How does Congress decide how to rate the different conditions?

The VASRD (Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities) is a law (actually, a regulation, but it’s as powerful as a law, so we call it that to keep things simple) passed by Congress that regulates how various conditions of different severities are assigned Military Disability Ratings. It is massive and quite confusing. Since both lawyers and doctors helped put the VASRD together, it has some definite flaws, and doesn’t always live up to its goal. Plus, lawyers and doctors speak two totally different languages, and combining them makes it seem almost impossible to translate—believe me, we spent a long time translating for this site.
The first key to understanding how the VASRD was made is to understand its purpose. The goal of the VASRD is to give a fair rating for every condition that reflects the seriousness of the disability. Not having a foot is a much worse disability than just having limited motion in the ankle. Thus, the rating for the limited motion will be much less than for the loss of the foot. The worse your condition, the higher your rating should be.
The main question the lawyers and doctors focused on, and that the Rating Authorities are supposed to focus on when applying the laws of the VASRD, is “How does the condition affect the overall functioning of the veteran?” Does the condition make it so the veteran cannot work at all? That would be a serious disability and deserves a fairly high rating. Does the condition make the veteran unable to perform even the smallest every day tasks like dressing and eating? That would be an even worse disability and deserves an even higher rating. If the veteran is basically able to care for himself and be employed, then the rating should be much lower since the disability isn’t as severe.
So, when these lawyers and doctors got together to make the VASRD, they had a seriously big job. They had to create laws that would cover every severity of every type of disability. There are thousands of ways the human body can misfunction, so while we like to complain about the problems with the VASRD, due credit must be given. Overall, it does a pretty darn good job. It’s impossible to rate every single condition, so in addition to the specific ratings, the VASRD has a bunch of VASRD Principles that are designed to help adjust the VASRD for special circumstances.
As for the ratings themselves, they are meant to reflect the seriousness of the condition. Here are all the possible ratings: 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, and 100%. Each rating entitles the veteran to different Military Disability Benefits for both VA Disability and DoD Disability.  0% means that the veteran isn’t really disabled by the condition at all, and thus will receive the fewest benefits. 100% means that the veteran is completely disabled and unable to hold a job or function productively, and thus deserves the most benefits.
That being said, there are a couple of areas in the VASRD where these guidelines aren’t optimally followed. The most obvious example of this, and the one that makes me most question what the heck they were thinking, are the rating requirements for hearing loss and vision loss. In the VASRD, vision loss is rated on CORRECTED vision, so how well you see WITH glasses or contacts. Hearing loss, however, is not rated on corrected hearing. It is rated on how well you hear WITHOUT a hearing aid. How can this possibly be fair? Either both should be rated on corrected, or both on uncorrected. Either the vision loss people are getting screwed or the hearing loss people are being spoiled. 
You might notice as you find your conditions on this site that there are many times where every rating is not available for a certain condition. For example, the majority of mental disorders can be rated 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, etc. They do not have 20%, 40%, 60%, etc. ratings. This happens because there have to be very clearly separated requirements for each rating, and some conditions don’t have enough different levels to make using each rating logical. They simply looked at all the different severities and decided which rating most closely reflected the disability.
Overall, the VASRD does a good job. It does have its faults, but the majority of conditions are given pretty fair ratings. Before finding your conditions, make sure you read the VASRD Principles page so that you know how to apply the ratings to your particular case.


  • Hearing loss is not "corrected" with hearing aids, they merely enhance the hearing you still have but cannot "correct" hearing you have lost. Glasses are corrective in design, hearing aids are not. Common misconception.

  • That is technically true, but ignores the point of the article. One of the main principles governing the VASRD ratings is the idea of something functioning adequately not constituting a disability. Whether or not hearing aids actually correct hearing (it is true that they only amplify it), the use of the hearing aid eradicates the disability the same way the use of glasses eradicates a vision disability.

  • There is no limit to back pay technically. So if you can prove that the VA made a clear and unmistakable error in their 1999 decision, you could receive back pay to the effective date of that decision. There are various circumstances that could limit this, but if it is clear and straightforward, you would qualify back to that time.

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