What is the difference between a VA disability rating and a military medical evaluation rating?
Both the military medical board process and the VA disability rating process use the same evaluation system for disabilities, the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities, or the VASRD. A servicemember who is undergoing the military medical evaluation board (MEB) and physical evaluation board (PEB) processes also can file a VA claim and go through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), where all the servicemember’s disabilities are evaluated according to the VASRD.
There is a difference between the VA disability rating and the military service’s disability rating: For military medical retirement or separation, only the “unfitting conditions” that render a servicemember unable to continue in military service are considered in the rating. In the VA disability rating, all medical conditions incurred in or aggravated by military service are considered in the rating. Rarely, a condition that is considered by the military service is not considered by the VA (if it is something that pre-existed service and was not aggravated by service), but most often, the VA disability rating will cover more. A servicemember might receive disability compensation from the VA but not be eligible for medical retirement or separation because the disability does not interfere enough with the servicemember’s military duties.
If a servicemember goes through a MEB and PEB to determine his or her fitness for continued military service, there are many potential outcomes. He or she might be found fit or unfit to return to duty. If found unfit, the servicemember might be medically retired or medically separated from service or released from active duty but continued on in the active Guard or Reserve. If found unfit, the servicemember may request to be “continued on active duty” with a limited duty profile, or retrained, or placed in a suitable alternative role. Many servicemembers with 15 to 20 years of service or with high-demand skills may be continued on active duty. Advice on the military medical evaluation process and integrated disability evaluation system should be coordinated between the Physical Evaluation Board liaison officers, Judge Advocate General Corps attorneys, federal recovery coordinators, and veteran service officers (VSOs).
How is a disability evaluation or rating assigned?
Disability evaluations or ratings are assigned based on symptoms and impairment; the rating criteria in the VASRD range from very objective measures such as area of a burn in square inches, to subjective measures such as “incapacitating episodes.” In some cases, the veteran or veteran’s friends and family can report observable symptoms such as a veteran’s mood or gait. In most cases, doctors’ reports are required to determine the level of disability. The VA rating specialist must interpret reports of examination (by military, civilian, and VA doctors) and put together the various reports into a consistent picture so that the rating reflects the entire disability.
Often, the VA will require a special exam called a compensation and pension exam, or C&P exam, to determine the level of disability for compensation purposes. These exams are not performed by the veteran’s usual physician who treats and attempts to improve his or her disability. They are performed by specialists who ask questions and perform tests to assist the VA in deciding whether a veteran is entitled to compensation. For most types of exams, the VA publishes checklists called disability benefits questionnaires (DBQs) that mirror the VASRD (VA rating schedule) so the veteran’s treating physician can perform the evaluation. Having the veteran’s treating physician complete the DBQs can speed up the process by eliminating the wait time for a VA exam to be scheduled. A VSO can recommend which DBQs the veteran’s doctor should complete.
Servicemembers going through IDES will receive an exam during military service that uses DBQs and provides the information that both the military and the VA use to assign a rating.