Apply for TDIU
Veterans with service-connected conditions that prevent them from working but who don’t have a 100 percent VA disability rating may be eligible for Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefits. TDIU is a VA benefit through which eligible veterans can get full disability compensation without having a 100 percent disability rating. To qualify, you cannot hold substantially gainful employment due to service-related conditions. Learn about what TDIU is and how to apply with Veterans Guide.
Some disabled veterans don’t have a 100 percent disability rating, yet still cannot work enough to support themselves due to service-connected conditions. If you’re a veteran in this situation, the Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefits program may entitle you to significantly more monthly VA compensation.
Veterans Guide can help you understand what benefits you can access and how to get started on your application.
What Is TDIU?
Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, is a VA program for veterans who don’t have a 100 percent disability rating but cannot work because of a service-related condition. You can apply for TDIU simultaneously with your initial VA disability claim—or later if your condition worsens. If the VA approves your TDIU application, you receive the same monthly compensation as veterans with a 100 percent disability rating.
This change can result in significantly more monthly compensation based on the 2023 VA monthly compensation charts. For a veteran with no dependents and a 100 percent disability rating, monthly payments are $3,621.95. However, that compensation drops to $2,172.39 with a 90 percent disability rating and $1,319.65 with a 60 percent rating.
How Is TDIU Different From a 100 percent VA Rating?
The VA uses a schedule for rating disabilities to determine monthly compensation and other benefits. The schedule reflects the impact one or more service-related physical and mental health conditions have on veterans’ earnings capacity.
The schedule rates the disabling impact of service-related injuries and illnesses from 0 to 100 percent in increments of 10. A 100 percent rating, for example, indicates that the VA considers that condition 100 percent disabling. Veterans with more than one service-related condition may also receive 100 percent disability benefits when the VA combines the disability ratings of each condition.
Through TDIU, the VA aims to recognize the individual employment and financial circumstances of veterans whose disability ratings are below 100 percent. For example, a veteran with a back injury may be unable to work due to constant pain and stiffness. However, if they have a 60 percent disability rating, they’ll receive monthly compensation at that level. If that veteran’s medical evidence and employment history support their application, the VA can approve TDIU and increase their monthly compensation to the 100 percent level despite their initial disability rating.
Who Is Eligible for TDIU?
To qualify for TDIU, you must be unable to support yourself through substantially gainful employment. Odd jobs do not count against you. If you often need to be in the hospital, the VA considers that as contributing to your inability to work.
Your current disability rating also affects TDIU eligibility. Generally, you must meet one of the following criteria:
The VA also considers factors such as your education, work experience, and earnings to determine if you are eligible for TDIU benefits. The VA will likely not approve your application if you qualify for and can do certain types of work but choose not to.
You need sufficient evidence to show your inability to work. Letters from your doctors, medical records, X-rays, and results of tests such as those that measure lung capacity can all bolster your claim. Evidence from past employers, such as absentee reports and documentation of having to leave work early due to your service-related disability, may also be helpful.
What Types of TDIU Are There?
There are two paths to TDIU benefits set out in 38 CFR § 4.16. Most recipients get TDIU benefits through the schedular option. That means the VA accepts your inability to work, and you meet the disability ratings schedule requirement of one disability rating at 60 percent or two or more combined to reach 70 percent.
Veterans who can’t work but don’t qualify for TDIU based on their disability ratings might receive benefits through a so-called extra-schedular rating option. To be eligible for extra-schedular TDIU, you must have an exceptional or unusual disability or such frequent hospitalizations that VA use of the regular disability ratings schedule is impractical.
There is a separate investigation, and you need strong evidence to support an extra-schedular TDIU application. Rather than going through the regular TDIU process, your application goes directly to the VA Compensation Service Director for consideration.
How To Apply for TDIU
The TDIU application process seems straightforward at first glance. However, to ensure your application is successful, it’s best to work with a lawyer.
An attorney experienced with veterans’ claims can ensure you make the strongest case possible for TDIU benefits. They know the mistakes to avoid and what evidence carries the most weight.
You must include the following forms with your application:
Double-check that you have included all the medical, employment, and other information you need for a strong application. Incomplete applications can lead to denials that might take years to sort out.
The Effective Date of TDIU Claims
The effective date of your TDIU benefits is essential to determining how much compensation you receive as back pay when TDIU is granted. The VA often uses the date you filed your Form 21-8940 TDIU application as the effective date. One year between filing and approval grants you one year of back pay.
Making the effective date the same as the application date may work out for veterans who apply for TDIU along with their initial claim. But others may lose compensation they deserve, such as:
For example, a veteran with a service-related physical condition might file through the usual VA disability process and get a 30 percent VA disability rating. The effects of undiagnosed PTSD could then lead to chronic unemployment. If a doctor determines two years later that the veteran has PTSD dating back to their service, the effective date of their TDIU benefits should be that of their initial claim.
The questions around TDIU effective dates are another reason to work with a lawyer. If the VA denies TDIU or grants an effective date that doesn’t match when you became unemployable, your attorney can appeal. Since each case is decided on its own merits, there is a chance that persuasive arguments and evidence will lead to a change in your effective date on appeal.
The VA disability appeal process is complex, and you can go through several levels up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Be sure to choose an accredited, experienced VA attorney to advocate on your behalf.
If you have more questions about TDIU or other VA benefits, consult the experienced team at Veterans Guide.
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