Everything You Need To Know About How The VA Determines Your Burn Pit Disability Rating
Not too long ago, veterans seeking disability benefits for burn pit exposure had a hard time getting their claims approved.
From 2007 to 2020, the VA denied 78% of disability claims by veterans who claimed that burn pit exposure was the cause of their illnesses.1
Some veterans didn’t even get a chance to apply for disability benefits, their illnesses progressed so rapidly. According to Burn Pits 360, Frederick Slape (SFC, Army) was 42 years old when he retired in August 2012 after 20 years of military service. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer due to exposure to burn pits during his two tours in Afghanistan. Frederick died nine weeks after diagnosis in October 2015.2
The situation for burn pit survivors improved in August 2022, with the historic passage of the PACT Act. The PACT Act fast-tracks veterans with burn pit-caused illnesses for disability benefits, by removing the requirement that veterans provide evidence of direct service-connection. It also secures retroactive benefits for those veterans who made a valid burn pit claim before the legislation was passed. All told, the PACT Act could help tens of thousands of veterans exposed to burn pits receive life-sustaining health care and disability payments.
Here at The Rep For Vets, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about burn pits. Do I have to reopen my claim or will the VA take care of it? Is there one burn pit disability percentage rating, or will my ratings be combined? In this article, we address these questions and more. Keep reading to learn more about how the VA determines your burn pit disability rating in 2023.
30+ Burn Pit Illnesses Now Presumed to Be Service-Connected
The long-term effects of burn pit exposure are not fully understood, but the VA now accepts that toxic smoke can lead to a number of serious health problems in veterans. Over 30 cancers and other conditions are now presumed to be service-connected in veterans who were stationed near burn pits.
To be eligible, you need a 1) diagnosis of one or more of the presumptive conditions below, and 2) service records indicating you were stationed in a place where burn pits were used to dispose of waste.
1. Burn Pit Presumptive Conditions
- Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
- Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
- Brain cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Head cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Large cell carcinoma of the lung
- Lymphatic cancer of any type
- Lymphoma of any type
- Neck cancer of any type
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Respiratory cancer of any type
- Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung or trachea
- Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx or trachea
- Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung
Respiratory Diseases and Conditions
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Granulomatous Rhinitis
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Rhinosinusitis (sinusitis)
2. Places and Time Frames Where Burn Pits Were Used
Between August 2, 1990 and present
- The Arabian Sea
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- The Persian Gulf
- The Red Sea
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
After September 11, 2001
America’s longest war is over, but the healing process has just begun. Learn what disability benefits are availble to disabled veterans. Read more >>
How Does the VA Determine My Burn Pit Disability Rating?
The first thing you should know is that the VA does not have a standard disability rating for burn pit exposure. Instead, the VA will consider your medical symptoms and how they impair your ability to work and provide for your family.
The VA grades disability claims based on the severity of the disability, on a scale from 0% to 100%. The higher the rating, the more compensation the veteran will receive. Most of the illnesses on the burn pits presumptive list are rated at 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100%.
Below you will find VA rating schedules for individual burn pit presumptive conditions. These ratings are determined by a VA doctor after you do a C&P exam.
Note: If you have a condition not on this list, you may still be eligible for disability benefits, but you may have to provide additional evidence of a direct service-connection.
Cancers are rated at 100% while active, and for six months after treatments end. After six months, the veteran is asked to return to a VA facility for a C&P to be rated for any residual conditions.
Asthma is rated based on clinical findings at the time of the veteran’s C&P exam, or a documented history of asthma attacks.
The two clinical tests used to rate asthma are called FEV-1 and FCV. These tests measure your lung capacity. The less air you can breathe out, the higher the rating you will receive.
