Veteran Working on the ComputerTotal Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits provide enhanced cash assistance for Veterans with conditions that make it impossible to maintain substantially gainful employment. Substantially gainful employment is sometimes referred to as substantial gainful activity or substantially gainful occupation in the disability benefits application process.

Wage Criteria for Substantial Gainful Employment

Determining what constitutes substantially gainful employment can be complicated because there isn’t a set definition that applies in all cases.

The first criteria the VA looks at when evaluating eligibility for TDIU is a Veteran’s wages. Substantially gainful employment is most often defined as earnings that are above the federal poverty level for a single person. This amount changes each year, but was $12,760 in 2020.

Please note that only your earned income is a factor used to determine TDIU eligibility. Your income from investments or earnings provided by other members of the household are irrelevant. 

Exceptions to Wage Threshold

Although the wage guideline provides a starting point in determining TDIU eligibility, there are two primary exceptions: sheltered employment and self-employment. The following is a brief overview:

  • Sheltered employment. Sheltered employment means a Veteran works for someone who is making special accommodations related to their disability. This might include reduced productivity requirements, frequent breaks, scheduling flexibility for medical needs, or other accommodations not routinely provided to all workers and unlikely to be available from a private employer in the competitive marketplace. Often, sheltered employment occurs at a family-owned business. When a Veteran has sheltered employment, their work may not be considered substantially gainful employment even though their earnings exceed the poverty threshold.
  • Self-employment. If a Veteran has self-employment income, earnings alone can’t be used to approve a TDIU application. This is because self-employed people can control the wages they receive. The VA will want to see evidence that a Veteran would be unable to earn more than a poverty-level income in a private, competitive work environment.

Learn More About TDIU Eligibility

The process for receiving TDIU is highly individualized, which means it’s vital to seek assistance from a skilled Veterans benefits attorney to ensure that you receive the maximum possible compensation. Contact the office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, to request a free consultation and case evaluation.