Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability: Eligibility and Special Considerations
If a service-connected disability has left you unable to work, you may qualify for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). This allows you to receive disability benefits at the same level as someone who has been assigned a 100% disability rating—even if the VA would not otherwise consider you 100% disabled.
It is rare for Veterans to receive a 100% disability rating, so TDIU is the most common way for Veterans to gain access to higher monthly benefits. Both physical and mental disabilities can potentially qualify for TDIU, as long as they are service-connected. If you have disabilities that are unrelated to your military service, they will not be considered when the VA evaluates your application.
Eligibility for TDIU
Typically, to qualify for TDIU, you must have at least one service-connected disability with a rating of 60% or higher. If you have two or more service-connected disabilities, they must have a combined rating of 70% or higher with one that is rated 40% or higher. However, an exception may be made if you have a lower disability rating with a condition that requires frequent and extended hospital stays.
TDIU benefits require you to be unable to hold down a steady job. Substantial gainful employment is determined as earning more than the poverty level for a single person. Poverty level guidelines vary from year to year, but anything less than $12,000 per year is generally considered to be a poverty-level wage.
If you meet the basic disability rating and earning criteria, the VA will examine your work history to determine what type of job you could reasonably be expected to perform. This includes looking at your skills and education. For example, someone who has only performed manual labor involving heavy lifting and has no college degree would be unlikely to be able to find employment in a sedentary office position.
Please note that age is not a consideration when applying for TDIU. Although age is considered when applying for Social Security disability benefits due to the difficulty older workers have in training for a new position, the VA does not consider age in awarding any type of disability benefit.
The VA will review applications from Veterans who are working in protected positions on a case by case basis. A protected position is one where special accommodations are being made for the Veteran’s disability, such as working at a small business owned by a family member or friend. If the accommodations are extensive enough that the Veteran could not be expected to hold substantial gainful employment at a similar business, TDIU may be approved even if the Veteran’s earnings exceed the poverty threshold.
Applicants who are self-employed can also expect to have their work history looked at closely. The VA doesn’t allow TDIU claims from self-employed individuals to be approved based on low wages alone because someone who is self-employed can choose what salary they will receive. Claims will be evaluated based on whether the hours worked and type of services performed would equate to substantial gainful employment for another business.
To file for TDIU, you must add two additional forms to the standard application for VA disability benefits:
- Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability (VA Form 21-8940). This form asks for information about recent work, earnings, and education.
- Request for Employment Information in Connection With Claim for Disability Benefits (VA Form 21-4192). This form requests information about your recent employment and should be filled out by your past employers.
Receiving TDIU can be a complex and time-consuming process, but help is available. The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, has more than 20 years of experience helping Colorado Veterans access the VA disability benefits they need to provide for themselves and their families. Call our office today or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.