As a military service veteran with a service-connected disability, or a service-connected condition, you are entitled to the maximum amount of monthly disability benefits that you qualify for, up to a 100 percent or total disability rating.
You have multiple ways to qualify for a 100 percent disability rating. We will cover each of them below.
The most direct and easiest way to get 100 VA disability is to have one service-connected disability that is 100 percent disabling.
Examples of injuries that can qualify you for a 100 percent disability rating by themselves include the total loss of use of both feet, or of both hands, or of one hand and one foot.
Total loss of eyesight is also a 100 percent disability by itself.
Another way to reach a 100 percent VA disability rating is when you have multiple disabilities that, taken together, add up to a 100 percent disability.
This happens more commonly than you might think: Gulf War disabled veterans, for example, have an average of eight compensable disabilities.
If you have multiple service-connected disabilities, you may be tempted to combine them by simply adding them up into a sum.
Here, however, we must explain how the VA calculates combined disability ratings, a complex process that some call “VA Math.”
The first thing to understand about “VA Math” is that it is subject to rules that give results different from ordinary math.
For example, if you have two disabilities, each rated by the VA at 50 percent, adding these into a combined disability rating does not add up to 100 percent, but 80 percent.
How does this happen?
To start with, the VA considers you to be 100 percent able-bodied before it applies your disability ratings. If you have two or more disabilities, you must first rank them in order of their disability rating, from highest to lowest.
Here is an example: If you have two disabilities, with a 50 percent rating each, the first disability you choose (you do not need to rank them here) will bring you down to being 50 percent able-bodied.
The next 50 percent disability rating, though, only takes 50 percent off of your remaining 50 percent able-bodied status, or 25 percent. Thus combined, your two disabilities now add up to 75 percent.
But we are not done yet.
Because the VA calculates disability ratings in 10 percent increments, it rounds numbers to the nearest 10 percent figure. In this case, your combined 75 percent VA disability rating rounds up to 80 percent.
An important thing to remember here is that to qualify for 100 percent combined disability, you only need to reach a 95 percent combined rating before rounding to the nearest 10 percent, which is 100 percent.
This is because, as we will see below, each additional lesser disability you add affects the VA Math calculation a little less.
If you have three or more disabilities, either primarily service-connected (directly connected with your service) or secondarily connected (the disability is not itself primarily service-connected, but arises from another disability that is), then you continue to add the next disability to the combined disability rating of the ones before it until you have added all your disabilities.
This is your ultimate combined disability rating.
For example, let’s assume that you have 3 disabilities: the two 50 percent disabilities we have discussed to this point, and a third disability with a 30 percent rating. We have already seen how the two 50 percent ratings combine to 75 percent before rounding to 80 percent.
The third, 30 percent rating would increase your disability rating to 83 percent before rounding, but you would round down in this case to 80 percent—meaning, in this case, the third disability would make no difference in your combined rating which stays at 80 percent.
To see how much you may be compensated for your VA disabilities, check out our VA Disability Calculator to do all of this VA math for you.
Disabilities affecting paired limbs—for example, if you have compensable disabilities (that is, a disability rating of at least 10 percent) to both arms or both legs—can qualify you for an additional benefit booster known as the “Bilateral Factor.”
This will add a 10 percent increase in your combined bilateral disabilities.
The Bilateral Factor bends the ordinary VA Math rules a little.
Unlike other combined disability ratings in which you rank the individual disabilities from highest to lowest disability rating, if you have a Bilateral Factor combination you calculate the bilateral disabilities first even if another disability rating would ordinarily take precedence.
For example, let’s say that you have three disabilities: a 40 percent disability to your left arm, a 30 percent disability to your right knee, and a 10 percent disability to your left foot.
Without the Bilateral Factor, this same combination of disabilities would lead to a combined disability rating of 62 percent, rounded down to 60 percent. So the Bilateral Factor in this example increases your combined rating by 10 percent.
But as we will see below, this is not all the Bilateral Factor might do for you. Remember that 70 percent combined disability rating that the Bilateral Factor gave you in this example. It will be significant later.
As you can see above, qualifying for a 100 percent combined VA disability rating by adding up multiple disabilities can be frustrating, because each additional individual disability rating will be less than the one before it and will have less impact on the final rating calculation.
The VA has an added wrinkle to its combined disability rating calculations, though, which is the Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefit, or TDIU.
The advantage of the TDIU benefit is that even if your combined VA disability rating is less than 100 percent, if you qualify for it then TDIU will pay you the same VA disability monthly benefit amount as though you are 100 percent disabled.
You can qualify for the TDIU benefit in one of two ways:
Remember the Bilateral Factor example above, which increased what would ordinarily be a 60 percent combined disability rating into 70 percent?
You have an arm injury with a 40 percent disability rating, and a combined 70 percent rating. If this prevented you from holding substantially gainful employment, this would qualify you for total disability under TDIU when conventional.
The VA defines substantially gainful employment as “A steady job that supports you financially.” Another way the VA determines whether you are eligible for TDIU is if you are “unable to secure and follow substantially gainful employment.”
Although the VA has not defined what substantially gainful employment is, or what it means to be unable to secure and follow it, courts have stepped in to offer their own interpretations of what these terms mean.
A rule of thumb is that if you are only able to work at odd jobs or intermittently because of your disability, and these jobs cannot earn you an income more than the federal poverty level, then these do not count as substantially gainful employment.
Qualifying for TDIU disability benefits can require you to provide supporting evidence that you cannot secure or hold substantially gainful employment. This can include undergoing a vocational assessment.
If you qualify for a 100 percent disability rating, based on a single disability or a combination of them, then you can work and keep your total disability benefits.
If you are receiving 100 percent disability because of TDIU eligibility, though, and your employment compensation is greater than the federal poverty level, there is a chance that the VA may rescind your TDIU eligibility.
In some cases, when you have just finished your military service and have a disability, then depending on the severity of that disability you can qualify for VA temporary disability benefits that can be either 50 percent or 100 percent.
To be eligible for temporary disability benefits, you must have all of the following:
The total amount of monthly disability compensation you can receive for 100 percent or total disability depends in part on whether you have a spouse and on how many dependents you have.
As of December 1, 2022, these are the 100 percent VA disability rates for individual veterans and veterans with spouses and dependents:
If you have more than one dependent child, then for each additional child under 18 years of age you add $100.34 to the appropriate benefit amount above. Children older than 18 who participate in a qualifying education program add $374.12 each.
Also, if your spouse qualifies for Aid and Attendance benefits, this will increase your monthly 100 percent disability benefit by $185.21.
The benefits of 100% disability extend far beyond monthly compensation and include significant benefits for your spouse and children.
If you are a disabled veteran and you have been denied a VA disability claim or increase, give the experienced attorneys at Stone Rose Law a call today at 480-498-8998.