Many new Veterans seeking benefits find themselves wondering about the difference between receiving a 100% VA schedular rating and receiving TDIU benefits. Financially, the payment for both awards is the same. However, TDIU is often easier to receive than earning a 100% disability rating.
VA Math Makes it Hard to Receive a 100% Disability Rating
Disabilities are rated on a percentage scale from 0% to 100% in 10% increments. Higher percentage ratings equate to higher compensation, but the process can be confusing for Veterans who have multiple service-connected disabilities.
The VA uses a series of tables, called schedules, to calculate impairment. Since a person can't be more than 100% disabled, disability ratings aren't simply added together.
For example, consider a Veteran with a back injury rated at 40%, a knee injury rated at 30%, and a shoulder injury rated at 20%. His total disability rating is not 90%. Instead, you must subtract his 40% disability from the 100 that represents a total body. Then, you subtract 30% of the 60 that remains. This gives you 42. Subtract 20% of 42 to get 33.6. The Veteran's total body rating (33.6) is subtracted from 100 to get a total combined disability rating of 66.4%. However, since disabilities are rated at 10% increments, the Veteran receives a 70% disability rating.
As you can see, the logic of VA math makes it very difficult for Veterans with multiple disabling conditions to receive a 100% disability rating. This is significant because having multiple disabling conditions is more common among Veterans than having a single condition that is severe enough to be granted a 100% rating.
TDIU Benefits Allow More Room for Interpretation
Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) provides an alternative way for Veterans to receive the benefits of a 100% disability rating. A Veteran who is approved for TDIU receives benefits at the same level as someone assigned a 100% disability rating—even if the VA would not otherwise consider them to be 100% disabled using the schedular method. They are entitled to extra compensation because the VA recognizes that their disabilities make it impossible to hold substantial gainful employment. And, since there are no predetermined tables used to calculate levels of impairment, this approach has more room to consider the individual effects of an applicant's disability.
To be eligible for TDIU, a Veteran must have at least one service-connected disability with a rating of 60% or higher. Veterans who have two or more service-connected disabilities must have a combined disability rating of 70% or higher with one disability that is rated 40% or higher.
TDIU, unlike standard VA disability benefits, also has an earnings requirement. To be eligible, you must be earning less than the poverty level wage for a single person. Wages over the poverty level are generally considered substantial gainful employment unless the job is a protected position offering accommodations beyond what the Veteran would be expected to find elsewhere.
Once a Veteran meets the basic eligibility requirements, their education and work history are evaluated to see if there is any work they could reasonably be expected to perform given the limitations of their disability. For example, our previous hypothetical Veteran with back, knee, and shoulder injuries may only be able to perform sedentary work due to difficulty lifting, bending, and walking long distances. If he is a college graduate trained as an accountant, finding sedentary work would be a reasonable expectation. However, if he only graduated from high school and has previously worked in manual labor positions, finding sedentary employment would be considerably more difficult.
Veterans who are seeking both TDIU and Social Security disability must keep in mind that the VA does not consider age in awarding benefits. Social Security disability takes into account the fact that older workers have more difficulty training for a new position and face general job market discrimination, but the VA doesn't permit age to be a factor in awarding TDIU.
How We Can Help
The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, has over 20 years of experience helping Veterans access the benefits they earned while serving our country. Call our office or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.