The VA rater will also consider ER Visits and any asthma medications the veteran is required to take.
|60%||At least once monthly ER visits.|
|100%||2 or more episodes a week resulting in respiratory failure that require ER visits.|
|10%||Requires occasional use of a bronchodilator taken by mouth or inhaled.|
|30%||Requires daily use of a bronchodilator taken by mouth or inhaled.|
|30%||Requires occasional use of inhaled anti-inflammatory medication.|
|60%||Requires use of steroids or immunosuppressive medications taken by mouth or injection 3 or more times a year.|
|100%||Requires daily high doses of steroids or immunosuppressive medications taken by mouth or injection.|
Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis
Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis are rated based on the frequency, duration, and severity of incapacitating episodes.
|10%||Intermittent productive cough with occasional infection requiring a course of antibiotics at least twice a year.|
|30%||Episodes last 2-4 weeks, (combined) during a year, OR; daily coughing up mucus that contains pus or blood and that requires prolonged (lasting 4-6 weeks) antibiotic usage more than twice a year.|
|60%||Episodes last 4-6 weeks, (combined) during a year, OR; near constant coughing up mucus containing pus or blood, with anorexia, weight loss, and requiring antibiotic usage almost continuously.|
|100%||Episodes last at least 6 weeks, (combined) during a year.|
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is rated using two clinical tests, FEV-1 and FCV, which measure your lung capacity.
Emphysema is rated using two clinical tests, FEV-1 and FCV, which measure your lung capacity.
Granulomatous Rhinitis is rated at 20% or 100%. A diagnosed Granulomatous infection is rated at 20%. The more lethal Wegener’s granulomatosis is rated at 100%.
Interstitial Lung Diseases
Interstitial Lung Diseases are all rated using an exercise test, the DLCO (SB) and FVC breath tests, a heart test. A veteran who is required to use an oxygen machine at home is automatically rated at 100%.
Pleuritis, Pulmonary Fibrosis, Pleural Effusion, and Pleurisy with Empyema all describe types of excess build up between the lung and the chest wall. These conditions are rated at 100% while active. When not active, the VA rater will use the General Rating Schedule (breath tests).
Rhinitis is rated at 10% or 30%, based on whether or not polyps are present.
|10%||Without growths forming in the tissues (polyps), but with greater than 50% obstruction of nasal passage on both sides or complete obstruction on one side.|
Rhinosinusitis,sometimes referred to as sinusitis,must be chronic for it to be rated. Rhinosinusitis detected by X-ray only will be rated at 0%. The highest rating for rhinosinusitis is 50%, and is typically granted after surgical intervention.
|0%||Detected by X-ray only.|
|10%||1 or 2 incapacitating episodes a year, requiring prolonged (lasting 4 to 6 weeks) antibiotic treatment, OR; 3 to 6 non-incapacitating episodes a year characterized by headaches, pain, and purulent discharge or crusting.|
|30%||3 or more incapacitating episodes a year requiring prolonged (lasting 4 to 6 weeks) antibiotic treatment, OR; more than 6 non-incapacitating episodes a year characterized by headaches, pain, and purulent discharge or crusting.|
|50%||Following radical surgery with chronic osteomyelitis, OR; near constant sinusitis characterized by headaches, pain and tenderness of affected sinus, and purulent discharge or crusting after repeated surgeries.|
Sarcoidosis can be rated using the General Rating Schedule (breath tests) or under the following schedule, whichever gives the veteran the highest rating.
|0%||Chronic hilar adenopathy or stable lung infiltrates without symptoms or physiologic impairment.|
|30%||Pulmonary involvement with persistent symptoms requiring chronic low dose (maintenance) or intermittent corticosteroids.|
|60%||Pulmonary involvement requiring systemic high dose (therapeutic) corticosteroids for control.|
|100%||Right-sided heart failure (Cor pulmonale), OR; cardiac involvement with congestive heart failure, OR; progressive pulmonary disease with fever, night sweats, and weight loss despite treatment.|
I have more than one condition. How is my rating combined?
Calculating your burn pit VA disability benefits is not as straightforward as you might think. The VA combines multiple ratings using “VA Math”.
We’ve written a simple guide on How to Calculate Your VA Disability Rating by looking up your rating in the Combined Rating Table.
If you would prefer to punch in the numbers yourself, try our interactive VA Disability Calculator Tool. The tool is updated with 2023 rates and cost of living adjustment.
Burn Pit Compensation 2023
A veteran with a 100% disabling burn pit rating receives $3,621 a month (at minimum) in 2023.
