VA to Overhaul Disability Ratings System

Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it would undergo a comprehensive review of its disability ratings system. The VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities, expected to be released in 2016, is used to quantify the average economic impact of certain disabilities.

"The most recent discussion focuses on proposed changes to the body system sections in the schedule and includes the addition of new disabilities, deletion of obsolete and rarely used disabilities, and medical terminology updates," says Sherman Gillums, associate executive director of Veterans Benefits, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). "At the heart of these changes is the need to develop more objective criteria based on current medical knowledge, ideally to promote equity and consistency in the assignment of disability percentages for the evaluated conditions."

The reworking of the schedule, which has been under way since the 1990s, according to Gillums, will result in the creation of a more efficient, accurate claims process, resolving ambiguities in the claims process and reducing the number of appeals.

PVA, for its part, has focused on clarifying the evaluation of neurological dysfunction and associated conditions.

"Historically, VA has applied an inconsistent standard when rating several of these disabilities, which is most often remedied through education and an ongoing rapport between VA rating specialists and our national services officers, who know and understand the applicable regulations better than most," says Gillums. "For example, where voiding dysfunction should be rated based on a diagnosis of neurogenic bladder requiring use of a catheter, some VA rating specialists continue to rely on a vague interpretation that contemplates use of 'appliances' and 'absorbent materials,' without clarification."

In addition, the new schedule is likely to compensate for work disability and loss of ability to engage in usual life activities as well as quality of life.

Although several veterans service organizations, including PVA, testified or provided statements to the House Disability Assistance subcommittee, the organizations are not involved in drafting the new schedule.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs must continue to partner with veteran service organizations like PVA in order to make the lasting changes that the current system has badly needed for so long," says Gillums. "I'm encouraged by the tone of cooperation we're now enjoying and hope that it will continue."