The “Bilateral Factor” in VA Ratings

When you receive a disability rating from VA, you need to make sure the rating has been calculated correctly.  One of the oldest tricks in VA’s book is to give a veteran a rating that is not as high as it should be.

Many times, the veteran is so happy to finally have some good news on his long-delayed claim.  This causes many veterans not to look at the VA rating closely enough.  Because of that, they do not receive all the VA benefits they should.

Cubes with numbers and percentagesYou especially need to consider the possibility of an incorrect low rating if you have disabilities that affect either both arm or both legs.  If you do have disabilities on the right and left side, you may be entitled to a “bump” in your rating based on what is known as the “bilateral factor.”

What is the Bilateral Factor?

In the context of your VA disability claim, the bilateral factor is an increase in the standard rating.  The law recognizes that a disability that affects both arms or both legs limits someone more than each of those disabilities considered alone.  In other words, if you already have a disability to your right arm, a disability to the left arm causes even more limitations than it otherwise would since you need the second arm to compensate for the first bad arm.

So How Much Is the Additional Rating for the Bilateral Factor?

Regardless of the body part in question, the bilateral factor is an additional 10% of the combined rating for the disability to each side.  To be clear, it is not a straight 10% additional rating.

To best illustrate, let’s look at an example.  Let’s say you have a left knee condition that VA rated at 30%, a right knee condition rated at 10%, and another 10% rating for tinnitus.  VA should consider the left and right knee conditions together for a combined rating.  A 30% left knee rating and a 10% right knee rating equal a 37% combined rating.  (If you don’t understand how 30% + 10% = 37%, you can read our previous article to learn how VA math is not like regular math since disabilities ratings are combined together).

Because both the right and left sides are affected, the veteran should receive an additional 10% of the 37%, which is an additional 3.7%.  What is the big deal about an extra 3.7%?

Why Does The Bilateral Factor Matter?

When added to the 37%, that gives a new combined rating of 41% (40.7% rounded up to 41%).  The 41% for the left and right knees is then combined with the 10% for tinnitus.  This gives an overall combined rating of 47%.  VA should round that 47% up to 50%.

In this particular example, that extra 3.7% was just enough to push the overall combined rating increased to 50%.   Without the additional benefit for the bilateral factor calculation, the veteran would have been stuck at 40%.  For a single veteran with no dependents, that is about a $245 per month difference.

Sometimes though, the bilateral factor may not push you to the next combined rating level.  But, it may come into play if you later have additional service-connected disabilities or get increased ratings on the ones you already have.

How Do I Know if VA Gave Me Credit for the Bilateral Factor?

The ratings decision should lay out how VA calculated the ratings.  It should also acknowledge the additional 10% for the bilateral factor.

Of course, there is a (small) chance that they gave you this additional 10% but did not explicitly state that they were doing so.  In that case, you have to be able to do “VA math” accurately to check their combined rating.

Bilateral factor ratings and combined ratings are not easy to understand. It may be difficult to comprehend VA’s math since it is not like regular math.  That is why we suggest having one of our knowledgeable veterans disability attorneys look over your ratings decision to make sure you get the full benefits you deserve.

We will check to make sure you got credit for the bilateral factor.  We will also look to see if the VA shorted you on the appropriate rating for any of your disabilities.

Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims.  He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.

You can subscribe to his Veterans Disability channel on YouTube.

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