Although it might seem reasonable to assume you can’t work at all if you want to receive Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), this is not entirely true. Qualifying for TDIU when you’re self-employed is difficult, but not impossible.
How to Qualify for TDIU When You Are Self-Employed
To receive TDIU, you must be unable to engage in substantially gainful employment. This is normally defined as earning more than the federal poverty level for one person. The poverty level changes each year but is generally around $12,000.
If your earnings are above the threshold to be defined as substantially gainful employment, the VA will look at if you are in a sheltered or protected work environment. This means that you are allowed special accommodations due to your service-connected disability—such as getting extra break time, having a flexible schedule, or being allowed to be less productive than a typical employee without penalty.
If you are self-employed, your work situation is often considered a protected or sheltered work environment. This is because someone who is self-employed can set their own schedule and create their own working environment.
Challenges for Self-Employed Veterans
At first glance, it may seem like it would be easier to get approved for TDIU if you are self-employed because this arrangement typically meets the definition of a protected or sheltered work environment. However, there are other difficulties Veterans often encounter. For example:
- Because someone who is self-employed can set their own wage, you won’t be approved based on low earnings alone. The VA will look at whether the frequency and type of service you perform equate to substantially gainful employment at a similar business in your area.
- The VA may argue that you are choosing to work limited hours due to reasons unrelated to your service-connected disability.
- When your income is variable due to the challenges you’ve faced building your own business, it can be hard to separate this from the limitations imposed by your disability.
Since the VA reviews self-employment on a case-by-case basis when determining eligibility for TDIU, it’s difficult to predict if your application for benefits will be approved. The best way to increase your chances of being granted TDIU is to work with our experienced Veterans benefits lawyers to thoroughly document your disability and its effect on your employment opportunities. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.