VA Unemployability: What is it and how can a Veteran get it?

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             Veterans who cannot work because of service-connected disabilities can get VA unemployability, otherwise known as Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability or, for short, TDIU.  TDIU means the veteran will get a monthly cash benefit at the 100% compensation amount.  For a single veteran with no dependents, that amount as of the date of this blog is $3057.13 per month (to see different rates depending on the veteran’s marital and dependent status just Google “VA compensation rates”). 

            To qualify for unemployability, a veteran must have service-connected conditions that make it “at least as likely as not” that she cannot work.  This standard is very low, and if there is any doubt, the benefit of the doubt goes to the veteran.  This sounds pretty simple so far, right?  Well hold onto your hats because things are about to get a little rocky. 

            The first way to get the VA to consider TDIU is if the veteran has certain ratings. Remember my last blog, VA Ratings: What are they and how do they Work? If not, stop reading this blog, read that one, and then come back here.  Here is the link:

           Ready?  Let’s continue.  So the veteran has to have either one service-connected disability rated at 60% or higher, or at least two service-connected disabilities with one rated at 40% or more, with a combined rating of at least 70%.  I often hear veterans say they can’t get TDIU because their ratings aren’t high enough.  This is NOT true!  If veterans have ratings that are not high enough, the Director for Compensation Service will look at the veteran’s unique case and decide if he qualifies for TDIU.  This second way to qualify is real.  It is the law.  But for some reason it seems to be a little known and doubted fact.

            If the ratings aren’t high enough, when does the second way to qualify come into play?  A common example is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.  Regardless of how bad it is, the highest rating a veteran can get for tinnitus, for one or both ears, is 10%.  Tinnitus can be severely disabling and make work impossible.  In this case, the veteran’s ability to work is examined and decided on by the Director for Compensation Service.

            When deciding TDIU, the VA uses the average person standard, meaning that they ask: “If the average person had these disabilities, and they affected her in this way, would she likely be unable to work?” The VA also looks at the veteran’s work and education history and considers whether someone with that background, in light of their disabilities, would be able to get and keep a job.  The VA will also look at whether the veteran is getting Social Security disability for their service-connected disabilities.  If so, that might be a good indication that they cannot work. 

            To convince the VA that the veteran should get TDIU, it’s helpful to get statements from treating doctors, former employers, co-workers, family members – anyone who can verify and detail how the service-connected conditions make work impossible.  If the veteran is still working when he applies for TDIU, the VA will want to know if he is working in a “sheltered” workplace.  This means that the veteran works for a friend, family member, or someone else who is fully aware of his disabilities and makes accommodations for him.  The veteran can also work and still qualify for TDIU if she is earning less than the poverty threshold, even if it’s not a sheltered workplace. 

            Whether a veteran qualifies for TDIU depends on a variety of factors.  Because each veteran’s situation and disability picture are unique, the VA considers TDIU applications on a case-by-case basis.  To be successful in getting approved for TDIU, and avoiding the lengthy and often complicated appeals process, veterans should submit as much evidence of their unemployability as possible with their initial application, and use the correct form.  As of the date of this blog, that form is VA Form 21-8940, available online.                

Questions?  Contact Catherine Cornell, attorney at and owner of The Veterans Practice, Ltd. at or 708-668-6996.  As always, thanks for reading!

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