The following compensations rates are from the VA’s 2023 disability compensations rates tables, which we have reproduced below for your convenience.
|Percentage Rating||Monthly Payment|
Additional Forms of Compensation
For each dependent a veteran has, including adult children and dependent parents, the monthly payment increases by a set amount per dependent tied to the severity of the veteran’s illness. Current figures are available at VA.gov.
There are a few other options for increasing your monthly compensation. One is if your spouse is receiving Aid and Attendance to provide home health care. Veterans with exceptionally severe conditions may claim Special Monthly Compensation. SMC is an additional payment on top of your regular monthly payment.
In the event that you have multiple disabilities that do not add up to 100% but you are unable to work at all, you may also seek Individual Unemployability, also known as TDIU. For more information on TDIU, it’s best to consult with an experienced VA-accredited claims agent whose job is to make sure veterans are getting benefits appropriate to their situation.
I have a pending or previously denied burn pit claim. Do I need to change my claim?
If you have a pending claim for a presumptive condition, the VA states that you don’t need to do anything. They will apply the new rules to your pending claim and notify you of their decision.
If you applied for benefits for conditions now considered presumptive and were denied, don’t wait for the VA to contact you. We recommend you consult with a VA-accredited claims agent today, to make sure your claim is receiving the proper attention.
I am an eligible veteran who was diagnosed with a burn pit disability, but my claim was denied. What can I do?
Sometimes the VA or the VBA makes a mistake, or they are missing evidence that would prove your eligibility for benefits. If you believe the government made a mistake on your claim, or you have a new diagnosis or prognosis, you can file an appeal. There are rules and key deadlines for filing appeals, so it is important that you contact an accredited claims agent to get working on your claim right away.
For veterans who filed a claim for burn pits-related illnesses prior to the August 10, 2022 passage of the PACT Act, we strongly recommended you consult with an experienced VA-accredited claims agent, who can advise on reopening your claim.
Am I entitled to backpay?
Back pay covers the time between the date you first filed a claim — your Effective Date — and the date your claim is approved. Learn more about how VA back pay works here.
PACT Act Health Benefits
In addition to unlocking disability compensation for the conditions listed above, the PACT Act makes it easier for veterans to get quality healthcare related to burn pit exposure. The law will add 31 major medical clinics across the country, and would seek to take a more proactive approach to dealing with toxic exposures.
The VA will now be required to screen incoming veterans for potential toxic exposure as part of its primary care provider services. Thousands more claims processors and health care professionals will be hired to staff the new facilities and speed up the claims process.
The PACT Act is the biggest expansion of veterans benefits in history. It includes 23 new presumptive benefits for burn pits. Learn more >>
How Soon Can I Start Receiving Disability Compensation?
The new disability benefits granted by the PACT Act will be phased in over the next few years.
The details are still being hammered out by the VA, but here’s what we know now.
- Chronic bronchitis and other respiratory conditions will be added to the presumptive list in October 2023.
- Cancer benefits will be phased in from 2024 to 2025.
- Kidney cancer will not be added until 2025.
We should note that veterans with especially severe medical issues may be able to get their claim expedited.
Get Professional Help With Your Burn Pit Claim Today
At The Rep For Vets, our VA-accredited claims agents help veterans beat the red tape. You see, our claims agents don’t like to see vets get pushed around. We refuse to forget what you’ve given to us. And we want to give something back to you by helping you get the benefits you deserve. Our claims agents promise to serve you as honorably as you have served your country.
If you have not already filed a claim, do so now. Don’t wait for presumptive benefits to be phased in. By applying for benefits now, you will have an earlier effective date, and may be able to recover backpay for the time you waited.
Was your service-connected claim denied or rated too low? Has your condition worsened? Don’t let an unfavorable VA decision discourage you from getting life-sustaining benefits. If your claim was denied you have a right to appeal. You may also appeal to increase your rating. The Rep For Vets also helps veterans win their claims for PTSD and TBI.
Resources and Further Reading
- VA Burn Pit Registry
- Rep For Vets Burn Pit Exposure page
- PACT Act Fast-Tracks Benefits for Burn Pit Related Illnesses
- Healing the Wounds of Afghanistan: A Benefits Guide for Disabled Veterans
- Everything Veterans Need to Know About Gulf War Syndrome
- Burn Pits 360 – veterans organization that advocated for passage of the PACT Act