TDIU (sometimes simply referred to as IU) stands for the total disability rating based on individual unemployability. In other words, TDIU is an acronym for the scale the VA uses to measure compensation for veterans who cannot work due to service-connected disabilities. Below is a comprehensive guide to understanding TDIU.
Let’s break that done further. Individual Unemployability is a part of the compensation program offered to veterans from the VA to pay certain disability compensation at the 100% rate regardless of whether the veteran has their service-connected disabilities at the total level. Because of this system of combining rather than adding together disability ratings, a veteran with multiple service-related disabilities can struggle to reach a 100% rating.
- Veteran with at least one service-connected disability rated 60% or higher
- Two or more service-connected disabilities, at least one disability rated at 40% or more, with a combined rating of 70% or more
- Veteran who is unable to maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of service-connected disabilities
Substantially Gainful Employment
In order to be gainful employed, the veteran must have earnings above the poverty level (just over #12,000 for a single person). If not, the person’s employment is considered “marginal” and is not gainful employment qualifying the veteran for TDIU.
5 Tips for TDIU
1. You can still fight for TDIU benefits, even if your disability rating is not 100%.
Any veteran with a single disability rated at 60% or higher should be considered for TDIU, but do not let this stop you. Any veteran who has service-related disabilities that prevent them from obtaining a job could potentially qualify.
2. You may be entitled to TDIU even if you are capable of performing “sedentary” work.
In order to determine if you are capable of being gainfully employed the VA is required to consider your prior vocational experience and educational background. If you only had training and performed work requiring physical labor you may still qualify for TIDU. If you are capable of performing “sedentary” work such as a desk job you may also still qualify since you were neither trained nor had experience doing this type of work.
3.You may qualify for both TDIU and Social Security Disability together.
Many veterans are concerned that since they are already receiving Social Security Disability they would not be allowed to get TDIU. They assume there is some sort of prohibition against both or an offset of one against the other. This is not true. If you meet the other qualifications for TDIU you can receive both.
NOTE: A determination by one of these benefits is not binding on the other. Each Department gets to make an independent determination. However, they are a factor to be considered by the other.
4. Compile your work history.
Because of the language the VA uses, those currently unemployed are not the only veterans considered under TDIU. Those who are unable to maintain employment are also considered. As long as your service-related disability has disturbed your ability to successfully stay employed, you could qualify.
Although the VA will generally attempt to obtain these records for the veteran, the veteran can expedite the process by providing sufficient information. It turns out that many employers are simply referring the VA to a third-party website to obtain the records rather than simply sending along the records themselves. It is not necessarily best for the veteran to rely on the VA to obtain all necessary documents. If an employer doesn’t provide the VA with the information it is looking for, it will take extra time for the administration to contact the employer again, perhaps slowing things down.
5. Use the experts.
Getting professional medical and vocational experts to attest that you are unable to stay employed, can help your case. You can even reference experts outside of the VA. In fact, working with a doctor to define your symptoms can be critical evidence in getting your TDIU benefits and having a vocational expert state that you are unemployable can also be critical.
How to apply:
- Submit a VA Form 21-8940 Veterans Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability.
- Send application to your nearest VA Regional Office.
You can either apply online using eBenefits through the VA OR you an work with an accredited representative.
Myths Associated with TDIU
Myth 1: In order to receive TDUI, the veteran cannot be employed.
This is not true. The VA may grant TDIU when a veteran is unable to secure or follow a substantially gainful occupation due to their service-connected disabilities. While to most the words “substantially gainful occupation” may seem like meaningless jargon, the courts have determined that these words specifically mean employment where the Veteran earns more than what the current federal poverty level is for an individual. Right now, the Federal poverty level is about $12,000. This means, an employed Veteran who earns $12,000 or less per year, may be eligible for TDIU despite the fact that they are employed.
In some case, even if a Veteran is employed and earning more than $12,000 a year, they may still be eligible for TDIU if the VA considers the Veteran’s employment to be in a “protected environment,” also known as sheltered work environment. While the VA has not provided a definition of “protected environment,” generally, if a Veteran can show their service-connected injuries prevent them from consistently performing their duties in a reasonable time and the employer has made accommodations for the Veteran, the employment will be considered to be in a “protected environment.” For example, a veteran who has a service-connected back injury and works as a tour guide in a museum would be considered to have been accommodated by his employer if they allow him to use a scooter to lead his tours when no other employee is allowed to use a scooter. In this case, the accommodation suggests that the veteran works in a protected environment and may be entitled to TDIU.
Myth 2: If I don’t meet the percentage requirements, the VA will not grant TDIU.
While in most cases, the VA does not grant TDIU when a veteran does not have one individual 60 percent rating or a combined 70 percent rating with one individual rating at least 40 percent, the VA is allowed to make exceptions. If the veteran is rated less than 60 percent and still wants TDIU, they still may be able to receive TDIU by applying for something called an extraschedular rating.
If the veteran is rated less than 60 percent and still wants TDIU, they still may be able to receive TDIU by applying for something called an extraschedular rating.
An extraschedular rating is when the VA criteria for rating a veteran’s disability does not reflect the severity of the veteran’s disability, so the VA gives more than the maximum percentage allowed for that particular disability. The veteran must show that his disability is so severe that it causes a substantial interference with his ability to work. For example, a veteran who suffers from service-connected fibromyalgia rated as 40 percent disabling will have a strong argument for extraschedular TDIU if they can show that their fibromyalgia causes severe pain with prolonged sitting or standing, and they have incapacitating episodes several times a month.
Myth 3:I have Social Security Disability, so the VA will automatically grant TDIU.
It is a common mistake to think that, because a veteran has been approved for Social Security Disability benefits (SSD) by the Social Security Administration, they will automatically be eligible for TDIU through the VA.
To be eligible for either TDIU or SSD, a veteran must generally (there are some slight exceptions) be unable to work due to physical and/or mental disabilities, but there are also some important differences. For example, the VA only considers a veteran’s service-connected disabilities while SSA considers all disabilities. Additionally, a veteran may be eligible for TDIU if their disabilities keep them from doing their past work, while for SSDI, being capable of doing any job may be a disqualifier. Finally, the VA cannot consider a veteran’s age for TDIU, while age is one of the most important factors in an SSDI claim.
To learn more about how SSA decisions influence your chance to receive TDIU, see the following post: Does SSDI guarantee TDIU?
Myth 4: Any condition I have, whether service-connected or not, is relevant to TDIU.
As previously mentioned, when determining entitlement to TDIU, the VA only considers disabilities that are service-connected. A veteran could have service-connected knee injuries that make walking and standing difficult and a non-service-connected back injury that is aggravated by prolonged sitting. The combined effect of all the veterans conditions would make working any type of job difficult. However, the VA will not consider the back injury, because it is not service-connected.
Myth 5: Once I have been granted TDIU, the VA will never take it away.
Unless the veteran’s service-connected disability is considered permanent and total, the VA may reevaluate the severity of the veteran’s conditions by rescheduling compensation and pension examinations. If the veteran’s disabilities have improved, the VA may revoke TDIU. In addition, the VA will periodically ask that the veteran submit certification of non-employment.
If you are a veteran whose service-connected disability prevents you from securing “substantially gainful” employment, contact us today.