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100% Rating for Unemployability (TDIU)

What is total disability for individual unemployability from VA (TDIU or IU)?

If you cannot sustain substantial gainful employment because of your service-connected disabilities, you may be entitled to total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU or IU). In most cases, to be eligible for TDIU, a veteran must also have either 1) a single, service-connected disability rated at least 60%, OR 2) two or more service-connected disabilities with one rated at least 40% and a combined rating of at least 70%.

In determining whether you have a “single” disability rated at 60% or 40%, VA will combine certain disabilities and treat the combined rating as if it were a rating for a single disability. The following will be considered as one disability: (1) Disabilities of one or both arms, or of one or both legs, (2) disabilities resulting from common etiology (medical cause) or a single accident, (3) disabilities affecting a single body system, e.g. orthopedic, digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular-renal, neuropsychiatric, (4) multiple injuries incurred in action, or (5) multiple disabilities incurred as a prisoner of war.

Extra-Schedular Unemployability

In rare cases, TDIU is awarded even if the veteran doesn't have a single rating of 60% or a combined rating of 70% (with one rating of at least 40%). This is called extra-schedular TDIU. To qualify, the veteran must show that the effects of his service-connected disabilities create “an unusual disability picture” that keep him from working. For example, a veteran who has frequent hospitalizations or whose employment has been severely affected by service-connected conditions may qualify for extra-schedular unemployability from VA.

Monthly Compensation Rates for TDIU

TDIU is paid at the rate of a 100% rating, even though the overall combined rating is not 100%. For example, if a veteran has a 70% rating for post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to work because of the PTSD, he or she is paid at the 100% rate, rather than the 70% rate. In 2024, the monthly 100% rate for a single veteran is $3,737.85, whereas the 70% rate is $1,716.28.

Can I Get TDIU If I Am Working?

A veteran may be eligible for TDIU if he or she is unable to do “substantial” work. But what does that mean? Let's start with what is NOT substantial work. Under VA rules, if you earn less than the Census Bureau's Federal Poverty Threshold for one person, that is “marginal employment,” which VA says is NOT substantial. In 2024, the federal poverty threshold is about $15,000 a year. So if your service-connected disabilities keep you from making more than $15,000 annually, and you meet the other criteria, you are entitled to TDIU from VA.

Protected Employment

VA regulations also say that “employment in a protected environment”  is NOT substantial work, even if you are earning more than the federal poverty level (about $15,000 in 2024). A job is “protected” if special arrangements are made for the veteran that would not be made in a competitive job market. For instance, if the veteran works in a family business or sheltered workshop where expectations of performance are lower because of service-connected disabilities, he or she would be eligible for TDIU.

If you are already receiving unemployability benefits from VA, it's okay to work some, as long as your earnings are less than the federal poverty level or you're in protected employment. However, if your service-connected conditions get better, and you're able to do substantial work again, your eligibility for TDIU will end. You will still receive compensation based on your overall rating.

Vocational Experts

In many cases, it may be helpful to hire an independent vocational expert to evaluate your case. Vocational experts is knowledgeable about the physical and mental requirement of different jobs, as well as the minimum expectations of all employers in a competitive job market. This expertise allows the vocational expert to explain how your particular service-connected disabilities affect your ability to get and keep a job. 

TDIU and Social Security Disability

VA Unemployability and Social Security Disability are similar in that both programs provide benefits to people who are unable to do substantial work because of disabilities. But there are important differences between the two programs, and you have to apply separately for each one.

Even if VA has found that you're unemployable and granted TDIU, the Social Security Administration will make its own decision.

And while SSA will consider all of your medical conditions in making its decision, VA will only take into account disabilities that are service-connected.

If you have been found to be disabled by the Social Security Administration and are receiving disability insurance benefits based on your Social Security earnings record, you can also receive veterans disability compensation. If you are receiving disability payments through the means-tested Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, however, your SSI benefits may be reduced or eliminated if you become eligible for VA disability compensation.