TDIU stands for Total Disability Individual Unemployability. Basically, the VA will award TDIU if your service-connected disability renders a veteran unable to work, but their total rating does not equal 100%. When a vet is awarded TDIU, they are paid at 100%, even though they aren’t technically 100% disabled according to their combined rating.
Basic eligibility for TDIU is actually a bit complicated. The vet needs to have either:
- a combined rating of 70% or higher, with one of the disabilities rated at 40% or higher; or
- a single disability rated at 60% or higher; or
- neither of the above, but be approved by the Director of Compensation and Pension Service on an “extra-schedular” basis.
Employment Under TDIU
In addition to meeting the basic eligibility listed above, the vet must also be “unable to maintain substantially gainful employment.”
This does not mean that the veteran needs to remain unemployed.
In fact, the VA considers anything less than poverty wages (about $13k/year) to be less than substantially gainful employment. Alternatively, the veteran’s employment may be considered “sheltered” or “protected” employment, but this gets super complicated because the VA has never truly defined it. Generally, it’s a situation where a veteran has a job, but the job is somehow special because the employer has gone beyond the “reasonable accommodations” normally required, or made up the job especially for the vet.
Applying for TDIU
There is also this misconception that you have to specially apply for TDIU. This is incorrect. As long as there is evidence in the record that the vet is unemployed or unemployable, the VA has a duty to assist the veteran in developing their claim to the fullest. This usually means sending the vet a VA Form 21-8940 to document their work history. The VA often fails to do this, because the rater isn’t paying close attention to the file or asking the C&P doctors the right questions on the exam requests.
In fact, TDIU isn’t a claim by itself. It gets “raised by the evidence.”
That said, it may help to go ahead and file the VA Form 21-8940 even if the VA doesn’t ask for it. Writing a statement in support of the claim about how your disability (whether service-connected or in the process of getting service-connected) impacts your ability to work.
One of the most important court cases on TDIU is Rice v. Shinseki. The Court determined that TDIU isn’t a claim by itself, and can be brought “either as part of the initial adjudication of a claim or, as part of a claim for increased compensation if entitlement to the disability upon which TDIU is based has already been found to be service-connected.”