As expected (see article below), there will be no adjustment of VA disability benefits based on inflation in 2016. All current disability benefit amounts will remain at 2015 levels on December 1 when new rates ordinarily go into effect. The government reasoning behind not increasing benefits next year is based on the decline of gasoline prices and how that decline affected the economy as a whole. However, as has been pointed out by several commentators, elderly individuals are much less likely to operate automobiles or at least not operate them as much as other groups in the population; therefore, they are not affected as much by gasoline price reductions. The elderly are more concerned about the increased costs for food, shelter, utilities and healthcare so while the cost for fuel remained low or decreased slightly, the prices for items that have a greater impact on the budgets of elderly Americans increased.
Based on preliminary government reports, it is increasingly likely that there will not be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for veterans or social security benefits in 2016. The lack of inflationary trends indicates no growth in the adjusted cost of living index through the third-quarter of 2015.
While no official information has been yet released, based on current information, a COLA adjustment seems very unlikely.
For those of you affected, it may be of interest to note that VA disability benefits have never been increased since their inception. It is inaccurate to speak of an "increase" in benefits based on the annual COLA adjustment. In reality, there is no increase per se, the initial rates are only being adjusted to keep pace with inflation. So, veterans (among others) only see a theoretical status quo in the benefits, never an increase.
Once the VA has determined that the veteran's psychological profile (diagnoses) and the evidence of stressors (events) that occurred during active duty military service are present, it will make a determination that a diagnosis of PTSD is warranted. VA will then review the most current clinical evidence of record to determine how the severity of your symptoms impairs your social and industrial (ability to work) capacity. The VA has a schedule of rating disabilities, located in title 38 C.F.R., Part 4. The VA has established “Diagnostic Codes” (DC) for various medical and psychiatric disorders, which include a description of the severity of related symptoms and a corresponding disability percentage (called a “rating” or “evaluation”). Although there are different DCs for covered psychiatric disorders, the VA evaluates the level of disability due to psychiatric disorders under the same criteria, regardless of the actual diagnosis. 38 C.F.R. §4.130, DC 9411, governs PTSD ratings. This regulation provides graduated ratings of 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70% or 100%. A 0% rating is noncompensable, This means that you have service-connected PTSD, however, there is little or no impairment as a result. VA compensation payments begin at 10% and increase at each rating level.
The VA has adopted the criteria established in the DSM-5 as the basis for its psychiatric ratings, including PTSD. Although it is being slowly phased out in favor of more robust tests, there is a diagnostic matrix called the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale (GAF) that may be used to determine your level of disability. The lower the GAF score, the higher the level of social and industrial impairment. Section 4.130 is reproduced below. You can share this with your psychiatric provider of care, who can prepare a report or opinion letter for submission to the VA that describes your level of impairment.
Bear in mind that even if the severity of your symptoms do not satisfy the diagnostic criteria for a 100% (or total) evaluation under the rating schedule, if your rating is high enough, another VA regulation (38 C.F.R. § 4.16) allows the VA to pay you at the 100% level if medical evidence demonstrates that your are unable to obtain or maintain substantially gainful employment as the result of your service-connected PTSD. The technical term for this is a total rating on the basis of individual unemployability due to service-connected disability (TDIU or IU).
38 C.F.R. § 4.130, DC 9411
GENERAL RATING FORMULA FOR MENTAL DISORDERS:
Material courtesy of Vietnam Veterans of America
Dr. Glenn Osborne is the Managing Director of EVLAG. He holds a doctorate in Gerontology and has over 15 years experience in veterans benefit issues and advocacy.