The VA rates disabilities on a scale from 0% to 100%, with 100% disabled veterans considered totally unable to work and thus receiving the highest amount of compensation. What about veterans rated less than 100% but who are still unable to hold a job and support themselves or their families?
The VA has created a special avenue for veterans to receive compensation as if they were 100% disabled. Under VA rules, veterans can apply for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability, or TDIU.
TDIU is a special rating designed to compensate veterans who are unable to work because of their service-connected disabilities and whose ratings don’t add up to 100%. The VA rating scheme is loosely based on how much a veteran’s disability impacts their ability to work. However, the ratings are often based on clinical symptoms and don’t consider real-life circumstances.
Suppose a veteran is rated less than 100% but is totally unable to work because of their service-connected disability. In that case, they can apply for TDIU to make up for the gap in compensation.
TDIU VA Requirements
Veterans must meet a few conditions to be granted TDIU. VA disability rules state the veteran must not have been discharged dishonorably and the veteran must meet rating and employability requirements.
Ratings: VA Requirements
There are two ways veterans can meet the rating threshold to apply for TDIU. You can apply for schedular TDIU or extra-schedular TDIU.
Schedular TDIU means the veteran meets one of two possible conditions:
- They have one service-connected disability rated at 60% or higher
- They have multiple service-connected disabilities. One of the disabilities must be rated 40% or more, and a combined rating of at least 70% overall
It must be these disabilities that prevent the veteran from maintaining employment. For example, a veteran is considered legally blind but only 70% disabled by VA standards if they have 20/200 vision in both eyes. Depending on the veteran’s education and work history, legal blindness may prevent them from maintaining any job they can be trained to do.
Another example is if a veteran is rated 50% for migraines, 30% for hearing loss, and 30% for PTSD. This veteran’s total combined rating would be 90%.*
Though the disabilities are not rated at 100% disabling, the combination of these particular conditions — migraines, PTSD, and hearing loss — can render a veteran unable to function. Even if episodes of migraines and PTSD aren’t frequent enough to be rated close to 100%, a veteran may still be unable to maintain substantial gainful employment due to the unpredictability of incapacitating episodes.
*The VA uses a combined rating formula to determine the total rating for multiple disabilities. Instead of adding up disability ratings, which could often result in a rating over 100%, which is impossible, the VA uses the “whole person” standard.
If a veteran starts out as 100% whole, then a 50% disability takes away 50%, leaving 50%. From the remaining 50%, the second disability is then divided out. Taking 30% of the remaining 50% leaves 35%. From the remaining 35%, the last 30% disability is divided out. Taking 30% of the remaining 35% leaves only 10.5% of a healthy person, which rounds to 90% disabled.
You can use our disability calculator to get a better idea of what your rating could be.
Schedular Special Considerations
Some pairs of disabilities are considered to be one disability for purposes of schedular TDIU criteria:
- Disabilities of one or both upper extremities
- Disabilities of one or both lower extremities
- Disabilities of common origin or a single accident
- Multiple injuries incurred in action
- Multiple disabilities incurred as a prisoner of war
Veterans who don’t meet the schedular criteria above can sometimes apply for extra-schedular TDIU. The VA has decided that if a veteran’s situation is so unique that they are both unable to work and unable to obtain ratings higher than the schedular threshold, the rating board will submit the question to the Director of Compensation Services.
The rating board will provide the Director with information on the veteran’s disabilities, employment history, educational and vocational training, and other relevant factors. The Director then determines whether the rating board should review and make a determination of the claim for TDIU.
Unemployability: VA Requirements
There are three primary considerations for being unemployable for TDIU purposes. The veteran could be considered unemployable if any of the following conditions are met.
- Whether the veteran can obtain employment. If something about a disability picture prevents a veteran from being hired in the first place, they may be considered unemployable.
- Whether the veteran can maintain employment. Even if a veteran can get hired with their disability, if they keep losing jobs because of it, that counts as being unemployable.
- Whether the employment is gainful. The job or jobs must provide a living wage.
Additionally, if the veteran works in a “sheltered” environment, where they receive accommodations that most people wouldn’t, they may still be considered unemployable. Part-time work and jobs that do not pay enough to live above the poverty line are also not considered gainful employment.
How To File for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability
To apply for TDIU, veterans must fill out and submit the VA’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability. They can either submit it on their VA eBenefits portal or print and mail it to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Evidence Intake Center
PO Box 444
Janesville, WI 53547
Veterans can also find the nearest VA regional location and visit in person to file for TDIU. If you have been denied before, it’s helpful to contact an experienced VA disability attorney to assist with the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Get more benefits questions answered by checking out our expanded TDIU FAQ.
What conditions qualify for TDIU?
Any disabling condition that is service-connected by the VA can count toward TDIU. The veteran must be unemployable due to service-connected disabilities, not because of any condition that is not service-connected.
How long does it take to get approved for TDIU?
Claims can take up to a year or several years. The length of a TDIU claim depends on:
- How much evidence is needed
- Whether the claim is for schedular or extraschedular TDIU
- Whether the VA claims system is backlogged
- How quickly veterans and/or their representatives respond to requests.
What benefits come with TDIU?
If TDIU is granted, benefits include full monthly compensation of $3,621.95 (as of March 2023) and free health care at VA facilities.
Connect With Attorneys Experienced in TDIU Claims
For help navigating TDIU claims or any disability appeal, set up a free consultation with the Cameron Firm, PC by calling 1-800-861-7262 or filling out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.