Can a Veteran Earn an Income While Receiving TDIU Benefits?

Our VA accredited lawyers protect your disability benefits

Even with TDIU benefits, a disabled veteran can find it hard to make ends meet. But is a vet on TDIU allowed to work? And if so, are there limits on the amount the veteran can earn? After all, the name of the benefit — Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability — seems to imply the money is only available because the veteran can’t work. The VA accredited attorneys at Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban want you to know you can work and keep your TDIU benefit, but you have to be careful about the extent of your employment and earnings.

Understanding the VA’s interpretation of gainful employment

Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability is an alternate method the VA uses to allow a veteran to get a 100 percent disability rating. Instead of combining partial disability ratings, which might not reach 100 percent, evaluators look at whether the veteran’s service-connected disabilities prevent him from securing and maintaining employment that is “substantially gainful.” Gainful employment is that which keeps the veteran above the poverty level, which for 2016 meant earning $11,880 a year. Thus, any amount below that amount would not be considered gainful and would not threaten a veteran’s TDIU benefit.

The definition also implies the veteran is capable of maintaining employment, so VA regulations do not count sheltered employment, such as self-employed positions or jobs in a family business, where the veteran essentially cannot be fired. Therefore, there are two ways a veteran can earn money without sacrificing TDIU benefits:

  • Marginal employment — Amounts established by the U.S. Department of Commerce as the poverty threshold for one person.
  • Sheltered employment — When earned income exceeds the poverty threshold, the income still might not constitute gainful employment if the money was earned in a protected environment such as a family business or sheltered workshop.

How can you tell the veteran is working in a sheltered environment? The VA applies three tests:

  • Did the employer grant special accommodations for the vet’s disabilities? (This point is especially pertinent if the business is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.)
  • If the veteran leaves the business, will the employer hire a person in a similar situation to fill the position?
  • Is there evidence a similarly situated business would not have hired such an employee for the rate the business paid him?

Essentially, these questions are to help discern whether the position at the company was created specifically for the veteran.

Controversies can arise if the VA misconstrues the terms of a veteran’s work and decides the job is substantially gainful employment. At that point, the VA could pull the vet’s TDIU benefits. If that happens, you should consult a VA accredited attorney at our law firm.

Let our accredited veterans’ benefits attorneys protect your TDIU benefits

Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban fights to protect your right to work and keep your TDIU benefits. From anywhere in the country, you can call us at 866-866-VETS, and someone will be ready to talk to you, or you can contact us online. Our firm never charges upfront fees, and there are no attorney fees unless we win your claim for benefits.