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

— April 22, 2022

A veteran can also have two conditions wrongly rated as one disability for 20 years or more.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs determines the right compensation benefits when a veteran becomes ill or injured due to active duty. The veteran’s disability is rated on a percentage scale and then monitored over time. The VA may propose a reduction in the initial rating when there is proof that the condition has improved.

A reduction in the rating means veterans will receive reduced disability benefits then previously assigned. 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-connected 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 rating was based on fraud. Additionally, any increased ratings for a service-connected condition after 20 years can be reduced if the condition improves but not below the lowest rating.

The 20-year rule protects the veterans’ rating from reduction for any reason, even when their condition improves. In addition, no re-examinations are required for veterans who have continuously received benefits for 20 years or more. 

The 20-year rule also protects the veteran’s rating from new laws or changes to current laws. You can contact an experienced legal team to help you understand more about the 20-year rule and learn how a Georgia VA disability lawyer can serve you.

Retroactive Benefits

If a veteran receives a recent rating for a service-connected condition that dates back 20 years or more, it would be protected by the 20-year rule. Likewise, 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 been dealing with a service-connected 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. In addition, the 20-year rule also protects a retroactively increased rating. If a veteran appeals for an increased rating for a condition that goes 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 can sometimes worsen and show new symptoms outside the assigned diagnostic code. In this case, the VA will be required to assign a new diagnostic code that shows an accurate reflection of the new symptoms. The new diagnostic code will warrant a new rating assigned to the veteran. Since the new rating will have a new effective date, it will not be protected under the 20-year rule.

In other cases, a veteran’s condition can worsen over time and lead to new additional symptoms to the already present symptoms that the veteran is suffering from. The VA will have to use a different diagnostic code to assign the new symptoms a different rating. The new rating derived from the new symptoms will not be protected by the 20-year rule even though they have been caused by the original condition that is protected.

The new symptoms are treated as distinct from the original condition, and as such, they are given a separate evaluation. Whereas the rule will not protect the new symptoms, the initial condition will remain protected.

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A veteran can also have two conditions wrongly rated as one disability for 20 years or more. The VA can re-evaluate the conditions and rate them as two different disabilities under certain requirements. First, the different conditions should have the same effective date as the former single disability. Second, the two conditions should have a combined rating greater than or equal to the former. If a veteran meets the criteria, the new conditions will get a new rating and remain protected by the rule.

Bottom Line

Suppose you have any questions, troubles, or disputes regarding your VA rating, disability claim, the 20-year rule, eligibility criteria, or retroactive compensation for burn pits. In that case, it is best to discuss with a VA disability benefits attorney. They will inform you about your rights, the legal steps you need to take to gain your well-deserved benefits and the issues you have to solve with the VA to continue to enjoy your benefits. 

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