U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation can be a tricky thing. Nearly all veterans are aware that they may qualify for compensation for injuries suffered or aggravated by their service. But many veterans are unaware that they may qualify to be paid at a 100% disability rate (the current effective rate pays $2,915.55 per month) for service-connected disabilities that inhibit them from securing a “substantially gainful occupation,” regardless of whether they are 100% service connected. This is known as Total Disability Ratings Based on Unemployability of the Individual, or TDIU/IU for short.
What You Need To Qualify
To qualify for TDIU, you must have:
A single service-connected disability rated at 60% or higher or,
A combined service-connected rating of 70% based on multiple disabilities, one of which is rated at 40% or higher.
For example, a veteran’s PTSD is rated at 70%. If that individual’s PTSD is so severe that he or she cannot work, or can only obtain marginal employment, he or she may have a claim for TDIU. If approved, the veteran would be entitled to be paid as if he or she received a 100% rating, resulting in the veteran receiving $1,576.84 more per month.
What You Need To Show
A veteran may show entitlement to TDIU in two ways:
Show that the veteran does not have the ability to engage in substantially gainful employment. A veteran may be able to establish this by showing that he or she does not have the ability to perform work with reasonable consistency or requires significant employment accommodations.
Show that the veteran’s current employment is “marginal” (marginal employment is not substantially gainful employment)
Employment is generally marginal if the veteran’s income is less than $12,486 (the poverty threshold for one person in 2016). NOTE: this is not a bright line rule, where the VA will automatically grant a TDIU claim if the veteran’s income falls below $12,060. Instead, the VA will look at whether that job shows the veteran has the capacity to secure substantially gainful employment. This may include looking at the veteran’s hours
If the veteran’s income is greater than $12,060, he or she may show the employment is marginal if it is a protected environment, such as a family owned business or sheltered workshop.
What Does A Protected Environment Mean?
The VA has purposely chosen not to define what “in a protected environment” means, and as a result, the Rating Offices and Board of Veterans’ Appeals decide the issue on a case-by-case basis. This position was chastised by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in a recent case revolving around the definition of “in a protected environment.”
In that case, the veteran was employed as a park ranger, and his employer went to great lengths to accommodate his disabilities. The Board of Veterans appeals noted that the veterans’ employment was not a protected environment because he had “substantial responsibilities” and the accommodations allowed him to “perform his job successfully and on a full[-]time basis." The Court did not think these were sufficient reasons for deciding the veteran was not in a protected environment and remanded the case for further analysis.
What's The Bottom Line?
The bottom line is that the VA has failed to define what a protected work environment is, so there are plenty of arguments to be made if you feel your disabilities are holding you back from successful, gainful employment.
If you have questions about Veterans benefits, please contact the experienced attorneys at the Whitcomb, Selinsky Law PC or its sister firm, the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group. Please call (303) 534-1958 or complete an online contact form.