20-Year Rule: What Does It Mean for Your VA Disability Rating?

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A veteran may also suffer from two conditions incorrectly classified as a single disability for 20 years or more.


The US Department of Veterans Affairs determines the appropriate compensation benefits when a veteran becomes ill or injured as a result of active duty. The veteran’s disability is rated on a percentage scale and then monitored over time. The VA may offer a reduction in the initial score when there is evidence that the condition has improved.

A reduction in the rate means that veterans will receive reduced disability benefits then previously awarded. However, special circumstances may prevent the VA from reducing the veteran’s rating, including the 20-year rule.

What does the 20 year rule mean?

The 20-year rule prohibits the VA from reducing a service-related disability rating below the lowest rating that has been in effect for the past 20 years. However, there is an exception to the rule if the VA finds that the scoring was based on fraud. Additionally, any increase in ratings for a service-related condition after 20 years may be reduced if the condition improves but not below the lowest rating.

The 20-year rule protects veterans’ ratings from being reduced for any reason, even when their condition improves. In addition, no reconsideration is required for veterans who have received benefits continuously for 20 years or more.

The 20-year rule also protects the veteran’s rating from new laws or changes to existing laws. You can contact an experienced legal team to help you better understand the 20-year rule and how a Georgia VA disability attorney can help you.

Retroactive benefits

If a veteran receives a recent rating for a service-related condition that dates back 20 years or more, they would be protected by the 20-year rule. Similarly, any rating for a disability that dates back 20 years or more is protected by the 20-year rule, even if the rating decision was made recently.

For example, if a veteran has dealt with a service-related back problem and the VA assigns a rating and effective date of at least 20 years ago, the new rating is protected by the rule. Additionally, the 20-year rule also protects a retroactively increased rating. If a veteran appeals for a rating increase for a condition that dates back 20 years or more and wins, the increased rating will be protected by the 20-year rule.

Changes in conditions and symptoms

A veteran’s condition may sometimes worsen and show new symptoms outside of the assigned diagnosis code. In this case, the VA should assign a new diagnosis code that accurately reflects the new symptoms. The new diagnosis code will justify a new rating assigned to the veteran. Since the new rating will have a new effective date, it will not be protected by the 20-year rule.

In other cases, a veteran’s condition may worsen over time and lead to new symptoms in addition to the symptoms that the veteran is already experiencing. The VA will need to use a different diagnosis code to assign new symptoms a different score. The new score derived from the new symptoms will not be protected by the 20-year rule, even if they were caused by the original condition that is protected.

New symptoms are treated as distinct from the original condition and as such receive a separate assessment. While the rule will not protect new symptoms, the original condition will remain protected.

Photo by Kampus Production courtesy of Pexels

A veteran may also suffer from two conditions incorrectly classified as a single disability for 20 years or more. The VA can reassess the conditions and assess them as two different disabilities under certain conditions. First, the different conditions should have the same effective date as the old single disability. Second, both conditions must have a combined score greater than or equal to the first. If a veteran meets the criteria, the new conditions will get a new rating and remain protected by the rule.

Conclusion

Suppose you have questions, issues, or disputes regarding your VA rating, disability claim, 20-year rule, eligibility criteria, or retroactive compensation for burning fireplaces. In this case, it is best to speak with a VA disability benefits attorney. They will tell you about your rights, the legal steps you need to take to get your well-deserved benefits, and the issues you need to resolve with the VA to continue receiving your benefits.

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