Why did the VA reduce my disability benefits?
It is very frustrating, after years of fighting through all the headaches and finally obtaining disability benefits from the VA, to suddenly find that your disability benefits are going to be reduced. You may have believed that the monthly payment from the VA would continue indefinitely without changing. However, the VA does sometimes reduce benefits. Below are some reasons why the agency can reduce your benefits.
You Have an Unprotected Benefit Rate
Generally, the VA can reduce your monthly disability benefit if you have what is called an "unprotected rate," and if your medical condition has improved. (More on VA procedures to make a rate reduction below.)
Who Has Unprotected Benefit Rates
You have an unprotected rate if:
- you have a disability rating that is above the minimum for your disability, but below 100%, and
- you have been receiving benefits for less than five years.
Your benefits will likely be reduced if you have an unprotected rate and your medical condition has improved on more than a temporary basis.
Who has Protected Benefit Rates
Veterans with a "static" disability (one that won't improve) such as the loss of a limb.
Veterans who are found to be totally and permanently disabled (those rated at 100% disabled).
- Veterans who have been receiving benefits for more than five years at the same level.
- Veterans age 55 or older.
- Veterans who have been receiving benefits for more than 20 years.
Protected benefit rates can still be reduced, but it is much more difficult for the VA to do lower protected rates. For example, to reduce benefits after you have been receiving benefits for 20 years, the VA would have to be able to prove that your initial disability claim was fraudulent.
You Are in Prison
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may reduce your Veteran Disability Compensation if you are incarcerated for a felony. If you are in a federal, state, or local prison, your disability compensation will be reduced or terminated after your 61st day in prison. If you had a service-connected disability rated at 20% or higher before you were incarcerated, the VA may reduce your monthly benefit to the 10% rate.
If you are receiving a VA pension, and you are incarcerated for either a felony or misdemeanor, on your 61st day in jail, your pension will be terminated, as opposed to just reduced.
However, if after 60 days in prison, you are released to a halfway house, work release program, paroled, or have completed serving your sentence, your disability compensation benefits will not be reduced and/or your pension will not be terminated.
How the VA Reduces Benefits
The VA will send you a letter explaining that the agency is re-evaluating your disability rating and that you need to go a VA examination. The VA will review the doctor's examination report to determine if your medical condition has improved. If VA finds that your condition has improved, they will likely reduce your disability rating. For more information, see our article VA examinations to reduce disability benefits.
Should I Get an Attorney?
Protected Rating. If you have a protected rating and your benefits have been reduced, you should hire a veterans' attorney to help you. It’s very difficult for the VA to legitimately change a protected rating, so a disability attorney may be able to get your rating reinstated.
Unprotected Rating. If you have an unprotected rating and your benefits were reduced, you should also consult a veteran's attorney. The VA has legal requirements they must adhere to, such as keeping you notified of what you need to do to keep your benefits and properly examining your medical records, before they can legally reduce your benefits. A disability attorney can assess your situation and determine if the VA made an error reducing your benefits.
For more information on what the VA must show to reduce benefits, see our article on when veterans' compensation can be reduced.