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Individual Unemployability – Does VA owe you TDIU Back Pay?

Legally reviewed by Brendan Garcia , Owner and Lead Attorney


Perhaps you joined the military with the goal of serving through one contract, or maybe you intended for service in the military to be your career. What you didn’t plan for was an injury or illness that occurred during your time in the military restricting your ability to work for the rest of your life.

You are not alone.

The VA provides Total Disability based on Individual Unemployment (TDIU) benefits to qualified disabled veterans. If your service-connected disability or disabilities prevent you from working, you may be eligible for TDIU.

More than 350,000 veterans are receiving Individual Unemployability benefits. If you have suffered a service-connected disability and are unable to work because of that condition or because of multiple service-connected conditions, you may be entitled not only to standard VA compensation, but also entitlement to a Total Disability Rating based on Individual Unemployability from VA.

Many veterans do not receive the amount of back pay they deserve after winning entitlement to TDIU, so filing an appeal and requesting the appropriate effective date – thereby opening up entitlement to additional back pay – is key. A VA-accredited lawyer can help with this appeal.


Individual Unemployability benefits, also known as Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), are available to veterans with one or more service-connected disabilities who can no longer work steady jobs.

After your claim for Individual Unemployability benefits is approved, the VA should send you a lump sum payment, called back pay, to provide you with compensation for some portion of the time you have spent waiting for your benefit payments to begin. However, VA often gets the effective date wrong when awarding entitlement to TDIU, and a veteran’s back pay may only go back as far as the date of their application for Individual Unemployability, or some other random date that VA decides is appropriate. In many cases, this is not the correct start date. Instead, back pay should extend back to the effective date of your inability to work, so long as the issue was reasonably raised to VA during the processing of a prior claim or during an appeal period. This common error by VA could cost you thousands of dollars in compensation if not corrected.


If you qualify for TDIU benefits, the VA will assign an effective date to your claim. The VA’s process to determine this date is complex. Your effective date may depend on:

  • The date the VA received your initial claim (not just the TDIU form)
  • The date you became eligible for benefits
  • If you recently left active service
  • If your disability is a presumptive condition
  • If you have a reopened claim
  • Any new VA regulations

Simply put, your effective date may make you eligible for TDIU back pay. Informally, this back pay is also called “TDIU retro pay.

How Is the Effective Date of Individual Unemployability Back Pay Determined?

Your effective date differs based on a few factors. In essence, your effective date is the date the VA was first given evidence that your disability causes you to be unemployable. This could be the date you first filed your application for Individual Unemployability, but more likely, it is much earlier. For instance, if your doctor noted in your VA medical record prior to your Individual Unemployability application that you were struggling to maintain gainful employment on account of your disability, this could be your effective date. This is why it is crucial to work with an experienced VA disability lawyer. They will scour your paperwork in order to determine your true effective date so that you can recover accurate Individual Unemployability back pay.


Your TDIU back pay effective date determines your retro pay. This amount is unique for each veteran. When we review your case, we can discuss your potential back pay amount. You can also use our TDIU back pay calculator to get an estimate. Since the effective date for TDIU is a complicated question, we may not be able to fully answer this question without reviewing your complete VA claims file.


You may qualify for TDIU benefits if your service-connected disability or disabilities prevent you from maintaining what the VA calls “substantially gainful employment.” This means you cannot hold a steady job to support yourself. You can qualify for TDIU and still work some types of seasonal or odd jobs.

In order to qualify for Individual Unemployability benefits, you must:

  • Be a veteran;
  • Be unable to maintain gainful employment because of your service-connected disability; and
  • Have a condition with a disability rating of 60% or more, or multiple disabilities rated at 40% or higher with a total rating of 70% or more.
  • If you don’t meet the schedular criteria noted above, you may still qualify for extraschedular TDIU

One common reason that VA denies a claim for Individual Unemployability is when a veteran fails to show that the sole reason he or she is unable to maintain substantially gainful employment is due to one or more service-connected conditions. It is important to carefully explain to VA why your service-connected conditions qualify you for TDIU.



