The lack of transparency in the math that is employed by the VA when creating a composite disability percentage rating can be frustrating for Claimants, especially when attempting to determine what their target percentages need to be. The reason for much of this confusion centers on disability percentages not being added together, but rather applied sequentially to the residual capacity that the Veteran retains. An additional layer of confusion is added when Bilateral Conditions must be included in the calculations. The law that governs the calculations of these numbers may be found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 38 CFR 4.25, and 38 CFR 4.26.
The Standard Disability Calculation
Intuition might tell us that if a Veteran is 50% disabled from heart conditions, and 50% disabled from a back problem that he or she would be 100% disabled, but this is not the case. When applied sequentially to the Veteran’s remaining capacity, the heart condition would leave the Veteran with 50% remaining capacity to work, and then the back problem would remove 50% of the remaining capacity. As such, the composite disability percentage would be 75%, which would then be rounded up to the nearest “10", rendering a rating of 80%. In the example above, the math works as follows: 100% - Capacity before disability x 50% - Heart Disability _______________________________ =50% - Remaining Capacity x 50% - Back Disability _______________________________ =75% - New Remaining Capacity =80% - Composite Disability Rating (Rounding 75% to the nearest “10")
It is important to note that in calculating capacity, start with the largest disability percentage then follow with the others in descending order, using Bilateral Factor calculations to create a "single" disability. I describe Bilateral Calculations in the paragraphs below.
The impact of Bilateral Conditions, or those affecting both arms, both legs, or skeletal muscles must be combined before proceeding through the analysis above. This is actually favorable to the client since this process results in adding additional compensation percentage points to two individual (but pairable) ailments.
To calculate the Bilateral Factor, combine the individual disability ratings for each individual limb using similar math as above, but without the rounding. Once the combination is performed, then add 10% of the combined value to the calculated combination of the two factors. I simply multiply the combined factor by 1.1 for simplicity. Then round this number to the nearest "1". Once this number is determined, then use the resulting value as a single disability percentage in the calculations described in the first set of calculations above. An example of determining the Bilateral Factor is as follows:
100% - Capacity before disability x 10% - Disability of the Right Thigh _______________________________ =90% - Remaining Capacity x 10% - Disability of the Left Foot _______________________________ =81% - Remaining Capacity Before Bilateral Factor
100%-81% = 19% Disability Caused by Both Conditions x 1.1 = Adds 10% to compensate for Bilateral Disability _______________________________ =20.9% Before Rounding to nearest "1" =21% - Bilateral Disability Factor to be used in calculating overall disability.
In the context of applying for a rating increase or TDIU (Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability) knowing these numbers and the impact of any future shifts is vital to the cases made by Disabled Veterans. Due to the rounding that occurs in the final step of the process, ratings increases or identifying and securing a rating for a new disability may unlock additional health benefits, but will have little or no impact on the overall rating. Knowing what percentage is needed to achieve the next milestone should offer some guidance regarding the information and evidence of the condition's severity that will need to be provided to the VA.
If the math above seems daunting, click this link to use my online Disability and Bilateral Percentage Calculators.
This information is for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. For more information about your particular situation, please contact VA Disability Attorney Thomas C. O’Brien.