On February 15, 2022, VA announced proposed changes to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) as it pertains to respiratory, auditory, and mental disorders body systems. This is part of an ongoing process on VA’s part to modernize its evaluative criteria for all conditions based on advancements in medical knowledge.
Veterans who already have ratings for service-connected disabilities referenced in these proposed changes do not need to worry about their ratings being affected. Nevertheless, it’s recommended that you pay attention to these changes, provide your comments to VA, and watch to see which changes are made effective. Doing so will ensure that you understand how VA will evaluate any of these disabilities should you or a veteran close to you become affected by one in the future.
According to VA, the purpose driving these proposed updates is to “enable VA to incorporate modern medical data and terminology to provide Veterans with more accurate and consistent decisions.” Updates like this to the VASRD are made based on advancements in available medical data, newer terminology and diagnostics, as well treatment approaches. Relying on such advancements, VA expects that it will be able to better evaluate service-connected disabilities and their impact on veterans’ earning potential, as well as provide a more accurate level of compensation to veterans. This is not a guarantee of higher or lower compensation for any particular condition, which is why you should not dismiss any proposed changes as either uniformly positive or negative without first reading what the changes are.
Since these are changes have only been proposed, the VASRD has not undergone any changes yet. In fact, the proposed changes are open to public comment for a period of 60 days following VA’s announcement, to allow veterans, caregivers, and all other members of the public to voice their opinions. Comments can be made via the Federal Register notices for the proposed changes. When the 60-day public comment period ends, VA will consider all comments, and address them in a final announcement in a final rule, at which point the proposed changes will be made effective.
What is the VASRD?
As a brief recap, the VASRD is the guide used by VA to, first, assess the level of disability resulting from in-service incidents or events, and second, to provide a rating and compensation appropriate to veterans’ level of impairment from service-connected disabilities.
The VASRD is where you go to find all of the guidelines pertaining to evaluating your service-connected disability, plus the measures used by VA to determine your disability rating and level of compensation, which is typically based on the level of your physical and/or mental impairment, as well as your ability to care and earn for yourself.
The VASRD is broken down by specific body systems—such as the musculoskeletal system or cardiovascular system—which contain the conditions and diseases affecting, or arising from, that specific system of the body. In VA’s recent announcement, only two of these sections are facing proposed changes: The Respiratory System, and Mental Disorders.
VA is in the process of updating all of the body systems in the VASRD to modernize its evaluative methodology and provide appropriate compensation and resources for veterans with disabilities. Since September 2017, VA has updated the rating schedule for nine other body systems, including dental and oral conditions, the endocrine system, hematologic and lymphatic systems, and musculoskeletal system and muscle injuries.
Indeed, the VASRD should never be viewed as a permanent document, being subject to change regularly as VA works to continuously modernize its evaluative methodology according to the latest information available from the medical world. As more medical data becomes available, and diagnostics and treatment methods improve, you can be sure VA will pay close attention and propose farther changes down the road.
Do These Proposed Updates Affect Your Disability Rating?
Absolutely not. To make it absolutely clear, If you have been assigned a disability rating, it will not be affected in any way by these proposed changes. According to Thomas Murphy, the Northeast district director for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), “Veterans who currently receive compensation for a service-connected condition in these body systems will not have their disability rating impacted when the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities is updated.”
Even if you have a rating for a disability referred to in either the Respiratory System or Mental body systems, any proposed updates pertaining to that condition will not affect you in any way.
So what happens when the proposed changes are made effective? Surely, the point of updating policy is that it will take effect at some point. The good news here is that for veterans currently assigned a disability rating, your rating will not be changed, so you can rely on the previous framework used to determine your rating and compensation. Only veterans who apply for a disability rating after the proposed changes take effect will be subject to the newer rules guiding their disability criteria.
And of course this all depends on the proposed changes becoming active in the first place. If so, current veterans’ assigned ratings are still protected. VA is very clear that current ratings will not be reduced. The changes would become active policy, but you would not be touched by them. If you determine that the updated rules work in your favor and you would like to apply for a higher rating, you are perfectly welcome to do so.
VA assures us that ratings will only be reduced if a veteran’s condition has notably improved, and for veterans who have been assigned ratings based on the existing rules in the VASRD, their progress will be tracked according to the old rules.
According to Vantage Point, “…no reductions shall be made unless an improvement in the Veteran’s disability is shown to have occurred based on the last schedule used to assign their evaluation.”
What Are Some Examples of Proposed Changes?
VA has proposed numerous updates within these two body systems, but not so many that you will not be able to read through all the details on your own. We highly recommend reading the proposed rules in their entirety on the Federal Register website, and commenting if you would like. To sum things up, as VA has done in its own news releases, here are some of the biggest announced updates:
Sleep Apnea: Evaluation criteria will be modernized and based on symptoms’ responsiveness to treatment. If symptoms are fully treated by a CPAP machine or other treatment, Veteran are rated at 0% and receive no compensation. VA awards progressively higher ratings based on the prevalence of symptoms post-treatment. The purpose is to “bring the rating criteria for sleep apnea more closely in line with the stated purpose of the rating schedule, which is to provide evaluations based upon average impairment of earning capacity.”
Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Proposed rules would slightly lower the requirements needed to get a 100% rating.
Tinnitus: It would be recognized as a symptom within a broader ailment, with compensation for tinnitus provided through the disease to which it is attributed.
Mental Health Conditions: Proposed rules would increase the minimum disability rating from 0% to 10%. The new rule would also negate the standing rule that veterans are not able to attain a 100% disability rating for a mental health condition if they are able to work. The rules will also evaluate mental conditions based on “a more robust and holistic approach that assesses how impactful the disability is to cognition, interpersonal relationships, task completion, life activities and self-care,” as opposed to the current framework which focuses mostly on the number and types of symptoms present.
Assistance With Your Claim
Proposed updates to any policies are likely to raise eyebrows and invite some skepticism. This is why we strongly encourage anyone, especially veterans and caregivers, to review these proposed changes and offer your comment to the public forum, which is your right to do. The best way to reduce confusion is to familiarize yourself with the changes and understand how they may affect you personally.
Changes like these are also fertile ground for confusion, and that confusion may happen among both veterans and VA staff. Everyone will need to adjust to the updated rules at some point, and mistakes and misunderstandings may occur throughout the course of adjudicating disability claims and appeals. This makes it all the more crucial to ensure your disability claims, both existing and new, are treated with additional care to ensure your cases are being handled with the utmost care.
VA Disability Group PLLC is familiarizing itself with these proposed updates so that we are more than ready to represent you for claims made under any new rules. To make sure your claim is handled as it should be, and that you have the best shot at being reward the compensation that you deserve, contact us at 844-VET-LAWS or via our website to schedule an appointment and get started today.