Claims for “total disability on the basis of individual unemployability” or TDIU continue to be on the rise as more and more veterans are being diagnosed with a number of diseases and conditions that result in their being unable to hold down a job. This viscous cycle can spiral out of control resulting in an inability to support their families, or simply themselves.
What constitutes eligibility for TDIU? In layman’s terms it basically means being unable to engage in substantially gainful employment as a result of service connected conditions where “gainful employment” is defined as the ability to hold a job paying an amount greater than or equal to the poverty level set by the federal government.
When people talk about the “poverty level” they are usually referring to the Federal poverty guidelines. This definition is issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services and is used to determine who does or does not receive federal subsidies. In other words, who is poor and eligible for assistance from the Federal Government versus who is not eligible. For 2014, the poverty level for which a veteran must be working under is $11,670.
In order to qualify for TDIU benefits, certain conditions must be met; however, that doesn’t mean that all veterans meeting the requirements will receive instant results. In fact, and from personal experience, this process can be daunting due to the many hoops that one must jump through. Add to that the math (a topic for another day) used to determine his or her disability rating.
In looking at the criteria used to determine IU, the following must be determined for the veteran:
- Veterans with only 1 service connected condition must be rated >/= 60%;
- Veterans with 2 or more service connected conditions – at least 1 condition must be rated >/= 40% with a combined rating >/= 70%;
- For both scenarios, veterans must be unemployable due to service connected conditions.
To establish entitlement for TDIU benefits, both evidence of unemployment due to a service connected condition AND support documentation from a medical professional must be obtained. This, however, is only the beginning of what could be a long and arduous journey to attaining 100% disability compensation from the VA.
It should also be noted that Veterans with paying jobs are not necessarily disqualified for an IU rating. The key, however, is that all income earned from employment must be at or below the poverty level as stated above, or from a job that is considered to be “protected”. This marginal and sheltered employment is the exception to the rules for IU qualification.
Finally, once deemed TDIU not always TDIU. What does this mean? Simply put, the benefit is not always permanent, and the veteran may have to undergo periodic medical exams to substantiate the continuation of the award.
It doesn’t seem fair that those who served our country, many of whom now suffer from a variety of physical or mental disabilities, have to undergo such a grueling process to receive benefits. Add to that the time constraints for receiving such benefits that could ultimately be lost should their condition improve. An old comic strip from the 50’s sums it up perfectly…”There Oughta Be a Law”!