Question: I am a disabled veteran and I am currently 60 percent service-connected for an injury I received while on active duty. I am reaching a point where I am afraid my disability is going to force me to quit my job. I do not currently meet the requirements for an increased rating. Do I have any options?
Answer: Even if your disability is not rated at 100 percent, VA benefits may be available to compensate you at the 100 percent level if you are unable to work because of your disability. In order to qualify for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), your service-connected disabilities must meet these minimum rating requirements:
1. If you have only one service-connected disability, it must be rated at 60 percent or higher.
2. If you have two or more service-connected disabilities, at least one of those disabilities must be rated at 40 percent or higher and, after factoring in the ratings for the other disabilities, the combined disability rating must be 70 percent or higher.
3. You must be unemployable on the basis of one or more of your service-connected disabilities.
When the VA refers to employment, it is referring to “substantial gainful employment,” which is essentially a job that pays at least an amount equal to the annual poverty level set by the federal government.
To qualify for TDIU you’ll need evidence that your unemployment is due to the disability in question (i.e., employment history or employment records) and medical evidence that your service-connected disability renders you totally disabled and unemployable (i.e., a doctor’s opinion letter).
The fact that you have a paying job does not automatically disqualify you from being entitled to a TDIU. If your salary is substantially less than the prevailing poverty level, or you are working at a job where you are protected from the requirements that someone else in that position would be expected to satisfy, such as working for a relative, the VA should not consider you gainfully employed. A salary below the poverty level is called “marginal employment.” A job where you are protected from normal work requirements is called “sheltered employment.” Both marginal and sheltered employment are exceptions to the unemployment requirement for TDIU benefits.
There is also the possibility you could qualify for an “extraschedular” rating if your case is exceptional or extremely unusual.
If you are forced to quit your job or are unable to work due to your disability, make certain you also look into benefits available from the Social Security Administration. There is no reason why you cannot receive TDIU and Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time.
If you have questions about VA benefits, check out VetsFirst on the web at www.vetsfirst.org, where you can submit your question to Ask VetsFirst. Or call toll- free 877.483.8717.