The VA assigns disability ratings to veterans with service-connected conditions. The disability rating which is assigned is based on how severe the veteran’s condition is and how it impairs their earning capacity. Ratings range from 0 to 100 percent. Depending on the circumstances, veterans may still be able to work while receiving a 100 percent disability rating.
Working with a 100% Schedular Disability Rating
To receive a 100 percent schedular disability rating are straightforward:
- The veteran must have a service-connected disability; and
- The VA must rate it at the 100 percent level as outlined by the criteria for that condition; or
- They have multiple service-connected disabilities that combine to 100 percent
With the 100 percent combined disability rating a veteran does not have any restrictions on work activity. This means if they meet the 100 percent rating for their service-connected condition and they are still able to work, then they may do so.
Working with a 100% Permanent and Total Rating
Veterans with a 100% permanent and total VA disability rating do not face any restrictions on work activity unless the veteran was awarded this rating through Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). An 100% permanent and total ratings are protected from being reduced.
Working with a TDIU 100% Rating
TDIU is a benefit that allows veterans to be compensated at the VA’s 100 percent disability rate even if their combined schedular disability rating does not equal 100 percent. TDIU is awarded where veterans are unable to secure and follow substantially gainful employment as a result of their service-connected conditions.
Substantially gainful employment refers to whether a veteran’s annual income meets or exceeds the federal poverty threshold for a single person. There are certain circumstances where a veteran may be employed while receiving TDIU.
How to Get TDIU
In order to qualify for TDIU a veteran must have:
- One service-connected condition rated at 60 percent or more; OR
- Two or more service-connected conditions, one of which is rated at least 40 percent disabling, with a combined disability rating of at least 70 percent.
What is Marginal Employment?
TDIU is generally reserved for veterans who are unable to work, however if a veteran is able to maintain “marginal employment” they can still qualify for TDIU. Marginal employment is the opposite of substantially gainful employment. If a veteran is working but their income does not exceed the federal poverty threshold for one person, they can still be considered for TDIU.
What is a Protected Work Environment?
Veterans who are working and earning income above the federal poverty threshold can be entitled to TDIU if they are working in a “protected work environment”. A protected work environment is employment that allows certain accommodations without which you would not be able to continue working. The VA recognizes that protected work environments do not fall under the umbrella of substantially gainful employment.
A protected work environment can be shown by one or several of the following:
- The veteran does not need to complete critical job functions due to their limitations
- The veteran is not as productive or as reliable as other employees
- The veteran does not receive any negative consequences for erratic behavior or mistakes that stem from their disability
To demonstrate that a veteran works in a protected work environment the veteran will likely have to submit supportive evidence, such as a lay statement from their employer. The VA makes determinations regarding protected work environments on a case-by-case basis.
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