Fellow veterans, if you’ve ever wondered how to increase VA disability rating in 2021, stay tuned, because this post is for you!
Brian Reese here, VA disability expert and founder @ VA Claims Insider, and in this post, I’ll be breaking down VA Claim Tips Tricks and lessons learned from helping over 5,000 disabled veterans increase VA disability rating.
These VA disability increase tips work regardless of your current VA rating, but especially if you’re wondering how to increase VA disability from 70 to 100, 80 to 100, and 90 to 100.
5 Tips to Get a Higher VA Disability Rating in 2021
- Tip #1: Focus on High-Value VA Disability Claims (e.g., Mental Health, Lifestyle Impact Claim, Migraines, Sleep Apnea)
- Tip #2: Get DBQs (or Disability Benefits Reports) Completed for Conditions Already Service Connected
- Tip #3: File for Secondary Service Connection with Medical Nexus Letters
- Tip #4: Obtain a VA Buddy Letter from a First-Hand Witness
- Tip #5: Nail Your Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam
Okay, let’s explore in detail, the Top 5 Ways to Increase Your Service-Connected VA Disability Rating in 2021, regardless of your current VA disability rating or how many times you’ve been denied VA benefits in the past.
WATCH: Top 5 Ways to Increase Your VA Disability Rating [FAST!] LIVE with Brian Reese VA Claims Insider
Increase VA Disability Rating Tip #1: Focus on High Value VA Disability Claims
A High-Value VA Claim is a disability or condition with a “HIGH” likelihood of getting rated at 30% or higher on its own.
Focusing on High-Value VA disability claims is a great way to increase your VA disability rating in less time.
These include VA claims such as Mental Health Conditions (e.g., Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Somatic Symptom Disorder), Sleep Apnea Claims, Migraines, and Respiratory Conditions (e.g., Heart and Lung Conditions), among others.
Versus a Low-Value VA Claim, which is a disability or condition with a “LOW” likelihood of getting rated at 30% or higher on its own.
These include VA disability claims like Tinnitus, Hearing Loss, Scars, and Musculoskeletal Conditions.
What is the VA’s Fuzzy Math?
Veterans must understand that they’re battling against the VA’s fuzzy math calculation when trying to increase their service-connected VA rating.
If you’re trying to go from 70% to 100% or 80% to 100%, you must layer in some High Value Claims or increase the VA rating on conditions already service connected, otherwise, you simply can’t get there mathematically.
VA disabilities are NOT cumulative—instead, they are factored into each other, in order, from highest VA rating down to lowest rating, and multiplied against one another to determine your overall combined VA disability rating.
If you have more than one disability rating from the VA, you can use the VA Disability Rating Calculator to compute your combined rating in two simple steps.
VA fuzzy math computes the remaining efficiency after calculating each disability, starting from the highest rated disability down to the lowest.
For example, a 30% rating for your Back Condition and a 60% rating for your GERD would be 72% rounded down to 70%.
60% of your body is disabled, which leaves (100% – 60% = 40%) or 40% healthy.
The next highest disability is 30%, so you multiply this disability by the remaining healthy percentage in your body (.30 x .40 = .12 or 12%), which is then added to the disabled part.
So, you’re 60% disabled plus the 12% disabled (fuzzy math calculation above) = 72% disabled, which rounds down to 70%.
This process continues until you’ve exhausted the combined rating calculation.
If you’re trying to get a 100 percent VA rating, and you don’t have a 100% rating for any one disability, the only way to get there is to be 95.00% or higher in the VA’s fuzzy math equation.
Thus, veterans must focus on the High Value VA disability claims in your VA claim strategy.
VA Benefits Increase Tip #2: Get DBQ Forms Completed for Conditions Already Service Connected
Disability Benefit Questionnaire Reviews, also known as DBQ forms, are the #1 best way to increase your VA disability rating for conditions that are already service connected at 0 percent or higher.
Yes, we know the VA removed public use DBQs from its website, BUT, did you know you can still use DBQs in 2021 AND the VA rater must consider it as evidence of record?
Also, you can get something called a Disability Benefits Report (DBR) completed by a private medical provider for conditions that are already service-connected.
What is a VA DBQ Form?
A DBQ is a standardized .pdf form created by the Department of Veterans Affairs to give veterans more control of their VA claim.
Obtaining a DBQ from a qualified medical provider enables veterans to present their VA disability condition, mainly the medical diagnosis by ICD Code and your current symptoms of your VA disability, to the VSR and RVSR at the VA for rating purposes.
And guess what else veterans?
The major benefit of using DBQs is that many times the VA will grant a veteran a higher VA rating based upon the information in the DBQ ALONE!
