Defending Against the Downgrade of Your VA Disability Rating

By Douglas Katz – 10/26/2025

When it comes to the well-being of our veterans, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plays a pivotal role in ensuring that those who have served receive the care and support they deserve. One critical aspect of this support is the VA disability rating system, which helps veterans receive compensation for service-related injuries and conditions. While some disability ratings are deemed permanent, others are subject to reevaluation, and herein lies the importance of documenting and seeking regular treatment for veterans with VA disability ratings.

Understanding the VA Disability Rating System

The VA disability rating system is designed to match compensation with the disability’s impact on a veteran’s life. These ratings are essential for veterans to receive the financial and medical support they need to cope with their service-related disabilities. However, the VA recognizes that people’s conditions can change over time, and as a result, they reserve the right to reevaluate and adjust disability ratings when necessary. It is important to note that a change in rating does not alter the designation as service-related; it merely reflects the current severity and impact of the condition.

It is also important to not interpret the VA’s process as some sort of personal attack.  They are not singling you out, but rather executing their duty to ensure that they are both taking care of the vets and being careful with taxpayer money.  The system is objective and many of the conditions that veterans suffer from due have data associated with them showing the possibility of improvement.  Regardless of whether you agree with the logic, the system is not meant to target any specific individual.

The Pitfalls of Neglecting Documentation

If you are a disabled veteran, you need to think like the VA.  While some conditions genuinely improve over time, others may remain stable or worsen.  The VA cannot determine where you fit, so they may deem an evaluation necessary to make that determination.  If you have a condition that could improve, you must consider what criteria the VA would use in that evaluation and plan accordingly.  

The problem arises when veterans neglect to document and communicate the status or any changes in their conditions to their healthcare providers.  This neglect can be particularly problematic when the disability is chronic, as individuals learn to adapt and cope with their condition, leading to underreporting or under-treatment.  The problem arises when the veteran creates a giant information gap between when they received their rating and the time of the re-evaluation.  Someone reviewing the file could interpret that as the possibility of improvement with the need to further investigate the status.  This could have been avoided with detailed documentation of continued impact from the rated issues.  

The inclination to adapt to one’s condition and carry on with life is a common trait among veterans, often rooted in the indomitable spirit that military service instills. However, it is essential for veterans to resist this impulse when it comes to VA disability ratings. Regular communication with healthcare providers and accurate documentation are paramount to ensure that the impact of a disability remains unquestioned.  This is not just VA care as you may use non-VA physicians. What is important is to document, document, document.

The Ripple Effect of Losing a Rating

Failing to document and address changes in a disability can have a significant impact on a veteran’s life. The VA may reevaluate and potentially reduce the disability rating, which can lead to a decrease in compensation and other benefits.  By the time they are re-evaluated, most disabled veterans have become accustomed to the income.  Sometimes, this is negligible to the household finances, but, in other cases, loss of the disability pay can significantly decrease their income creating avoidable hardship.

The loss of a rating can also create a ripple effect, particularly in states where benefits are tied to specific rating levels. For instance, the Illinois Disabled Veterans Real Estate Tax Exemption is based on VA disability ratings. At the higher disability ratings, i.e. 70% and above, veterans in Illinois get a full exemption on their real estate taxes.  A downgrade in rating could result in the loss of such benefits if it drops them below the threshold and the benefit is validated annually based on the veterans rating at that time.

The Road to Regaining a Rating

If you do experience a downgrade in their disability rating due to a lack of documented treatment and communication, all is not lost. It is possible to work toward regaining some or all of the former rating by ensuring that the condition is appropriately addressed and documented. However, this can be a challenging task.  After all, the downgrade was likely caused in part by a lack the necessary documentation that could have prevented the downgrade in the first place.

It may also take some time.  You will need to rebuild the case for their condition with regular treatment and documentation.  The VA will look for support in the same way that they originally did to support your claims.  With patience and a deliberate approach, you can likely overcome the downgrade, but I would surely recommend doing what you can to avoid it in the first place.

Communicate and Document

In conclusion, for disabled veterans, the importance of documenting and seeking regular treatment for VA disability ratings cannot be overstated. The VA is not an adversary; rather, it aims to provide veterans with the appropriate level of support based on the current impact of their service-related disabilities. Neglecting to document changes in one’s condition and communicate openly with healthcare providers can have long-lasting repercussions.

It is crucial for veterans to remember that only the rating can change, not the designation as service-related. Veterans should be proactive in ensuring that their conditions are accurately reflected in their ratings, thereby securing the benefits and support they rightfully deserve. By resisting complacency and embracing a proactive approach to their health, veterans can safeguard their well-being and the benefits associated with their service to the nation.

 

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