VA Benefits for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU)

Veterans who cannot work to earn a living may obtain a total disability benefit – even though the VA has rated their service-connected injury or illness at less than 100 percent. The VA allows the full disability benefits through a program known as Individual Unemployability (IU) or Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).

How long does the VA Appeals process take?

Our lawyers can help veterans who have been unable to achieve a 100 percent disability rating with medical records and doctors’ statements. TDIU eligibility has certain disability rating thresholds the veteran must meet, but the final rating decision focuses on the vet’s inability to maintain “substantially gainful employment.”

Berry Law Firm can help qualifying disabled veterans appeal or reopen their existing disability claims and seek TDIU benefits. We work with disabled veterans nationwide to obtain all compensation they are due from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Do You Qualify for the VA’s Individual Unemployability Benefit?

Veterans who are unable to maintain “substantially gainful employment” due to a service-connected illness or injury are entitled to TDIU. It provides compensation equal to a total disability rating, though the veteran’s objective VA disability rating would be less than 100 percent.

To qualify, a veteran’s disability benefits claim must show that he or she:

  • Has at least one service-connected disability rated at 60 percent or more, or
  • Has multiple disabilities, at least one of which must be rated at 40 percent or more and when combined earn a rating of 70 percent or more, and
  • Such service-connected disabilities make them unable to perform the mental and/or physical tasks required to obtain or maintain substantially gainful employment.

The VA will also consider TDIU benefits for veterans who do not meet the minimum disability rating requirements if they demonstrate exceptional or unusual circumstances. This may be that their disabilities directly interfere with their employability, or require frequent hospitalization that makes steady employment impractical.

Substantially Gainful Employment

The VA defines “substantially gainful employment” as “employment at which non-disabled individuals earn their livelihood with earnings comparable to the particular occupation in the community where the veteran resides.

Substantially gainful employment is more than marginal employment, according to VA regulations. The VA defines “marginal employment” as providing income that does not exceed the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold for one person.

In 2016, the Census Bureau poverty threshold was $12,486 for an individual under 65 and $11,511 for an individual 65 or older.

However, disabled veterans who work in sheltered work environments, or are employed by family businesses or self-employed, may earn more than marginal employment income and still be considered for TDIU benefits.

The VA does not consider money a veteran earns through the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA’s) Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program as income for TDIU eligibility purposes.

How Do Veterans Prove Eligibility for VA TDIU Benefits?

To obtain TDIU benefits from the VA, a veteran’s disability benefits claim must include:

  • Medical evidence that allows the VA to evaluate the veteran’s current physical and mental condition. This may include records of VA medical exams, military or private hospital records, outpatient records, etc. As in other claims, the VA may schedule a Compensation and Pension Examination (C&P exam) if the veteran’s medical records are incomplete or inconsistent.
  • Employment and work history covering the five years prior to when the veteran’s condition made them became too disabled for substantially gainful employment. The claim should include records of any sheltered or other protected work performed afterward, as well.
  • Forms from each employer for whom the veteran worked during the year before the date the veteran became unable to work.
  • Social Security Administration reports if the veteran receives Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits and the veteran’s other evidence is not enough to earn TDIU status.
  • Records from the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service (VR&E) if evidence suggest rehab was undertaken but unsuccessful or was found to be medically unfeasible.

If the VA grants the TDIU benefit, the recipient must complete a VA employment questionnaire annually until turning 69 years old. This short form allows the veteran to reaffirm that they have not obtained substantially gainful employment and/or document any protected employment (sheltered, family business, etc.)

VA disability claims evaluators only consider TDIU benefits for veterans in exceptional cases. Claims evaluators also consider the veteran’s age and distinguish between inability due to age and retirement as opposed to a true service-connected disability that has made the veteran unemployable.

How to Seek Full Disability Compensation through TDIU

If you are unable to earn a living but the VA has not granted you a 100% disability rating, you may be able to obtain a TDIU benefit. If you meet the qualifications, Berry Law Firm can help you appeal your disability rating and seek TDIU.

A veteran makes the request by submitting VA Form 21-8940, Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability.

Berry Law Firm attorneys can do the work required of this appeal for an increased benefit. We will identify a basis for a claim of TDIU status by reviewing your existing claim, and help you obtain medical and employment records required to demonstrate eligibility for TDIU.

If necessary, we ask medical professionals and vocational counselors to examine you and your records, and appraise your ability to maintain substantial employment, and submit their opinions as part of your appeal.