Yes, you heard me correctly…
For simple disability increases, the VA Raters (RVSR) are authorized by regulation to grant a VA rating increase using the DBQ by itself.
Now, it’s still very likely you’ll get a C&P Exam, but at least you have your medical information baselined by another medical professional PRIOR to the C&P Exam.
For example, if a veteran is already service connected at 0 percent for Migraines, but you now believe your Migraines meet the higher rating criteria by law, all you need to get the higher rating is a DBQ for Migraines completed by a private healthcare provider.
Veterans will want to ensure the medical diagnosis is confirmed by ICD Code on the DBQ form, and all appropriate blocks are completed by the private medical provider, to include your current symptoms of Migraines.
Note there are more than 70 DBQ Forms on the VA’s website, and the list is constantly being updated.
If you are unable to get a VA disability exam and can’t get a DBQ completed by a VA healthcare provider or one of your private providers, VA Claims Insider can help!
VA Disability Increase Tip #3: File for Secondary Service Connection with Medical Nexus Letters
Many VSOs, Attorneys, and Veterans focus on primary disabilities for direct service connection.
However, did you know you’re also eligible for secondary VA disability claims and something called secondary service connection?
Secondary service connection in VA claims requires a “showing of causation.”
A showing of causation requires that the secondary disability be shown to be “proximately caused by” or “proximately aggravated by” another service-connected disability in your body.
By law, there are three evidentiary elements that must be satisfied for to prove secondary service connection on an “at least as likely as not basis”
- A medical diagnosis of the disability condition in VA medical records or private medical records (unless you also have the disability in your service treatment records)
- Evidence of a service-connected primary disability (such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, tinnitus, migraines, etc.), AND
- Medical Nexus Letter evidence establishing a connection between the service-connected disability and the current disability
The first part can be satisfied with any existing medical evidence in service treatment records, VA medical records, or any private medical records.
The second part can be satisfied with a veteran’s existing service-connected disability rated at 0 percent or higher.
The third part can be satisfied with a Medical Nexus Letter for secondary condition completed by a qualified medical professional.
The major benefit of going after secondary service connection in a VA disability claim is it’s typically easier to prove the Nexus requirement, especially if you’ve been out of the military for more than one year.
And of course, if you’re trying to increase VA disability rating, make sure to consider secondary VA claims!
How to Increase My VA Disability Rating Tip #4: Obtain a Buddy Letter from a First-Hand Witness
A VA Buddy Letter is a credible written statement, completed by a competent individual 18 years of age or older, who has direct, first-hand knowledge of an event or injury, and offers an account of what they witnessed or are witnessing in support your VA disability claim.
These personal statements can be from a fellow service member, spouse, friend, pastor, co-worker, boss, adult child, or any other competent and credible witness who can discuss your disability condition and underlying symptoms.
What Form Should I Use For a VA Buddy Statement?
A Buddy Letter completed on the VA Form 21-4138 can literally be the linchpin in winning your VA disability claim.
Because a Buddy Statement constitutes “lay evidence” under the law, which simply means “after the fact” evidence.
And many times, a veteran lacks medical evidence or documentation about a particular in-service incident or event from their military service.
A Buddy Statement helps fill-in-the-blanks for the VA Rater, and can help prove a veteran’s story on “at least as likely as not basis” for things like the Nexus requirement for service connection.
The Rating Veteran Service Representative (RVSR) at the VA MUST consider a Lay Statement because it’s considered a secondary source of evidence in support of your VA disability claim.
You might also like, The Value of Submitting a Personal Statement.
Listed below are the 4 essential elements of a buddy letter, along with a VA buddy letter example.
How to Write a VA Lay Statement in 4 Simple Steps
When writing or obtaining a buddy letter in support of a veterans VA disability claim, you can simply use the VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of a Claim.
I’ve heard others talk about why the VA Form 21-4138 might be hurting your claim.
They are wrong.
The VA Form 21-4138, official .pdf form is still the PREFERRED method of any personal statements according to VA Rating Officials.
A great VA buddy letter is short and sweet.
Think less is more.
We’re not writing a novel here guys.
VA Raters are very busy people, so you want to give them the exact information they need, at the moment they need it to help support a Veterans VA disability claim.
In 3-4 paragraphs, you should explain (1) your name, information, and how you know the veteran. (2) what you witnessed or are witnessing, (3) the veterans’ current symptoms of the disability, and (4) sign and date your name to the best of your knowledge and belief.
Listed below is a VA buddy letter example:
Part 1: Explain How the Buddy Knows the Veteran
In part 1, you need to explain how you know the Veteran.
Here is an example of how to write this section:
“My name is John Doe, and I’m the husband of veteran [INSERT VETERANS NAME].
