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Proposed Changes to Vets’ Disability Ratings

Why Estate Planning for Veterans and Active Military Is Important and What Documents are Essential
Proposed changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs disability ratings system will mean lower payouts for veterans with sleep apnea and tinnitus in the future. However, there will be higher payouts for veterans facing mental health challenges, like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The proposed changes to Vets’ disability ratings system through the Department of Veteran Affairs are part of a review of the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This governs how VA staffers evaluate and compensate veterans with service-connected injuries. Beck, Lenox & Stolzer Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC, LLC, primarily helps Veterans with non-service connected disabilities, but some of our cases end up as service-connected.  For that reason, we thought this article could be helpful to those Veterans and their spouses.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “Vets’ disability benefits for tinnitus, mental health issues may change” says Thomas Murphy, acting VA undersecretary for benefits, said the goal of the work was not to reduce or increase the number of veterans receiving disability benefits but instead to ensure that “veterans receive decisions based on the most current medical knowledge relating to their condition.”

For veterans currently receiving those payouts, the changes will not take away any existing benefits or lower their disability rating. However, vets could see their ratings increased based on the changes, if the new rules end up more advantageous to their health situation. Vets who apply for benefits in the future will see a different set of standards applied to their cases than their older peers. This could have significant financial ramifications for those individuals.

Under VA rules, a disability rating of at least 10% can mean monthly payouts of more than $140 for a vet. A vet who receives a disability rating of 100% — either from a single service-related condition or a combination of injuries and illnesses — can receive roughly $3,100 a month in disability compensation.

The number of veterans receiving compensation for sleep apnea — interrupted breathing during sleep — has increased dramatically in recent years. Under proposed changes, VA officials for the first time could offer a “0 percent evaluation” for asymptomatic sleep apnea, allowing the department to formally acknowledge a veteran’s condition without requiring any compensation if the condition is easily controlled with treatment. Vets would receive ratings of 10% or more for sleep apnea “only when treatment is either ineffective or the veteran is unable to use the prescribed treatment due to comorbid conditions.”  They can currently get a rating of 10% or more for the condition, even if treatments are effective at dealing with the condition.

Veterans dealing with mental health issues would see a lower threshold for getting increased disability ratings under the changes. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would be evaluated on how they impact a veteran’s ability to perform everyday functions. Even mild impairment would be available for compensation. The proposed rules say that the changes better recognize the effect of mental health on individuals’ well-being “ by placing greater emphasis on a disabled veteran’s ability to function in the work setting, rather than focusing on symptoms alone.”

The VA does not have a planned implementation date for the changes. When Beck, Lenox & Stolzer comes across an update on the proposed changes to Vets’ disability ratings, we will be sure to pass it along.

Reference: Military Times (Feb. 15, 2022) “Vets’ disability benefits for tinnitus, mental health issues may change”


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