The Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed changes to mental health ratings. This proposal has generated a great deal of controversy, and many people are arguing that it will harm veterans. Let’s inspect what the proposed changes entail. In addition, we will cover how to share your opinion with the VA.
The VA ended 2021 with a significant cost-of-living increase. However, they have begun 2022 with an attempt to reduce veteran’s benefits. They started with a proposal to eliminate the rating for sleep apnea. Unfortunately, that will reduce benefits for thousands of disabled veterans.
In addition, the VA released proposed changes to mental health ratings. This is a major issue. In short, it could affect the benefits of almost two million veterans. The VA has stated that they need this change in order to “more accurately” compensate veterans. However, I don’t see how these changes help any veterans.
What Are The Current Mental Health Ratings?
The following are an abbreviated look at the current mental health ratings:
What Are The Proposed Mental Health Ratings?
The VA is proposing to completely revamp how they rate mental health. In short, they want to look at how your mental health disability affects five parts of your life. They will include: cognition, interpersonal interactions and relationships, task completion and life activities, navigating environments, and self-care.
The VA will grade your mental health in each area on a scale of none (0), mild (1), moderate (2), severe (3), or total (4). The grade will create an overall rating using the following table.
The VA Will Eliminate the 0% Mental Health Rating
The VA is proposing to eliminate the 0% mental health rating. They have long used the 0% rating to under pay veterans. This change is overdue and welcome. If approved, veterans will receive a minimum of 10% for any mental health disabilities.
In addition, a 10% rating for mental health would automatically make veterans eligible for VA health care. This will be very useful to veterans who can only service-connect mental health claims.
100% Rating and Able To Work
The current VA mental health rating for 100% reads like you cannot work. However, that is not how the VA uses that rating. In fact, many mental health professionals would recommend that those with mental health ratings attempt to work. Likewise, work can be a great way to treat your mental health.
As a result, the VA is acknowledging this in the proposed 100% rating. The VA expunged the verbiage about being unable to work. This is a great step forward for those with mental health ratings. Thankfully, the proposed rule would help veterans get the benefits they deserve while still maintaining a job. In addition, I enjoy seeing the VA acknowledge that those with 100% ratings are allowed to work.
Why Am I Skeptical?
My concern is buried in the fine print of the proposal. The VA states that the proposed “criterion should lead to more generous compensation for veterans than the current rating formula.” The VA makes its changes based on saving money. They do not make changes that will result in more spending. As a result, it’s reasonable for veterans to be skeptical about these latest proposed changes.
Why The 20 Year Rule Matters More Than Ever
The 20 year rule is a critical protection for veterans with long-term disabilities. It is still the trump card for VA disability. The VA can not reduce a rating that has been held for 20 continuous years. So, if you have a mental health rating that has been in effect since 2002, the VA can not reduce your rating, even if they finalize their proposed changes.
Where Do We Go Next?
The VA cannot complete any changes for some time. As a result, veterans need to monitor the proposed changes. It is important for veterans to review proposals and provide feedback.