VA TDIU Requirements – Understanding How to Qualify

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A veteran who is unable to work due to one or more service-connected disabilities may qualify for TDIU benefits. Once granted this status, the veteran receives benefits in accordance with a 100% disability rating, easing the burden of unemployability substantially. Understanding the qualification process and going through the paperwork and eligibility proof can be complicated and time-consuming. The first barrier to receiving TDIU benefits for many veterans is understanding whether they do, in fact, qualify. The VA TDIU requirements are layered and complex, but sorting through them is the first step to getting the necessary and deserved benefits.

What is TDIU?

TDIU stands for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability. It may also be referred to as simply “individual unemployability.” As the name suggests, the qualification for the benefit is based on the individual’s ability to work a full-time job. This status allows an eligible veteran to receive the maximum benefits even without a 100 percent combined disability rating. In VA terms, the status indicates that the individual has been deemed unable to obtain and maintain “substantially gainful employment” due to one or more service-connected disabilities.

Determining TDIU Eligibility

Any service member who is receiving compensation for one or more service-connected disabilities is eligible to apply for TDIU. However, eligibility for application does not necessarily mean that the service member will receive TDIU status. Generally speaking, the higher the combined disability rating, the more likely the service member is to qualify for TDIU. However, the decision is often made on a case-by-case basis.

Many service members believe that they must first meet the requirements for Schedular TDIU before applying. While it is certainly true that meeting the Schedular TDIU requirements can make the process easier, this is not the only way that a service member can qualify for TDIU.

Schedular TDIU Requirements for Eligibility

The VA has outlined specific TDIU requirements that are used to determine whether the status will be granted.
First and foremost, the applicant must be service-connected for one or more disabilities. To qualify for Schedular TDIU, one of the following TDIU requirements must apply:

  • The applicant has one service-connected disability rated with a 60% or higher disability rating; or
  • The applicant has two or more service-connected disabilities rated with a combined rating of 70% or higher. At least one of the disabilities must have a rating of 40% or higher.

In addition, the applicant must show that they are unable to obtain and maintain “substantially gainful employment.” This term refers to employment that provides adequate financial support and will typically be connected to the poverty threshold. Work that falls below that threshold or odd jobs (which are known as “marginal employment”) does not disqualify someone from receiving TDIU.

Extraschedular TDIU Requirements for Eligibility

While the Schedular TDIU requirements are somewhat complicated, the real complexities of qualifying for TDIU come in with Extraschedular TDIU. In these cases, the service member does not meet the specific disability rating requirements for Schedular TDIU. Many people in this situation incorrectly believe that they cannot qualify for TDIU at all. However, the VA allows for individual analysis of TDIU requirements in order to determine eligibility outside of the normal requirements.

The service member must have at least one service-connected disability. This part is non-negotiable and an eligibility requirement for all types of TDIU. However, if the service-connected disability falls under the 60% threshold but still prevents the service member from obtaining and maintaining “substantially gainful employment,” the service member may still successfully qualify for TDIU.

Proving eligibility for Extraschedular TDIU can be more time-consuming and difficult, but many service members have successfully demonstrated their qualification under these conditions. Frequent hospitalizations that make maintaining stable employment difficult, for example, can help service members demonstrate how they meet TDIU requirements.

Misunderstandings in TDIU Requirements

The most common misunderstandings about qualifying for TDIU happen when service members do not realize that Extraschedular TDIU allows them to apply even if they have not met the disability rating laid out in Schedular TDIU requirements. It’s important to understand that obtaining TDIU is about the impact the service-connected disability has on the service member’s ability to obtain and maintain employment and that individual cases may meet that requirement despite the disability rating.

Another common misunderstanding is that service members cannot qualify for TDIU if they work. The definition of “substantially gainful employment” is subject to interpretation and does not mean that the eligible service member cannot work at all. Employment that does not provide a substantial wage or employment that is marginal does not disqualify a service member from TDIU eligibility.

The most important thing to remember about TDIU is that it is “individual unemployability,” which means that there is a lot of room for interpretation based on the individual’s circumstances. While the process of navigating TDIU requirements, determining eligibility, and applying for the benefits can seem daunting, TDIU benefits have tremendous potential to improve quality of life and access to health care. If you have questions about your eligibility or want to see how a VA benefits attorney can help you, contact us right away for a free case review.

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