VA disability requirements

By Mary Markovich

Affordable VA Accreditation Training

A veteran must be considered permanently and totally disabled to be eligible for disability payments. There are no disability requirements for a surviving spouse or child.

A veteran who is over age 65, a veteran under age 65 who has been determined to be permanently and totally disabled by the Social Security Administration under any of their benefit programs, or a veteran who is confined to a nursing home because of disability which is reasonable to conclude will continue throughout the life of the veteran, will be considered to be permanently and totally disabled for VA purposes. All other veterans must be rated permanently and totally disabled by the VA.

Permanent and total disability ratings
Permanent and total ratings are based on age, the degree of disability and unemployability. The ratings are determined in accordance with the schedule for rating disabilities (38 CFR, Part 4).

The rating schedule defines total — 100 percent — disability as an impairment of mind or body, which is sufficient to make it impossible for the average person to follow a substantially gainful occupation. Permanent total disability exists when impairment is reasonably certain to continue throughout the life of the disabled person.

Examples of permanent total disabilities include the permanent loss of the use of both hands or both feet, the loss of one hand and one foot, the total loss of sight, or becoming helpless or permanently bedridden. The rating schedule also provides for other total (100 percent) disability ratings.

All veterans who are eligible and who are unable to secure and follow a substantially gainful occupation by reason of disabilities which are likely to be permanent, shall be rated as permanent and totally disabled for pension based on unemployability and age if they have a single disability rated 60 percent or a combined evaluation or 70 percent, with one disability ratable at 40 percent or higher.
Marginal employment such as odd jobs will not be inconsistent with a finding of unemployability if the disabilities prevent full employment. A homemaker may qualify as unemployable if she or he is no longer able to perform the principal household duties without substantial help. Optional or forced retirement is not a basis for determining that a veteran is unemployable; rather, the determining factor is whether his or her disability and age prevent him or her from obtaining new employment.

Disabilities due to misconduct or vicious habits may not be considered in rating a veteran's disabilities. However, a permanent and total disability will not be disallowed by reason or the coexistence of misconduct disability when:
    1. The veteran, regardless of employment status, also has innocently acquired 100 percent disability, or

    2. When unemployable, he or she has other disabilities innocently acquired which meet the percentage requirements, and would make the average person unable to secure or follow a substantially gainful occupation.
It is the policy of the Secretary that all veterans who are basically eligible for pension, but fail to meet the disability requirements based on the percentage standards of the rating schedule and who are unable to secure and follow a substantially gainful occupation by reason of his or her disabilities, age, occupational background, and other related factors, may be eligible for pension. The Adjudication Officer is authorized to approve, on an extra-schedular basis, a permanent and total rating for pension purposes.(38 CFR 3.321 (b) (2)).