Veterans Disability: What Happens If My Disability Worsens Over Time?

Once the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determines that you have a service-connected disability, you’re assigned a disability rating that determines the amount of compensation you receive.

But what happens if your condition worsened and your health has deteriorated?

Below, the veterans disability lawyer at The Law Offices of Michael Hartup discusses how your disability rating works and what options you may have for increasing your rating and compensation.

Need help applying for a veterans disability rate increase in Tennessee? Call attorney Michael Hartup at (731) 424-5559.

What Is a VA Disability Rating?

The VA assigns you a disability rating from 0 to 100 based on the severity of your disability. The rating represents how much your disability decreases your overall health and ability to function. Your disability rating helps determine your disability compensation rate, as well as your eligibility for other benefits such as life insurance or education benefits.

For example, a 0 percent rating means that the VA acknowledges that your disability exists, but it doesn’t affect your ability to function or work. On the other hand, a disability rating of 40 percent means your disability does affect your health and day-to-day function, but not as much as a rating of 80 percent would. Ratings of at least 10 percent entitle you to financial compensation. 

How Does the VA Assign Disability Ratings?

There are a number of factors the VA uses to assign disability ratings. Medical reports and test results, the results of a VA claim exam (if the VA requires you to take it), and information from other sources decide your rating. 

If you have more than one qualifying disability, the VA uses a formula to determine your combined disability rating. Each disability is given an individual rating, which is then calculated into a total rating so that it doesn’t exceed 100 percent. The VA uses a method called “whole person theory,” since you cannot be more than 100 percent able-bodied.

Once you are assigned a disability rating, what do you do when your disability begins to noticeably worsen? You may experience greater pain, or you may find that your ability to function has decreased.

When this happens, you may feel that your initial disability rating no longer applies, and your condition deserves higher compensation. If this happens, you can ask the VA to increase your rating. 

How to Apply for a Rating Increase

There are a couple of different paths you can take when applying for a disability rating increase and, in turn, an increase in disability benefits. You can file an appeal after receiving your decision notice, or you can file a claim for increased disability compensation.

Filing an Appeal

After you get your initial disability rating from the VA in the form of a decision notice, you can file an appeal within one year of receiving it if you disagree with the rating.

You’ll begin by filing what’s called a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) which starts the appeals process. After you’ve sent evidence and specific forms to the VA, your appeal is reviewed by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The board will then decide, possibly after an optional hearing with a veterans law judge.

If you don’t agree with the outcome of the appeal, you can further appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. You’ll need a VA-accredited attorney to represent you in this further appeal.

Filing a claim

If a year has passed and you can no longer file an appeal, you can still file a claim for increased disability compensation. You’ll provide evidence to support your claim that your compensation should be increased, using medical records and supporting statements from other relevant parties. The VA will review your application and send you a new notice in the mail with their decision.

If you don’t agree with the claim decision, you have two options, depending on the date on your decision letter. You can either file an appeal as described in the previous option, or you can continue your case by filing a Supplemental Claim, requesting a Higher-Level Review, or requesting a Board Appeal.

Work With a Veterans Disability Attorney

While filing an appeal or filing a claim does not require a disability attorney, the process can be confusing, especially if you don’t receive the outcome you need. Since second appeals often require new evidence for boards or courts to make their decision, a veterans disability attorney can help you gather compelling evidence to support your case. 

An experienced veterans disability attorney can help you navigate applications, claims, and appeals so you have a better chance of receiving the increased compensation that you need.

If you’re seeking veterans disability compensation in Tennessee, call the Law Offices of Michael Hartup at 731-424-5559 for help. You can also fill out our contact form on our website, or follow our Facebook page for veterans disability updates, news, and more.