Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits provide eligible veterans with cash compensation at the same rate as someone who is considered 100% disabled under schedular criteria. The TDIU program is intended to provide additional financial help to veterans with medical conditions that limit their ability to work even though they are not considered totally disabled under normal criteria.
One of the most common misconceptions about TDIU benefits is that you must be unemployed to quality. Even though the word “unemployability” is in the program title, you may still qualify if your job isn’t considered to be substantially gainful employment.
The first test of substantially gainful employment is your earnings. If you are earning more than a poverty-level wage in your position, it may be considered substantially gainful employment.
The exact poverty threshold changes every year, but earnings of less than $12,000 per year are generally considered to be poverty-level wages. Since a full-time minimum wage job would exceed this threshold, most veterans who qualify based on their earnings are only working minimal hours at part-time positions in industries such as retail or food service.
A veteran can be self-employed and receive TDIU. However, the veteran’s application won’t be approved based on earnings alone. Since self-employed individuals can control what they will be paid, a veteran's claim will be evaluated based on whether the services they perform and the hours worked are equivalent to substantially gainful employment for another business.
The most common type of self-employment associated with TDIU claims is odd jobs that are performed when a veteran's health permits such as landscaping or home repair.
Sheltered employment means that a veteran is working at a position that provides accommodations for their disability above and beyond what is required by law. Often, they are working for a friend or family member who is familiar with their service-connected disability and willing to make concessions to allow the veteran to remain employed.
Some examples of the criteria used to determine if a position is sheltered employment include:
- Having unlimited time off for medical appointments or personal needs
- Not being required to maintain a set work schedule
- Being excused from responsibilities that are normally part of the job such as interacting with customers
- Not having to meet the same productivity criteria as other employees
- Having other employees provide assistance with basic job duties
- Not being disciplined for tardiness or other infractions
- Being given extra break time due to fatigue or pain
If a veteran would be unable to complete the same job responsibilities at a company that did not provide special accommodations, their current position should be considered sheltered employment. A veteran with sheltered employment is eligible for TDIU even if they are working full-time and earning substantially more than a poverty-level wage.
Why You Need Experienced Legal Representation
VA disability claims are complex under the best of circumstances. TDIU applications are particularly challenging because there is more room for misinterpretation of the requirements. An experienced veterans benefits lawyer can help you gather the necessary evidence to support your claim, including documentation of your earnings, medical opinions regarding the nature of your disability, opinions from vocational experts, records from your application for Social Security disability benefits, and lay statements from coworkers or supervisors who can provide additional insight into your work history or continued job performance.
Legal representation is also beneficial when you have a college degree. Although the VA does consider your education and work history in awarding TDIU benefits, simply having a degree doesn’t mean you are able to work. If you are unable to work in specific work environments or perform tasks that are crucial to the type of work you are qualified to do, you need a lawyer who can ensure you’re not unfairly penalized for your education.
Do You Need to Speak With a Veterans Benefits Lawyer?
If you need to speak with an experienced veterans benefits lawyer, please contact us online, or call our Virginia Beach office to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia, including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Suffolk.