100 Percent VA Disability and Working
VA assigns disability ratings to veterans with service-connected conditions. A disability rating is based on how severe the veteran’s condition is and how it impairs their earning capacity. VA disability ratings range from 0 to 100 percent. When a veteran has multiple service-connected conditions, each with its own disability rating, VA combines them using “VA Math” to get a combined disability rating. This combined disability rating then determines the amount of monthly compensation they will receive. As mentioned above, 100 percent is the highest combined disability rating a veteran can receive ($3,057.13 per month). 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
The eligibility requirements to qualify for the 100 percent schedular disability rating are rather straightforward:
- You must have a service-connected disability; and
- VA must rate it at the 100 percent level as outlined by the criteria for that condition; or
- You have multiple service-connected disabilities that combine to 100 percent
With the 100 percent combined disability rating, you do not have any restrictions on work activity. As such, if you meet the 100 percent rating for your service-connected condition, and you are still able to work, then you may do so.
Working with a 100 Percent Permanent and Total Rating
Veterans rated 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). 100% schedular permanent and total ratings are protected from being reduced.
Working with a TDIU 100% Rating
Total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) is a benefit that allows veterans to be compensated at VA’s 100 percent disability rate, even if their combined schedular disability rating does not equal 100 percent. TDIU is awarded in circumstances in which veterans are unable to secure and follow substantially gainful employment as a result of their service-connected conditions. Here, substantially gainful employment refers to whether a veteran’s annual income meets or exceeds the federal poverty threshold for a single person. Therefore, there are certain circumstances in which veterans may still be employed while receiving TDIU benefits.
How to Get TDIU
VA outlines TDIU regulations in 38 CFR § 4.16, which encompasses subsection (a) and (b). Each subsection describes a way by which veterans may meet the requirements for TDIU. In order to qualify for TDIU under 38 CFR § 4.16(a), a veteran must have:
- One service-connected condition rated at 60% or more; OR
- Two or more service-connected conditions, one of which is rated at least 40% disabling, with a combine disability rating of at least 70%.
Those who do not meet the schedular requirements under 38 CFR § 4.16(a) may still be considered for TDIU under 4.16(b). Under this subsection, VA must refer your entitlement to TDIU to the Director of Compensation Service for extraschedular consideration.
As mentioned above, TDIU is generally reserved for veterans who are unable to work; however, if a veteran is able to maintain what is called “marginal employment,” they can still qualify for TDIU. Generally speaking, 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.
For example, if you are only able to work 8 hours per week at a restaurant and your earnings are below the poverty level, your employment may qualify as marginal. Therefore, you can continue working while receiving VA disability compensation at the 100 percent level.
Protected Work Environment
Veterans who are working and earning an income above the federal poverty threshold may still be entitled to TDIU if they are working in a protected work environment. A protected work environment can be described as employment that allows certain accommodations without which you would not be able to continue working. Importantly, VA recognizes that protected work environments do not fall under the umbrella of substantially gainful employment.
More specifically, a protected work environment could be demonstrated by one or several of the following being true of the veteran’s situation:
- The veteran does not need to complete critical job functions due to their limitations (e.g. interacting with customers)
- 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 you work in a protected work environment, you will likely have to submit supportive evidence, such as a lay statement from your employer. VA makes determinations regarding protected work environments on a case-by-case basis.
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