(Transcript)

Cindy Speaker:  My name is Cindy Speaker. I have with me today Attorney Nathan Guin of Gardberg & Kemmerly. He’s a veteran’s disability attorney, and he’s gonna talk with us about compensation ratings to kind of unpack that topic, which there’s a lot of questions around that. So Nathan, thanks for being with us today.

Nathan Guin: It’s no problem. Always happy to give some useful information, well, hopefully useful information, out there to veterans and anyone who’s looking for it.

Cindy Speaker:  It’s always very useful, and I love having you on the show.

Nathan Guin: I appreciate it.

Cindy Speaker: Let’s start off and explain to us what are these compensation ratings? Kind of explain that, and how are they factored into a veteran’s disability claim?

Nathan Guin:  Okay. I know we’ve talked about service connection before. So when you get something service connected, it could be one issue, it could be multiple issues. Each of those will get a compensation rating, disability compensation rating. They’ll usually be, they’ll have different levels, 10, 30, 50, 20, whatever it may be for each one. And so for each particular condition there’s a diagnostic criteria. So for example with diabetes it goes 20, 40, 60 so on and so forth, but for each percentage there’s specific symptoms that are assigned for that. And if you have those symptoms then obviously that’s the rating you get.

So it’s kind of a mechanical way for them to say, “I’m going through the records. I see X, Y, and Z. Okay, that fits. What box does that fit? Okay, it’s 30%.” Well, then it’s 30%. And then your individual ratings can be combined into your total rating.

Cindy Speaker:  So you’re saying that all of these ratings depend on this diagnostic code. Is there any way to increase the ratings possibly outside of that diagnostic code?

Nathan Guin:   There is. Obviously, you can always do it through the diagnostic code. Sometimes what we find is in a lot of the diagnostic codes, especially for your back or knees, a lot of orthopedic issues, they’ll all be based on these range of motion tests or for hearing loss. Hearing loss, they are all based on this war discrimination, the Maryland audio test. These basically tests that most doctors outside the VA don’t use. And so it’s somewhat challenging to get medical evidence to go for an increase, but there’s always the possibility or the option to try to assert extra scheduler consideration. Essentially what that is is asserting that your disability picture does warrant an increase, but it’s just that the diagnostic criteria does not fit your disability picture.

They call it a disability picture. So you’re saying, “I understand that you’re looking for range of motion in this particular range for me to get an increase, but I still deserve an increase, but my records don’t have range of motion testing, so that’s not something that really happens. But if you look at functional impairment, the pain level, not able to stoop, stand, different things like that, functional limitations, you can assert that you need to get it increased outside of those diagnostic criteria, because they’re not really getting the full picture of what’s wrong.

Cindy Speaker:   Yeah. And what about if there are multiple disabilities? Do they get more than one compensation rating?

Nathan Guin:  Yeah. So you’ll get a compensation rating for any and all service-connected conditions. So if you have PTSD, you might have a 30% rating or 50% rating or what it may be. If you have diabetes then you have a separate 20% rating. You have your knees, let’s say 10% apiece. And then all of those are kind of wrapped into your total combined rating. So that makes your total compensation rating, which is the rate that you get paid at. So if you’re at 60% total after they do all that kind of stuff, you’ll get whatever the 60% rate of payment is per month.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. Do they just add them all together? The compensation ratings? If you have 50 for one, 60 for another? Is it over 100%?

Nathan Guin:  I wish it was. That’s a question we get a lot. We get a new rating decision, someone will say, “Well, I got an increase from 10% to 40% for this issue,” or, “I have a 50% for PTSD and a 60% for my heart disease, but for those two issues I only have an 80%. What gives?” Because it should be if you do the math 110, and that’s not how it works with the VA. So all of it, and I think we’ve talked about this in a previous session, is the ratings reflect the impairment on your ability to earn. And so somehow or another they’ve come up with a compensation ratings table and basically what you do is you take the highest rated issues first. You find them on the thing, put them together, and they’ll give you a number, and you keep doing that until you get your total compensation rating.

So even if you add up all of your issues, and let’s say you could be up to 160%. Well, that’s probably only gonna get you, unless you have unemployability which I think we’ll talk about later, it may only get you 80% or 90% from the VA. So it’s not a one for one kind of situation.

Cindy Speaker:   Okay. Is this all kind of a quantitative analysis? Or is there some subjectivity to it? I’m just wondering if they have an ability to appeal if the VA says, “No, you’re combined rating is 80%.” Is there any ability to move beyond that?

