The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines substantially gainful employment as what a nondisabled person may be able to earn in a particular occupation within their community. VA examines whether an applicant is able to work on a full-time basis as well as whether the income earned from their occupation places them above the poverty threshold set by the U.S. Census Bureau each year.
A veteran who can work on a full-time basis generally would not be eligible for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) because only those who cannot maintain substantially gainful employment due to service-connected disabilities can collect this type of disability compensation. One of VetLaw’s well-versed attorneys can provide more details on the role of substantially gainful employment in TDIU cases.
VA must determine whether a veteran is able to perform that work without any accommodations made by their employer. If a former servicemember is working just a couple hours a week and earning less than the poverty threshold, VA typically does not consider that substantially gainful employment.
Additionally, a sheltered environment such as an industry that employs the blind, for example, may not qualify as substantially gainful employment. If a former servicemember works for a business that recognizes their disability, provides them with employment, allows them to alter their work schedule, and provides them with reasonable accommodations for the job, that also may not qualify as substantially gainful employment.
Finally, working for a family member is also oftentimes excluded from VA’s definition of substantially gainful employment. Since VA makes a determination on this question on a case by case basis, it is best to understand the role that substantially gainful employment plays in TDIU cases before applying for benefits.
There are many service-connected conditions that can prevent a former servicemember from maintaining substantially gainful employment. Some common examples of disabilities or injuries that could impact a veteran’s ability to work on a full-time basis include:
There is no list that automatically qualifies a veteran for TDIU; each case is considered on a case by case basis. The attorneys from our firm are familiar with the qualifying factors and can advise a former servicemember on how to submit an effective application or help file an appeal if necessary.
In most cases, a veteran cannot be eligible for TDIU if they are currently working, unless they meet one of the exceptions to what counts as substantially gainful employment. For example, if they are only working a few hours a week, for a family member, earning less than the poverty threshold, or working in a sheltered environment, VA may not consider that employment to be substantially gainful. A veteran who is working a typical 40-hour week without reasonable accommodations for a reasonable salary is generally not going to qualify for TDIU disability benefits.
This may be a challenge for many disabled veterans who want to stop working due to the difficulties their disabilities place on their ability to work. The time it takes to apply for and receive TDIU makes it difficult for many former servicemembers to stop working and apply for TDIU. Unfortunately, many veterans find themselves in the difficult position of continuing to work, despite the toll their service-connected disabilities have on their ability to do so.
In addition to looking at the disability ratings a veteran has – which is one of the most important foundations – a lawyer is going to want to obtain medical and vocational evidence as well as a complete work history. Sometimes, a veteran can get this information from the Social Security Administration or from their own tax returns. It is essential to identify what problems they have been having at work and how long those vocational limitations have persisted.
A VA-accredited lawyer from VetLaw’s team can review your case, analyze the strong and weak points, and provide evidence in support of an appeal. We can tell you what you are going to need, what would be helpful, and whether we think you are going to qualify.
Let us help you decide whether to apply for increased ratings or additional compensation for other disabilities before applying for TDIU disability benefits. Give us a call today for more information on the role of substantially gainful employment in TDIU cases.