There are several ways to apply for VA Individual Unemployment benefits:

Before you submit or mail your application, make sure that you have included all supporting documents to back up your claim, such as:

  • Medical or hospital records (military, VA, and/or private) related to your injury or illness or that show the effect your service-connected disabilities have on your ability to maintain substantially gainful employment.
  • Statements from family, friends, or members of the community reaffirming your disability and the impact on your daily life.
  • VA Form 21-4192, from one or more former employers, if they have information which is related to your inability to work, including any concessions they may have made while you were an employee, or any reasons why they feel your service-connected disabilities caused you to lose your job.

The VA will look at your service treatment records, discharge paperwork, and VA Medical Center records as part of the review process. You will also be scheduled for one or more C&P examinations before VA issues a decision on entitlement to TDIU.


Filing for VA benefits is complicated. Veterans with disabilities are already faced with daily challenges. Having to keep up with changing procedures and requirements can be difficult.

Individual Unemployability claims and appeals for back pay (or even entitlement to TDIU in the first place) can be especially complicated because many veterans don’t know where to start or if they are even eligible.

A lawyer can make the process less stressful and increase the chances of success by:

  • Guiding you through the process
  • Ensuring that all of the appropriate forms are filled out and submitted
  • Gathering the supporting documents you will need for your claim
  • Ensuring that you receive the appropriate amount of back pay
  • Participating in any hearings, such as a BVA hearing before a veterans law judge

The VA’s forms can be complex and confusing. VA accredited attorneys know how VA disability claims work and understand the process and the challenges that you will face along the way. Contact us today for a free, no obligation case review – all VetLaw attorneys are VA accredited.

How long does it take to receive TDIU back pay?

An initial claim takes about five months to receive a decision at the time this post was published. The VA updates their estimated claim processing time regularly.

At VetLaw, we ensure that every application we work on is complete and accurate. This attention to detail helps avoid any delays with your individual unemployability decision and the receipt of the maximum amount of back pay.

What Happens if a Claim for Individual Unemployability Is Denied?

VA disability denial is not the end of the road for your TDIU claim. A skilled lawyer can help you file a VA disability appeal for Individual Unemployability if your claim is denied.

What Is a TDIU Effective Date?

Your TDIU effective date may be as early as the date you became unemployable (unable to maintain substantially gainful employment) because of your service-connected disability or disabilities. Calculating a veteran’s effective date as it relates to entitlement to TDIU can be challenging, since it does not have to be the date of a formal application, as with other VA claims.

The VA may consider the Individual Unemployability application date (i.e. the date the 8940 was filed) as the effective date. However, there are other potential effective dates for TDIU, depending on whether the question was reasonably raised during another claim or appeal process. Another potential effective date is up to one year prior to the date the formal claim is filed, if entitlement to TDIU began during that year (if you became unable to work or maintain substantially gainful employment during that period). Filing a TDIU claim can be a complicated process, and ensuring that the effective date is correct and you receive all the Individual Unemployability back pay that you deserve is even more challenging. Ever-changing rules and regulations can make it difficult to make sure you have obtained all the VA disability benefits you are entitled to. Veterans can benefit from working with a VA accredited lawyer at VetLaw to file a TDIU claim and fight for the back pay they are entitled to receive.


A VA Disability Lawyer’s role is to assist you throughout the confusing and often frustrating appeals process if you have been denied benefits, and assist you with disabilities you may wish to appeal. Generally, you need to be denied at least once before an attorney can assist, but once a lawyer is involved they will often be able to quickly determine what needs to be done in order to prove entitlement to VA compensation.

If your VA disability claim has been denied, be sure to contact the VA Accredited Attorneys at VetLaw right away to help make sure you get the entitlement you deserve.