Nathan Guin:  The one way you can do that, strictly speaking, as far as the ratings themselves, that’s really mechanical, but there is a way to kind of get around that. What we file for a lot around here or appeal is for what’s called individual unemployability benefits. what that is it’s another avenue you can take. So you can always try to get increases for your service connected conditions to get to 100% total, but that’s really difficult. The higher your total rating gets, the less the increases will affect it. So if you’re lower and you get a new rating, it’s a lot easier to jump, let’s say, from 20% to 50% total than it is to get from 70% to 100%.

So what unemployability allows you to do is if you have one service connected condition or multiple that come from one particular thing, so let’s say you’ve got 20% for diabetes but then you have neuropathies that are secondary to that and those equal 60% or if you just have 60% for something like your heart, you can apply for unemployability benefits. On that same token is if you have multiple service connected conditions that aren’t necessarily linked together, if you have PTSD at 50% and your heart at 60% like we talked about earlier, and you’re at 80% total, you would still meet the schedule requirements, and then all you have to show is that you’re unable to work based on those service connected conditions. What that does is it won’t necessarily increase your total rating. You may still be at 80%, but they can grant you unemployability benefits and that’ll get you the 100% payment rate.

Cindy Speaker: Okay. So getting qualified at the unemployability rating that I guess is good, it doesn’t necessarily mean, I’m getting my terms mixed up, but you don’t have to have 100% compensation rating in order to get unemployability?

Nathan Guin:  Right. That’s basically another avenue to 100% payment.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay. Okay.

Nathan Guin:   It’s a really helpful tool. Not all veterans know about it. Sometimes we’ll talk to someone and they’ll say, “Well, I’ve heard about this thing. I don’t really don’t know what it is.” It’s kind of this nebulous idea, but it’s something that we employ a lot, and it’s really, really helpful to try to get that jump up.

Cindy Speaker:   Yeah. Yeah. Is that something that is subjective? The unemployability? Is that something where … Because the other part I think you’ve established is it’s very mechanical, but getting from 80% to 100% through an unemployability rating, is that subjective at all? Or is that also pretty mechanical?

Nathan Guin: It’s kind of half and half. So you have to have a certain percentage to get there, and I’ve kind of alluded to that earlier. I can repeat it again, but basically there’s certain ratings, if you have one thing or one particular ideology or origin that’s 60% or if you have multiple and it’s 70% or more with at least one of those at 40%, then you meet the ratings criteria. So that’s the mechanical part. You have to have a specific amount of total rating, and there’s different ways to go about that. But the unemployability aspect, what they’re judging is based on … They’re judging whether you can perform greater than marginal employment, and what that means is if you can do work, that would put you above the poverty line.

So that part of it’s more subjective. A lot of that, like we talked about before, …. statements are really helpful there or if you get social security disability benefits, that’s not binding, but it’s something that’s really persuasive towards demonstrating that you’re unable to work due to your service connected conditions, especially if your social security disability benefits are based on disabilities that are also service connected. So that parts a little subjective, because you …. have to convince one person that you’re unable to work based on these conditions or rated at a particular standard.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah. Thanks for clarifying that. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around all of that.

Nathan Guin:   Yeah. It gets a little jumbled up sometimes.

Cindy Speaker:   Yeah, but you explained it very well.

Nathan Guin:   I appreciate it.

Cindy Speaker:   I think that’s great. Well, now, Nathan, I know that you practice in the area of veteran’s disability, and if someone has questions how can they reach you or your office?

Nathan Guin:  A couple of different ways you could do it. You can call us at 251-343-1111 or you can go to our website, GardbergLaw.com. That’s G-A-R-D-B-E-R-G-L-A-W.com or you can contact us at VAcontact@GardbergLaw.com, and that goes directly to our VA department, and we can answer questions or evaluate your most recent rating decision and see what we can do to help you out or answer any questions that you might have.

Cindy Speaker:  Excellent. Well, these shows are getting pretty popular. We’re getting a lot of people tuning in, and that’s because of you. So as always-

Nathan Guin:  I don’t about that, but it’s very flattering.

Cindy Speaker:  Great job.

Nathan Guin:   I appreciate the viewers.

Cindy Speaker:   Yeah, and also for those of you watching or even on the replay, if you have questions, feel free to put them into the comments section on this page and we’ll get Nathan to answer them for you.

Nathan Guin:    Yeah. Absolutely. Ask away, and I’ll be more than happy to give you an answer.

Cindy Speaker:   Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, Nathan, thanks for being with us today.

Nathan Guin:   All right. Thanks Cindy. I appreciate you having me on again. I’m looking forward to the next time.

Cindy Speaker:    I am too. Okay, and to those of you watching, thanks for being with us today. We’ll talk to you again soon.

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