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13.7. Protected Ratings

As discussed above, VA assigns a "rating" based on how a service-connected condition affects the claimant's ability to perform gainful employment. As described earlier, the determination is based on the average impact on employment, not the specific impact to the particular claimant. The severity of many service-connected conditions can change over time, so claimants have the right to ask for higher ratings when a service-connected condition worsens. On the other hand, VA has the right to require periodic medical examinations and to reduce ratings for conditions that get better.

Congress has determined that under certain conditions it is not necessary for VA to expend resources to check on a claimant's medical status. As a result, some ratings can become "protected" under certain conditions. A "protected" rating is a VA rating that cannot be reduced or revoked by VA in the future, absent fraud in the application. There are only a few types of protected ratings and they are all described below.

First, all individuals receiving VA compensation are protected against reductions caused by future revisions of the rating schedule. Because Congress periodically revises the rating schedule, it is possible that the same medical condition could be rated less severely in the revised schedule than in the rating schedule that existed when VA assigned the rating. VA cannot, however, reduce the claimant's rating unless the condition has actually medically improved.

VA also cannot reduce a rating that has continuously existed at or above the current rating for 20 or more years. The only exception to this rule is that a rating based on fraud by the claimant can be reduced or severed at any time. For ratings that have been in effect for 10 years or more, VA cannot sever an award of service connection absent evidence of fraud or a showing that the claimant did not have the requisite service or character of discharge to initially qualify for the award.

Claimants should not confuse a "Permanent and Total" ("P&T") rating with a "protected" rating. A P&T rating is not a protected rating. What VA means by "permanent" is that the condition is assumed to be unceasing in nature and not likely to improve. "Total" means that the maximum rating has been assigned. As a result, VA will not schedule a P&T claimant for the routine medical examinations required of other claimants. However, if VA becomes aware of medical improvement, a P&T claim can be reduced just like any other claim. Claimants with a P&T condition should keep this in mind when considering whether to file additional claims because the resulting C&P exam could provide VA a basis to reduce the P&T claim. This could result in a lower total rating, even if the new claim is granted.

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