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VA Math Explained

You may have noticed that in the VA system, 2 + 2 doesn’t seem to equal 4. It can be frustrating to see that in the VA system, 50% + 50% = 75%. Have you ever wondered how the VA comes up with this number?

The DoD uses this math, too, so let’s try to clear up some confusion and see if we can better explain how VA math adds up.

Combined Disability Ratings

If you have more than one disability rated by the VA, you have a combined disability rating that determines your disability compensation.

That’s key.

It’s a combined rating, NOT an accumulative or added rating. (That’s why 50% + 50% doesn’t equal 100%.)

The VA calculates all disability ratings using percentages, in increments of 10. This means individual claims are rated 0%, 10%, 20%, and so forth. Every increment of a 10 percentage point is a ‘point.’

Breaking Down the Math

It is vital to know the VA assumes a Veteran has 100% health to start, before any point deductions for disabilities.

You won’t see it in your paperwork, but imagine a VA blackboard with 100 points written on it next to your name. This equals your starting ‘health’ in VA math.

The VA always does the math for your highest disability rating first, then the next highest, then the next, until they include all your claims.

With those basic concepts in mind, let’s use an example to break this down into bite-sized pieces.

How the Math Works with Example Veteran Joe

Hypothetically, every Veteran starts with 100 good or ‘healthy’ points. Disability ratings then begin to chip away at that ‘good and healthy’ number.

For example, Veteran Joe is service-connected at 50% for his PTSD. This means that 50% (half) of his 100 good and healthy points are now bad or unhealthy. Half of 100 points is 50 points, so Veteran Joe has an overall rating of 50%.

The VA then grants Veteran Joe 50% for his sleep apnea. This time he only has 50 remaining ‘good and healthy’ points. So, 50% (or half) of 50 good points is 25 points.

This brings Veteran Joe’s overall rating for his PTSD and Sleep Apnea to 75 points. Since the VA always rounds up or down to the nearest increment of 10, they pay Veteran Joe at 80%.

Veteran Joe only has 25 ‘good points’ left.

If he gets a tinnitus claim accepted, that’s worth 10%. Ten percent of his 25 remaining good points is 2.5 points or ‘3.’ Adding three points to 75% means he won’t see any increase to his VA compensation because he was previously rounded up to 80%. His overall rating will still increase to 78% though.

Understanding How the VA Rounds Up and Down

Whenever you calculate your combined rating using VA Math, you will round up or down.

If the second of two digits is 1 through 4, you will round down. If 5 to 9, you will round up. For example, 73% becomes 70% and 78% becomes 80%.

The closer you get to 100%, the more disability ratings you need to make the jump to the next bracket.

In Veteran Joe’s case, he is at 78% with PTSD, sleep apnea, and tinnitus.

He needs one 30% rating to reach 85% (or four 10% ratings to reach 86%) and see an increase in his VA compensation. Once he reaches 85%, the VA will round up and pay him as if he were at 90%.

The Bilateral Factor

A significant, but often overlooked, factor in VA math is the Bilateral Factor.

The Bilateral Factor kicks in when you have two ratings affecting the two upper or lower quadrants of your body at the same time.

Think right knee and left knee or right arm and left arm, but it could easily be right elbow and left shoulder.

The VA adds the bilateral factor because they know a Veteran with two bad knees is worse off because both sides of his body are affected. It makes sense if you think about it. A Veteran rated for both knees, hips, ankles, or shoulders will be in worse shape. He or she will overcompensate due to the pain.

The Bilateral Factor = (The VA Math Sum of Your 2 Quadrant Rating) x 1.9%

If we look at an example of VA math without the bilateral factor, we might have a condition at 10%, which is taken from 100 points, giving us 90 leftover.

If we are awarded another 10% condition, it is taken from the those leftover 90 points, which gives us 9%. The overall rating in this situation would be 19%.


When we adjust for a bilateral situation, such as a right arm at 10% and left arm at 10%, our result is different.

The VA will take the 19% disability rating we talked about above, and multiple it by the bilateral factor of 1.9%, which gives us 21% instead of 19%.

Think that doesn’t mean much since the payout for either is at 20%? It all adds up when the VA rounds up with their numbers.

If you are already rated at 30% when you add your bilateral claims, look at what happens:

Without the Bilateral Factor:

30% PTSD + 10% right arm + 10% tinnitus = 43%.

The VA rounds this DOWN to pay at the 40% disability level.

With the Bilateral Factor:

30% PTSD + 10% right arm + 10% left arm = 45%.

The VA rounds this UP to pay at the 50% disability level.

If you are single without dependent children or parents, that’s a monthly difference in disability pay of $265.82! If you have dependents, the VA will pay you even more.

Summing Up the Bilateral Factor

The bilateral factor can be significant because if you are service-connected for a condition on one side, your odds are higher of developing problems in the same part on the other side of your body. That’s simple body mechanics. We tend to over-compensate for the injured or painful limb.

With VA math, the closer you get to 100% the more disability ratings you need to advance. You basically need all the help you can get, and the bilateral factor can definitely help.

Overcompensation can affect your body elsewhere too. If you have bad ankles, it can affect your knees. If you have bad knees, it can affect your hips. You get the idea.

Give us a call today at 800-761-9004 to discuss your service-connected ratings with one of our representatives. We are a completely free resource for all Veterans struggling with VA Disability Benefits.

There’s an APP for VA Math!

There’s no need to drive yourself crazy trying to do VA math by hand. Not when there is a handy app you can download called VetCalc. This app will let you add your current disabilities and see what your actual points add up to. 

This is a great app to calculate hypothetical ratings too. If you have a few claims you are waiting on a decision for, you can add your expected percentages and see what your overall score might be.

VetCalc also calculates the bilateral factor automatically. Just be sure to enter the affected extremity each time you put in another rating. (Left leg, right leg, left arm, right arm. You would enter ‘right arm’ when adding either a right shoulder or right thumb claim.)  VetCalc will do the work for you and apply the bilateral factor.

Source: Strategic Veteran

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