Often times, when a veteran is applying for VA disability benefits, they are unable to sustain a substantial gainful employment. This can be very frustrating combined with the fact the VA appeals process can be quite challenging. Individual Unemployability (IU) benefits or Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), is a benefit offered through the VA that allows them to pay select veterans at the 100% disability rate even through their service-connected disabilities are not rated as 100% disabling.
Eligibility and Required Evidence
It is important to note that there is a certain eligibility criterion that needs to be met before a veteran can be considered for IU. The eligibility criterion is as follows:
- You must be a veteran
- You must have at least one service-connected disability rated at 60% or higher
- Or have two or more service-connected disabilities with one being at least one disability rated at 40% or more with a combines rating of 70% or more
- You must be unable to maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of service-connected disabilities
A veteran must not only meet the eligibility requirements for IU to receive this benefit but they must also show certain evidence. The veteran must show evidence of at least one service-connected disability and the service-connected disability or disabilities have to prevent the veteran from performing any mental and/or physical tasks that are required to obtain or maintain substantially gainful employment. It is very important to note that marginal employment such as odd or side jobs are not considered gainful employment for VA purposes.
Substantially Gainful Employment and Sheltered Work
What is substantially gainful employment? It is employment that proves a wage greater than the poverty level. For a single person, as of 2016, the poverty threshold is close to $12,500. This comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. Simply put, if the veteran’s earnings are less then the threshold, then they are not considered to be gainfully employed.
It is possible to work and obtain IU benefits. The VA does recognize that some jobs are considered to be “sheltered work”. This is a protected employment or a “sheltered” work environment that would provide special accommodations to the veteran that would not be provided to any other employee. If you are a veteran wondering if you work in a sheltered environment, you can ask yourself if you were to leave your current position, would your employer replace your current position? Is your current position created just for you and your disabilities?
For veterans who are still working and do not work in a sheltered work environment, but still need to work for financial purposes, or for those veterans who do not want their employer to know about their disabilities, it may still be a good idea to apply for IU. Once the veteran is no longer able to work due to their service-connected disabilities, and they meet the other eligibility requirements, then that veteran would be covered so to speak and continue in the VA appeals process.
Something to keep in mind would be that this benefit is not for veterans who are going to temporarily out of work.
Applying for Individual Unemployability Benefits
The first step is to complete the VA Form 21-8940: Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability. This form can be found here. Along with this form, evidence to help prove this claim should be submitted. This can be a letter or an opinion from the veteran’s doctor or an expert stating that the veteran is unable to maintain substantially gainful employment because of their service-connected disabilities.