Many veterans have a difficult time engaging in employment due to medical conditions related to their military service.  This is the goal behind VA disability payments.  They are aimed to compensate veterans for the decrease in work productivity due to service-connected disabilities.  For each service-connected condition, VA assigns a percentage rating from 0% to 100%.  These percentages are combined through a process that does not simply add them together to arrive at a veteran’s overall disability rating.

How VA Disability percentages are calculated

Based on the method the VA uses to combine the individual disability percentages to arrive at an overall rating, increasing the overall rating becomes harder as the overall rating gets higher.  For example, it requires a much higher individual rating percentage to move the overall rating from 70% to 80% than it does to move the overall rating from 10% to 20%.  The most difficult 10% increase in overall VA disability rating is from 90% to 100%.   While this is the most difficult step up, it is also the most important, as one this step up, the monthly benefit received by the veteran increases by more than $1,000 a month.

Overview of Individual Unemployability

As combining individual rating percentages to achieve a 100% rating is often a difficult task, many veterans look to increase their overall rating by obtaining individualized unemployability.  Individualized unemployability, also referred to as “IU” or “TDIU,” is a method for veterans to obtain the same payout as 100% disability without having to combine individual disability ratings to reach 100%.  IU provides for the payment of benefits at the 100% level, regardless of a veteran’s actual combined percentage, for veterans who can show that they are unable to work due to their service-connected disabilities.  To receive IU, a veteran must show that they are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to their service-connected disabilities.  Further, to receive IU, a veteran must have a single service-connected disability rated at least 60%, or a combination of disabilities that combines for 70%, with at least one disability at 40%.  In some instances, IU can be available for veterans who do not meet the percentage rating requirements.

Work permitted by those receiving IU

The question most veterans ask in deciding if they qualify for, and whether they want to pursue, IU is whether a veteran can work while receiving IU.  IU is based on a veteran showing they cannot perform substantial gainful activity due to their service-connected disabilities.  So, the amount of work that can be performed will receiving IU is based on the definition of substantial gainful activity.   There are two types of employment that do not constitute substantial gainful activity for the purpose of IU.  First, if the job does not pay at least the amount of the poverty level for a single individual, it will not be considered substantial gainful activity.  Second, if the employment is considered to be “protected employment” it is not considered to be substantial gainful activity.  Protected employment is employment that provides accommodations for disability that would not typically be found in the competitive labor market.  An example of protected employment is working in a family restaurant where a veteran with severe PTSD is afforded the opportunity to take any breaks desired and not come in if symptoms are extremely intense.  Such job would be protected employment, and therefore, the work would not constitute substantial gainful activity and the veteran performing the work would qualify to receive IU.

IU is a very valuable benefit, as it is often the easiest path for a large percentage of veterans to receive benefits at the 100% level.  As the qualifications for IU are very fact intensive and the law governing the subject is complex, it is recommended that veterans seek the advice of an attorney accredited with VA in seeking such benefit.