Total Disability Individual Unemployability: What Veterans Need to Know

Most veterans returning home learn about the rating schedule for service-connected disabilities and compensation. This rating schedule from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rates each service-related disability using a specific percentage.

Depending on the disability, veterans are rated by10 percent increments from 0 percent to 100 percent, and their compensation is determined accordingly.

For some veterans, a service-connected disability may be so severe that he can no longer work. In these cases, this individual may be eligible for a 100 percent disability rating if he can prove that a service-connected disability makes it impossible for him to obtain gainful employment. This type of disability is known as Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) or simply IU.

A TDIU claim differs from a regular VA disability claim in that the VA looks at how the disability impacts a veteran’s ability to work. This is a more subjective determination than the standard ratings that are based on how a disability impacts an average person’s ability to work. An approved TDIU claim is part of the VA’s disability programs that allows a veteran to be paid at the 100 percent compensation rate, even though his service-connected disability isn’t rated at the 100 percent level—in other words, the disability is not 100 percent disabling.

camo_and_flagIf you’re a veteran who is unable to work and wants to submit a TDIU claim, it’s important to hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help you. TDIU claims are consistently denied by the VA, and veterans must often go through the appeals process to get them approved.

Why TDIU Claims Are Denied

When a veteran submits a TDIU claim, it's often denied because many times the VA determines that he or she is able to perform “sedentary work.” Because this term has a precise legal definition, it’s important for veterans who want to file a TDIU claim to understand the meaning.

The Department of Labor and the Social Security Administration (SSA) defines sedentary work in the following way:

Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.

The SSA often uses a vocational expert (VE) to help determine whether a claimant can be given benefits for his disability. However, the VA doesn’t typically use these experts. Instead, the VA often looks at and uses the veteran’s doctor’s opinion given with the application to make a determination about benefits.

But VEs can be extremely beneficial for a veteran submitting a TDIU claim because they're trained to:

  • Work with people who have both mental and physical disabilities
  • Are knowledgeable about the job market
  • Understand the types of changes and accommodations employers are willing and unwilling to make in the work environment for someone who’s suffering from a disability

VEs also understand how working a (sedentary) desk job can still create an impossible situation for a veteran with chronic back or neck pain. If he can’t sit for long periods of time, he’s not capable of fulfilling the requirements of sedentary employment.

Additionally, a VE knows how many absences an employer allows and how many unscheduled breaks are considered acceptable before an employer likely fires you.

An experienced VA attorney can help secure a VE if necessary so your claim is more likely to be accepted by the VA.

Obtaining TDIU Benefits

To be eligible for TDIU, you must prove the following:

  • Proof of your veteran status
  • Documentation that you have one service-connected disability rated at least 60 percent, OR
  • Documentation that you have a combined rating of at least 70 percent with at least one disability rated at 40 percent or more
  • Evidence that you're not able to sustain gainful employment due to your service-connected disabilities. Typically, this means a job with an annual income above the poverty rate.

It’s also important to note that, regardless of the percentage of disability rating, a veteran is eligible for a TDIU rating if one or more of his service-related disabilities prevents him from working or obtaining employment.

Call Cuddigan Law

There’s no cookie-cutter approach for addressing veterans’ claims. At Cuddigan Law, we’ll examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim—or file an appeal if it’s been denied. Contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.

 

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska