Total Disability Individual Unemployment: Myths & Facts

Did you know that there are actually a lot of myths following Total Disability Individual Unemployment (TDIU) today? We want to take some time to do a little myth busting and explain the facts behind TDIU’s!

As creatures of habit, we sometimes tend to rely on others for information rather than follow-up to confirm the information is correct and accurate. During this month’s VFW meeting the topic of Total Disability Individual Unemployment (TDIU) and Social Security came up and you wouldn’t believe the back and forth discussions that came out.

First, they couldn’t agree on the TDIU eligibility requirements:

Myth – “You have to be rated at a total of 70% disability or above to qualify for TDIU.”


Fact – Eligibility comes in two parts:

Part I

a. You must obtain a rating of 60% or more for 1 service-connected disability

b. Or have a combined rating of 70% or more between two service-connected conditions with one of the conditions rated at 40% or higher


Part II

Based on your service-connected conditions you are unable to hold a steady job that supports you financially.

Both parts have to be met in order to qualify for the entitlement.

What is considered entitlement?

Before I discuss the “entitlement” portion of the TDIU benefit, the VFW discussion intensified when they couldn’t decide if you were able to work or not work while receiving the TDIU benefit.


Myth – “You can’t work if you receive TDIU!” “I mean, the word “Unemployment” is in the title of the benefit so it must be true”. Followed by a few vulgar words

Fact – Part II of the TDIU eligibility highlights if you are unable to hold a “steady job.” The VA defines a steady job as substantially gainful employment. However, odd jobs or marginal employment doesn’t count. Marginal means that you have an annual income of less than the poverty level (average $11K to $12K).

It doesn’t stop there. According to Chisholm, Chisholm, & Kilpatrick (CCK, 2019) Veterans who receive TDIU can also earn above the poverty line utilizing a “protected work environment” and still retain the TDIU benefit. A protected work environment means the employer is willing to make significant accommodations that excuses the veteran from specific duties without penalty.

Meaning the veteran will receive the same rate of pay as his or her counterparts regardless of performance.

Who does this apply to?

For example, a veteran with severe PTSD and hypersomnolence prefers to work from home because of the embarrassment of falling asleep at work and the stress that amplifies PTSD symptoms. The employer honors the accommodation and limits the performance standards to ease the stress and retains the same amount of pay as their colleagues.

The VA may classify this scenario as “marginal employment.” The protected work environment is not a home run by any means, but one to keep in your back pocket just in case you need to justify exceeding the annual poverty line income as a veteran collecting TDIU.

Now back to entitlement piece. If anything uplifts my spirits, it’s watching a melting pot of different Armed Service Veterans talk smack about something they know little about.

Funny thing is, they passed along the same bad info to each other and it begins to morph into what we use to call a “hot mess” who knows what the kids are calling it these days, but it’s outstanding entertainment. Of course, they couldn’t agree on the entitlement piece.

Free dental

Myth – “I heard your rating automatically goes to 100% and then you’ll receive free dental.”

Now, as a veteran who has a 100% rating, I can speak on behalf of the free dental care I receive at the VA. However, prior to being considered 100% disabled, I had a TMJ rating of 30% which earned me a spot for free dental services right alongside those triple digiteers. Enough about me let’s get back into TDIU.     

Fact – A veteran who’s awarded TDIU will be compensated at a disability rating of 100% even though their combined rating does not equate to 100%. However, keep in mind that TDIU may not be considered permanent and total and may be subject for re-examination.   

So the next time you’re ever a fly-on-the-wall at your local VFW and the TDIU topic arises and the barrack lawyers begin to shout. Bust out the facts with confidence and watch your street cred increase! Have additional questions or think that you qualify? Reach out! We would love to begin talking with you!

Christopher Borum is apart of the VA Claims Insider Team and a retired Air Force Disabled Veteran. You can contact him at [email protected]

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