Veterans are often confused about Department of Veterans Affairs 100 percent disability ratings and whether or not they can work if rated at 100 percent.
There are several types of 100 percent disability ratings. One is when a veteran’s service-connected disabilities combine to 100 percent. If a veteran reaches 100 percent this way, he can work full-time.
Another type of 100 percent rating is known as TDIU or IU, which stands for total disability/individual unemployability. This is a specific type of claim made by a veteran, requesting he be paid at the 100 percent rate even though his disabilities do not combine to 100. This request is made because the veteran is unable to maintain “gainful employment” because his service-connected disabilities prevent him from doing so.
The basic eligibility to file for IU is that the veteran has one disability rated at 60 percent or one at 40 percent and enough other disabilities that result in a combined rating of 70 percent or more. The one disability at 40 percent criteria can be a combined rating of related disabilities. Meeting the basic criteria is not a guarantee that the veteran will be awarded 100 percent under IU. The medical evidence must show that the veteran is unable to work in both a physical and sedentary setting. A veteran not meeting the percentage criteria may still be awarded IU if the disabilities present a unique barrier to gainful employment.
If a veteran is granted 100 percent under IU he is prohibited from working full-time, because in filing the claim for IU the veteran is stating he is unable to work because of his service-connected disabilities.
Receiving IU is not a bar to all employment. The veteran can work in part-time “marginal” employment and earn up to a certain amount annually.
There is also a temporary 100 percent rating. If a veteran is hospitalized 21 days or longer or had surgery for a service-connected disability that requires at least a 30-day convalescence period, the VA will pay at the 100 percent rate for the duration of the hospital stay or the convalescence period. For example, if a veteran has a total knee replacement for a service-connected knee disability, the VA will pay 100 percent compensation for 13 months, the standard recovery period for a joint replacement of a major joint. The duration of 100 percent temporary disability for any other type of surgery will depend on what the doctor reports as the recovery period.
The last type of 100 percent rating is a 100 percent “permanent and total” rating. This is when the VA acknowledges that the service-connected conditions have no likelihood of improvement and the veteran will remain at 100 percent permanently with no future examinations. The permanent and total rating provides additional benefits, such as Chapter 35 education benefits for dependents, among other benefits.
Veterans sometimes make the mistake of requesting a permanent and total rating simply because they want education benefits for their dependents. Veterans need to keep in mind that when permanent and total rating is requested, all of their service-connected disabilities will be re-evaluated and during the exams, improvement may be noted and a reduction proposed.
Because many veterans are service-connected for conditions that VA says have a “likelihood of improvement” the ratings are not considered permanent and subject to future review.
The only time a veteran can’t work a full-time, gainfully-employed job is if they were awarded 100 percent disability through a claim for IU.
Also, a 100 percent rating under either IU or combined ratings may or may not be rated as permanent and total. A temporary 100 percent rating is just that, temporary because of hospitalization or recovery from surgery on a service-connected condition.
It is always best for a veteran to work with an accredited veterans service officer who can explain the complex workings of the VA benefit system.
Sandy Britt is a Montgomery County, Tennessee, veterans service officer. For general questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact the MCVSO at 931-553-5173. Fort Campbell Veterans Services can be reached at 931-431-0661.