be paid benefits—and the disability rating—which determines how much you are to be paid for your disability—are significant factors in deciding the amount of money you will ultimately receive.

If you disagree with either of these two factors, you have exactly one year from the date of receiving the decision to file a VA disability claim appeal. If the decision falls under the legacy appeals system, you will be required to file a Notice of Disagreement for an increased rating.

If the decision falls under the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA), however, you have three separate options to choose from. If you have yet to file your claim or filed it recently, you will need to follow the Higher-Level Review, Supplemental Claim, or Notice of Disagreement lane under AMA.

Higher-Level Review

The VA Higher-Level Review lane simply takes the same information that you already submitted and resubmits it to a senior reviewer. When you initially file a claim, your VA reviewer will look at all the evidence and assign what they believe to be the correct rating. In some cases, the initial reviewer will deny the claim because it does not seem sufficient.

When VA is busy with a high volume of claims, they are more likely to push disability claim decisions down to more inexperienced adjudicators. While these adjudicators are likely well-versed in disability law, they are still capable of missing key details in a claim.

For example, a veteran adjudicator might notice if a veteran is eligible for presumptive service connection, or if there is specific legislation that would apply to a given situation that would change the outcome of a decision.

When submitting a Higher-Level Review appeal, you cannot add any new evidence that wasn’t submitted with the original claim.

Supplemental Claim

If your claim is denied for insufficient evidence and you would like to turn additional documents into VA, you will want to opt for the Supplemental Claim lane. A Supplemental Claim is filed to the same adjudicator as the initial claim, but the applicant can include new evidence which, if considered, would change the outcome of a decision. This could include medical records or lay statements proving the full scope of your condition that were, for whatever reason, not included in the first claim.

When deciding between a Higher-Level Review or Supplemental Claim, it’s usually good to identify where you believe the mistake was made. If you think your adjudicator made a mistake when determining your rating decision, Higher Level Review will help. If you didn’t receive compensation because you didn’t submit enough evidence, file a Supplemental Claim. Both of these options are available to streamline the veteran appeal process.

Notice of Disagreement (BVA Appeal)

The third appeals lane takes the longest and is typically for the most complex cases. A VA Notice of Disagreement (NOD) sends your case appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals for review. This allows you to skip the second level of review from your rating officer or even appeal their decision if it again comes back unfavorable.

In these cases, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals offers three more lanes for veterans to choose from.

  • Direct docket: This option is for veterans that don’t want a hearing with a Veterans Law Judge and don’t want to submit evidence. This is the fastest BVA review option with a goal of one year for returning decisions. These go quickly because the Board only looks at the evidence that was already in the claim file.
  • Evidence docket: The evidence docket doesn’t require a hearing, but it does allow the veteran to submit more evidence for their case. Veterans must submit the new documents within 90 days of issuing their NOD.
  • Hearing docket: This option involves scheduling a meeting with a Veterans Law Judge. This can be a videoconference or a hearing at the Board in D.C. Veterans in the legacy appeals system still have the option to have a Travel Board hearing.

File a Claim for a VA Rating Increase

If you want to file a NOD for your VA rating decision, you must do so within one year. So what if your disability gets worse after that one-year period expires? If you believe the initial rating is no longer sufficient but it’s too late to file an appeal, you might want to look into filing a brand new claim to get an increased rating.

This allows you to submit any new information which shows that your disability has worsened. As long as the evidence is indeed new and pertains to the worsening of your disability, VA will respond with a rating decision the same as they did to the initial claim.

An example of “new and relevant” material is an opinion or statement from a medical provider that details how your service-connected condition has gotten worse over time.

Veterans who submit claims for increased compensation normally use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. These veterans will also usually be required to attend a new Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam for VA disability reevaluation.

Filing for a TDIU Increase in Compensation

One of the best ways to get 100% VA disability compensation is through TDIU, or total disability based on individual unemployability. This benefit awards veterans who cannot work the maximum possible compensation, even if their rating does not actually reach 100%.

TDIU is awarded to veterans who cannot receive or keep employment that is “substantially gainful.” This means the veteran is unable to work a job that provides an income above the current poverty threshold. There are certain jobs a veteran can have that do not qualify as substantially gainful employment, such as a family business or part-time work with additional accommodations.

A veteran will be eligible for TDIU benefits if they cannot work and they meet one of the following schedular requirements:

  • They have a single service-connected disability rated at least 60%
  • They have at least two service-connected disabilities, one being rated at least 40% and the total combined rating being at least 70%

Veterans can also apply for extra-schedular TDIU if they do not meet the above requirements. Extra-schedular TDIU is awarded to veterans who can prove that the current disability rating schedule is incapable of accurately describing their symptoms or functional limitations.

Secondary Service Connection for a Higher Combined Rating

Another way to increase your VA rating is to file a new claim for a different condition that developed or worsened due to your first condition—this is also called a secondary claim. While this won’t technically result in an increased initial rating, it will increase your total combined rating and provide you with more compensation.

Whether it’s caused by the primary disability or treatment of the primary disability, a new condition that develops as a result of your initial condition is called a secondary service-connected disability. These disabilities are often ignored because they feel like symptoms, but they can be considered their own disability and increase your rating.

For example, if you have a service-connected hip injury that causes leg problems, you can claim disability for those leg problems on a secondary basis. If you take pain medicine for your hip injury which leads to mental issues, you can file a claim for those mental issues on a secondary basis. These secondary service-connected disabilities will each have their own rating and ultimately serve to increase your disability compensation.

Can VA Decrease My VA Disability Rating?

When a DRO reviews your disability rating decision, they are not only going to look at the specific evidence you added. Your claim will also be reviewed in its entirety by the adjudicator. If VA decides that they originally gave you too high of a rating, they are allowed to decrease it.

Make sure you understand the value of your disability before attempting to get an increased rating. VA rarely decreases ratings unless they find a mistake in the initial claim decision that would’ve changed the outcome had it been correct.

Do your research, talk to an experienced attorney, and check to see what your chances of success are before moving forward. You will need to make a strong case if you hope to increase your rating and benefits.

How Tuley Law Office Can Help

Dealing with a disability can be extremely difficult, especially if you’re not getting the amount of money you deserve.

Fill out the contact form on our website to reach a Tuley Law Office disability lawyer and begin your journey to proper compensation.

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