I’m writing this statement on behalf of veteran [INSERT VETERANS NAME].
I have known [VETERAN] since 1999, because we were high school sweethearts.
Over the past 30 years, we have interacted daily.”
Part 2: What You Witnessed or Are Currently Witnessing
In part 2, you need to explain in detail what you witnessed or are witnessing about the event or incident.
You do NOT need to explain every detail.
Here is an example of how to write this section:
“When I first met [VETERAN], before she entered active duty military service, she was happy, fun loving, and had no mental health issues whatsoever.
All of that changed in July 2004, when she was raped by another service member while TDY to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
It became very evident to me that she suffered from severe PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
I encouraged her to get help and seek treatment many times over the years, but because she was an officer, and worked with senior military leaders, she was afraid of retaliation and reprisal.”
Part 3: Describe the Veterans Current Symptoms of the Disability
In part 3, you need to explain the veteran’s current symptoms of the disability.
Again, you do NOT need to explain every detail, just the things you know about.
Here is an example of how to write this section:
“Throughout our marriage, I witnessed her suffer from severe depression, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, relationship problems, trust issues, anger issues, panic attacks 3-5x per week, memory problems, and sexual dysfunction, among many others.
The rape mentioned above by a fellow service member has affected her so much that it is my belief she cannot have a normal relationship with anyone, anymore, which was a huge reason why we’ve had numerous marital challenges over the years.
I am 100% certain that her PTSD, depression, and anxiety is due to the rape.”
Part 4: Sign and Date Your Name
In part 4, you need to sign and date your name.
Here is an example of how to write this section:
Signed, [INSERT BUDDY NAME HERE], January 23, 2019.
“I CERTIFY THAT the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
Think you might need a VA Sworn Declaration? Click HERE for an example.
Increase VA Disability Rating Tip #5: Nail Your Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam
According to Brian Reese the VA Claims Insider, the VA Compensation and Pension exam, also known as a C&P exam is the #1 most important day in the VA claim process.
A veteran can do everything else right to try to increase your VA disability rating, but if you miss your C&P exam or worse, get a Bad C&P Examiner, the results can make or break your final VA rating.
It’s shameful I know; however, the sad reality is that the RVSR will rely almost solely on the exam notes presented by the in-person C&P examiner.
Don’t worry though, even if you have a terrible C and P exam, there is still hope and you can fight it!
7 Tips to Prepare for Your C&P Exams
Fellow veterans, read my Top 7 Tips to Prepare for Your VA C&P Exam HERE.
Tip #1. Know what’s in your medical records! Read through your records in the days prior to your C&P exam. There is no substitute for knowing what’s in your service treatment records, VA medical records, or any private medical records.
Tip #2. Review the eCFR, Title 38, Part 4, Schedule for Rating Disabilities for the VA disabilities you’re about to be examined for. This is the governing law for all VA disability claims.
Tip #3. Do NOT have your best day…this does NOT mean you should lie or stretch the truth. This means that you need to tell the C&P examiner how you are on your very worst days.
Tip #4. Be UNFOMFORTABLY VULNERABLE…this means that if it’s uncomfortable for you to say to a C&P examiner you don’t know or just met, you need to say it! For example, tell the C&P examiner about the severity of your Erectile Dysfunction (ED) and how it’s hurting your relationship with your spouse.
Tip #5. VA claims for mental health conditions come down to your current level of “Occupational and Social Impairment.” VA Claims for other conditions are all about (1) Pain and (2) Limitation of Range of Motion.
Tip #6. Know your true story cold and the potential in-service stressors (or other service-connected disability) that caused or made your disability worse and be prepared to discuss the incident(s) in detail with the C and P examiner.
Tip #7. You must be prepared to talk about your life in detail. Before joining the military. During the military. And after your active duty service. Make sure you’ve given the C&P examiner a detailed picture of your life and how the military either caused or made your disability worse.
Good news fellow veterans!
✅ VA Claims Insider Elite can help you win, service-connect, and get a higher VA disability rating from the VA. We can also help you with the medical evidence needed to WIN your appeal.
About the Author
His frustration with the 8-step VA disability claims process led him to create “VA Claims Insider,” which provides U.S. military veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned to win their VA disability compensation claim in less time.
Brian is also the CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, which is the world’s largest free searchable database for all things related to DoD disability and VA disability, and has served more than 6,000,000 military members and veterans since its founding in 2013.
He is a former active duty Air Force officer with extensive experience leading hundreds of individuals and multi-functional teams in challenging international environments, including a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.
Brian is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO and he holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, Stillwater, OK, where he was a National Honor Scholar (Top 1% of Graduate School class).