How is my military disability calculated and how much will I receive?

This question is asked often and it should be in the forefront of a Service Member’s mind as they navigate through the military disability system.  The very simple answer comes in the form of an equation, and if you are like anyone else – math can be scary.  This hopefully will simplify and help to explain the process in simpler terms.


The journey to military disability enlightenment begins with the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD); understanding this will help to understand what exactly your rating means.  The VASRD is law created by Congress in an attempt to create a fair disability rating system, before the VASRD different branches of service would assign different ratings for identical disabilities, leading to inequity in the system.  Now the VASRD is used by every branch’s Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to rate unfitting conditions.  It is also used by the VA during a Service Member’s (SM) Compensation and Pension Exam (C&P Exam).   A SM can being the C&P process once they are referred the a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and the apply to the VA for ratings.

VA Math

The VASRD helps to level the playing field by applying governing principles to help vague concepts like pain, unemployability, and social functioning to receive fair consideration.  But what happens if a SM has more than one condition that makes him unfit for duty?  These ratings are added together using VA Math for a total combined disability rating.  This process can get confusing, even for those who designed the system – so let’s go slow and use examples.

 What happens is each condition is a percentage of the disability of the SM, when added together each percentage is not a percentage of the entire SM but a percentage of what is left.  Time for a simple example to help explain:

Thomas is considered 100% whole.  Thomas, as a result of his military career, has compensable conditions.  To keep things simple we’ll say he has a back injury rated at 30%, a shoulder injury at 20% and a knee injury at 10%.  Now, the common mistake is to believe his rating is 30+20+10 for a rating of 60%, but that is not VA Math.  First we take the highest rated condition and subtract that from the whole body rating of 100%:

  • Back Injury

100% (the body as a whole) – 30% (the back injury) = 70%

Thus, with this rating, Thomas’ body is 70% whole and his rating is 30%.

  • Shoulder Injury

Thomas’ shoulder injury is rated at 20%, but due to his back injury and after applying his rating for that condition his body is no longer considered whole and is considered 70% whole.  Thus, the 20% is taken from that 70%.  The math breaks down like this:

70% x 0.20 = 14

70 – 14 = 56  Thomas is now 56% whole and his rating is calculated as 30% + 14% = 44%.  It is important to note that the original 30% added to the 14% represents the missing portion of his now 56% of whole body (56% + 44% = 100%)

  • Knee Injury

Thomas’ knee injury is rated at 10%.  We once again subtract the 10% from what is left.

56% x 0.10 = 5.6%

56% - 5.6% = 50.4 % of Thomas’ former whole self.

Now we add the 5.6% to Thomas’ other ratings to come up with a final combined rating of 49.6% (30 + 14 + 5.6) which is rounded to 50%.

Hopefully this simple example helps to clear up the complicated VA Math process.  Depending on the Veteran, the list of conditions can be very long, which complicates the VA Math, but the principles remain the same. 

One important part of the VA equation to note is the Bilateral Factor.  An additional 10% is added to the VA Math equation if the SM has both arms or legs affected by two ratable conditions, the conditions do not have to be identical for the bilateral factor to apply.  When the bilateral factor is applied, it is done first, even if the non-bilateral conditions are rated higher.  For example, Thomas now has a left (20%) and right hand (10%) rated conditions and a back injury rated at 30%.   Despite being lower than the back condition, the VA Math starts with the bilateral conditions.

  • Left Hand 20%

100% - 20% = 80%

Total Combined Rating – 20%

  • Right Hand 10%

80% x 0.10 =  Total Combined Rating 8%

His total body is now 72%

  • Bilateral Factor is now applied!

We add 10% of the total combined rating to both conditions – 28%

10% x 28% = 2.8%

28% + 2.8% = 30.8%, his new Total Combined Rating.  This is rounded to the nearest 10 ~ 30%.



100% - 30% (Back) = 70% of the whole

The Bilateral Condition is now computed as a single condition:

70% x 30% (Bilateral Condition) = 21%

70 % - 21% = 49% whole

30% + 21% = 51%.

Thomas’ Final Combined Total Rating is 50%.

As we see, unless the bilateral conditions are severe, because they are rounded to the nearest 10, they have limited impact on the final combined total rating.

 Now that we understand ratings (hopefully), we can see how these will affect how much you will receive!


Retirement Disability Pay Calculation

 The basic formula is Retired Base Pay x Multiplier %.  However this hardly explains all the nuances.  Typically the entries to figure out an estimated calculation of pay incorporate many more variables:

  • high 36-average monthly base pay
  • years and months in service
            Years of Service

            The years of creditable service for computation of the retired pay percentage multiplier include all active duty and all credited reserve points divided by 360

  • Spouse (YES/NO)
  • Dependent Parents
  • Dependents under 18
  • Dependents over 18 still in school
  • Military Disability % (must be at least 30%)
  • Combat Related Special Compensation Award Percentage (See CRSC section for detailed explanation)
  • VA %

So, now that we understand VA Math and the calculations for Retirement Disability Pay you are well equipped, once you receive your ratings, to calculate the exact monetary amount of your disability you will receive.  Remember, to receive the highest possible rating, it is important to hire knowledgeable and seasoned attorneys to help present the most complete packet to submit to the MEB/PEB.