How to Understand the Principles Used by the VASRD

The VASRD stands for the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities. It is the federal regulation detailing the requirements used to determine Military Disability Ratings for the veterans who received a disability during their time in the service.

Although officially a regulation, the VASRD has the law behind it and therefore is regularly referred to as “law” by most who reference it. 

As a veteran, anytime you read or hear the term “rating” in regards to VA Claims and disabilities, that is a direct reference to the VASRD. These ratings are designed to reflect a veteran’s ability to work and perform basic life duties while dealing with their condition.

What does the VA Rating Schedule do?

In other words, it is meant to quickly answer questions like:

  • Can this person support their family and/or themselves?
  • Can this person successfully perform the basic duties of everyday life?
  • Can they successfully build and maintain necessary relationships in their life?

Created by Congress, the VASRD is an attempt to be a fair rating system to the disabled, although it often falls short. Unfortunately, the VASRD is only able to be changed by Congress as well. Since Congress often acts slowly, this means that even as knowledge about disabilities grows the VASRD can be slow to take into account new evidence and research.

The VASRD assigns each condition a four-digit code for reference. This code is chosen based upon what the VASRD believes is the most appropriate for the condition and its symptoms.

There are numerous categories that the VASRD sorts conditions into. These categories include neurological, muscles, mental illness, sensory organs, musculoskeletal, and many more.

However, despite its attempts to be comprehensive, it is nearly impossible for every condition to be covered directly by a rating. Because of this, there is usually a great deal of interpretation left to the Rating Authorities. Some conditions are rated by their symptoms or analogously. 

What happens when a condition is not listed?

When put in the position to provide an analogous rating, the VASRD will provide two four-digit codes connected by a hyphen. The first part of the code will end in 99 signaling that the rating is analogous under the second code.

It should be noted that if the first code does not end in 99 but there is still a hyphen-connected second code, it means that the first code correctly defines the condition but the rating is based upon the symptoms correlated with the second code. This is called an Equivalent Rating. 

When seeking a rating from the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities it is the task of the medical examiner to record for submission to the Rating Authority. It is recommended that the veteran brings with them as much evidence as possible to the examination in order to provide the examiner with more reference. Since the VASRD exists to regulate the amount of compensation provided for each condition, it is to the benefit of the veteran to leave as little room to speculation as possible.

When a condition isn’t assigned a specific rating the VASRD then turns to principles it is governed by to dictate how the ratings should be assigned. These principles were developed to guide the Rating Authorities in various circumstances, and are meant to make up for deficiencies or gaps in the rating schedule. They are an attempt to create equality and fairness in the application of the ratings. These principles vary from the specific, dealing with singular conditions, to the very broad, encompassing all conditions. 

What do the different ratings mean?

Essentially, the VASRD is to give a proper rating to every service-connected condition any service member may have contracted. Every condition a service member has qualifies to be rated the VA for disability compensation. Even if a condition only receives a 0% rating, this means that it is recognized by the VA and can be re-evaluated for an updated rating if the condition worsens. A 0% rating is, therefore, still important for the veteran because it means that the condition has already been recognized to be service-related, making the process of seeking disability compensation simpler and easier should the condition persist. 

Not all conditions are eligible to receive a 0% rating, in which case the minimum rating would be 10%. This is the threshold for receiving any kind of compensation. 

In order to receive a 100% rating the veteran’s disability must be determined to be so severe that they are unable to support themselves. To receive a permanent total disability rating the condition must be considered stables and chronic, with the expectation that it will last throughout the veteran’s life. 

Since the VA is capable of changing the VA Disability Rating for the worsening or improving of a condition, it is also capable of changing the diagnosis of the condition. The VASRD principle regarding a change of diagnosis, however, states that the diagnosis can only be changed if the previous diagnosis does not provide a sufficient rating for a more severe condition. 

Overall, due to the nearly impossible task of successfully diagnosing and rating every condition, the principles of the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities are subject to change as determined by Congress due to increasing knowledge of various conditions. Until Congress enacts a change, however, the VASRB is enforceable as law as it stands.

While it may be an imperfect system, it’s the system the VA has. As a veteran seeking a Disability Rating, it is, therefore, strongly encouraged to be prepared when going in for examination. Collect as much evidence as possible to support what you believe you need from the VA, leaving as little open to interpretation as possible.

If you want the full M-21 VA Raters Handbook, we have created a simple to understand and easy to read option for you here!
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