The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reevaluating the Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) used to gauge how various forms of compensation are provided to veterans.
In a press statement, the agency said it will use modern medical data to reshape how conditions are diagnosed and compensation provided. VA officials have confirmed that while these new criteria will impact evaluations going forward, they will not alter the compensation veterans currently receive.
“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,” said Thomas Murphy, Veterans Benefits Administration Northeast district director.
While the changes have yet to be finalized, the VA has proposed using medical data and a revised understanding of certain diseases to quantify how certain service-related conditions impact a veteran's earning capacity.
In the case of sleep apnea, the VA suggests using the condition’s responsiveness to treatment as an evaluator of subsequent compensation. For tinnitus, the VA proposes evaluating it as a symptom of the underlying disease causing it rather than a standalone condition.
The VA is also conducting a comprehensive review of how the agency evaluates a range of mental health conditions and proposing new criteria 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. Additionally, the proposed evaluation criteria include a 10% minimum evaluation for having one or more service-connected mental health conditions and will no longer require 'total occupational and social impairment' to attain a 100% evaluation.”
During an accompanying press conference, VA officials said this reevaluation might result in veterans receiving lower compensation scores from future evaluations, particularly for common conditions like sleep apnea and tinnitus.
“We do suspect that fewer people will receive as high evaluations as they have currently received,” said Olumayowa Famakinwa, Chief of Implementation for the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities.
VA representatives said these changes align more closely with various disabilities’ impact on modern employment, as well as the considerable shift in the diagnostic criteria for mental health since the Schedule for Rating Disabilities were last updated.
“The last revision to the mental health conditions section of our rating schedule as done shortly after DSM-4 was created, and with the update to DSM-5 our rating schedule has not yet had a similar update. There is some impact in terms of how we consider disability that needs to be updated with the more contemporary understanding found in DSM-5,” Famakinwa said.
In subsequent remarks to the press, VA secretary Denis McDonough clarified that the updates to the VASRD's mental health criteria will result in more veterans receiving compensation for psychological conditions.
"We'll also get rid of a dated part of VASRD that prevents a veteran from receiving 100% rating for a mental health condition simply because they're able to work... Holding down a job doesn't prevent them from being rated 100% for a physical health condition. So it shouldn't prevent them from being rated at 100% for a mental health condition. This proposed rule will right that wrong and ensure vets don't have to choose between a job and the benefits they deserve," McDonough said.