Written By: Chris Yakubisin

The frustrations for a veteran seeking compensation for the complications and disabilities related to their service are many, one in particular has struck me: the inability of the C.F.R. to adequately define disabilities in its ratings schedules.

What I mean is, while the C.F.R.’s ratings schedules attempt to determine what characteristics of a particular disability warrant what disability rating, there are a lot of considerations that are left out, resulting in ratings that don’t accurately reflect the level of disability. The problem really is that the C.F.R. is attempting to do what may be an impossible job.

There is no way to tell exactly how a veteran’s service will affect them for the rest of their lives. Their experiences are varied and certainly more extreme than a typical person’s daily experience, which leads to more complicated health problems when they return. The rating schedules in the C.F.R. simply aren’t worded to account for many of these problems.

For example, the rating schedule for eczema or dermatitis, rated at 60 percent (the highest rating available for these disorders), requires a veteran to have “More than 40 percent of the entire body or more than 40 percent of exposed areas affected, or; constant or near-constant systemic therapy such as corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs required during the past 12-month period.” This may seem like a fair rating schedule, but in practice different results may arise. What if, for example, the veteran in question had used corticosteroids to treat their disorder, but over time the negative health effects of the “near constant” use of steroids outweighed the benefit of their use? If that veteran went to apply for compensation for the disorder, after having decided to discontinue the use of steroids, they may be barred from claiming benefits under this regulation.

Or, what if the veteran was affected by this disorder on a small, but important, part of their body, like their hands?  In an extreme case this may prevent that veteran from using their hands as they normally would, and may prevent them from keeping steady employment, yet without a substantial rating it would be difficult or impossible to obtain a rating for total disability based on individual unemployability.

This is just one example of the shortcomings in the rating system as it is today; however, it is difficult to imagine an alternative formulation of the system. Were a more pragmatic system to be developed, with a greater emphasis on the real impact of the disability, it would almost certainly be subject to some controversy. Different diagnoses may be treated more sympathetically than others, some may be easier to prove, or one rater may give higher ratings than another, creating more inequality in the system.

While a large-scale expansion and revision of the ratings schedules would be ideal, it is unlikely that we will see that any time in the near future. In the meantime, the best recourse may simply be effective advocacy. Creative solutions for the obstacles presented by the C.F.R. ratings system may be difficult to formulate, but the possibility of an accurate rating still exists for someone who has the time and resources to prove the true nature of their disability to the VA.

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