Understanding VA’s 55 Years Old Rule and Protected Ratings

Understanding VA’s 55 Years Old Rule and Protected Ratings

55 years rule
VA has numerous policies in place for establishing and monitoring the severity of a veteran’s service-connected disability. Such rules exist for VA to be able to adjust disability ratings, or in some cases to protect a current rating and render it “protected.” This is where a rule like the “55 Years Old” rule comes in, as it belongs to a subset of rules used by VA to ascertain whether a veteran’s condition is ever expected to improve or worsen over time.

The 55 Years Old Rule does not imply that veterans over the age of 55 cannot apply for VA benefits. This is a common misconception. Instead, veterans should understand that this rule is actually considered a form of protected rating, which shields an existing rating from being reduced at any point in the future.

What is a Protected Rating?

Before defining a protected rating, consider an unprotected rating. In cases where a veteran’s present service-connected condition might be expected to improve (or worsen), VA schedules periodic Compensation and Pension (C&P) examinations to determine the new level of impairment. This is quite common with cancer diagnoses, for example. When a veteran is actively undergoing treatment, VA awards a 100% disability rating. If and when the cancer subsides and goes into remission, VA reduces your rating based on the residual effects of the cancer, and may perhaps bring the rating all the way back to 0%.

The 55 Years Old Rule simply states that once a veteran reaches the age of 55, they are protected from such periodic C&P examinations and any reduction to their current disability ratings. There are, of course, certain exceptions, cancer in fact being one of them. If cancer occurs after the age of 55, VA will still follow the normal course of periodic exams to evaluate the after-effects of your treatment. But for the most part, your rating is protected from reduction.

But how does a disability rating become protected in the first place, before you turn 55? VA turns to other rules, including:

  • 100% Total Ratings (including TDIU): Total ratings can be reviewed and even reduced if evidence shows any improvement in a veteran’s condition and capacity to do work, but that requires strong evidence suggesting that an improvement has occurred
  • Permanent Ratings: Permanent disabilities like blindness, loss of a limb, certain disorders or degenerative conditions, or any single disability or combination of disabilities that aren’t expected to improve your condition are considered protected before you reach the age of 55
  • Stabilized Ratings (5 Year Rule): A disability that hasn’t shown any sign of improvement in a 5 year span is considered stabilized. After that, VA is unable to reduce or revoke your rating based on a single C&P exam. VA must instead provide evidence of sustained improvement to your condition.
  • 10 Year Rule: This rule stipulates that VA cannot entirely revoke your rating for a condition that you have had for a sustained period of 10 years. It is possible for VA to reduce the rating, however, based on evidence gathered from C&P exams.
  • Continuous Ratings (20 Year Rule): a condition that hasn’t improved for a sustained period of 20 years is considered continuous, meaning VA is unable to revoke your rating or reduce it below the originally assigned rating

Assistance with Your Claim

Every veteran’s situation is unique, and the circumstances of your individual case will determine what disability rating VA is willing to award you. It is useful to understand the rules by which VA makes it decisions, but there are plenty of exceptions to them all, and you need to be prepared to show that you deserve the disability compensation that you seek. VA Disability Group is here to make sure you get it. Call us at 844-VET-LAWS or contact us online to start your claim or appeal today.