Many veterans suffer from a disability or combination of disabilities that prevent them from working. Veterans who find themselves in this situation may qualify for a 100% VA rating.
Total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) provides the opportunities for veterans to receive this rating even when “VA math” does not give them that 100% rating. Veterans need this method because it often takes the 100% rating payment to adequately replace the veteran’s lost income.
Unfortunately, VA will not grant TDIU just because you say that you cannot work. You must prove your inability to work to VA.
I have written a number of articles on our blog that talk about different parts of proving TDIU to VA. You can read those articles on our Veterans Blog. In this article today, I will focus on a very important part of proving TDIU: getting evidence of your disabilities.
Before you start getting medical opinions from doctors, you need to understand your disabilities. While this sounds easy, you cannot prove to VA how your disabilities affect your ability to work unless you understand them.
Think about all the ways that your service-connected disabilities affect you. Let’s take an example. Suppose you have a service-connected back injury. Here are some ways below that it might affect you:
- You may not sleep well at night. As a result, you do not feel rested in the morning and could have difficulty concentrating
- You may have some mornings where you just cannot get going because of pain and would not be able to make it to work on time or just have to miss work entirely
- You may take medications for your injury that have side effects. These medications could affect your ability to concentrate or other areas of your job performance
- Your back injury could prevent you from sitting very long without changing position or standing for too long without taking a break to sit. As a result, you could have difficulty doing a job that required you to stay in one position for a long period
- Your doctor may advise you to limit the amount that you lift or bend as a result of your back injury
- Your back injury could cause you to have other medical problems (radiating pain into your leg, depression from the pain and limitations). These conditions could qualify as secondary VA disabilities with their own symptoms that affect your ability to work.
This list is by no means exhaustive. But, hopefully, it gives you an idea of how a disability can affect your ability to work or hold a job. Understanding all the ways in which your disabilities affect you is the first step in proving the effects of these disabilities to VA.
After going through the process above, you should have a list of your disabilities and how those disabilities affect you. At this point, I want you to take that and try to prove to VA each and every one of those symptoms.
How do you do that? There’s really three ways that you can do that.
Use your own statement or your own testimony at a hearing.
I like written statements because they are concise. You plan them out ahead of time.
It often helps to have the person making the decision in your claim understand how you feel. Medical record can only say so much about your disability.
Let’s take the example of a back injury. Suppose you have a herniated disc the is pressing on one of the nerves in your spine. Your symptoms do not necessarily feel exactly the same as every other person who has a herniated disc.
If you have back pain, is it a stabbing or burning pain? It is aching or shooting? Does it go down into your buttocks or parts of one or both legs? You also will want to talk about how severe the pain is.
If your back injury affects your ability to bend, talk about how that affects you in your daily life. Can you pick up something that falls on the floor? Do you need assistance tying your shoes? Detailed information helps the decision maker (whether it is a DRO or someone else) fully understand your situation.
Use lay statements
Often, someone else can more fully understand your disability than you can. This may be your spouse, significant other, or family member.
If you have a wife who says:
- “I’ve seen him try to pick up our child, and he winces in pain when he’s done it,” or
- “I’ve seen him try to cut the grass, but it takes him all day long because now he can only cut for 20 minutes and then he has to take a two-hour break because of his pain.”
Those sorts of things can help illustrate your disabilities and the limitations associated with them as well. Family members and friends are good people to give some insight.
Frankly, other people often pick up on things we do not notice about ourselves. They notice that we shift around in our seat or constantly have to get up and move around. They notice that we change the way we do tasks because of a disability.
Use medical evidence
While statements from you or a family member can prove very helpful, statements from your doctor may carry more weight. Your doctor treats your medical conditions and makes recommendations about what you should or should not do.
Your doctor can comment on many different things like:
- How much you can lift
- What sort of environment you can work in
- Limitations in your range of motion
- Whether the pain you experience is expected given your injury/disability
- If you should work at all
Your medical providers can express their opinions in a medical report which can be submitted to VA. This evidence of your disabilities can supplement your own statements and lay statements about your disabilities and the symptoms associated with them.
It may be helpful to take a look at how two different claims for TDIU benefits might play out:
- I have a herniated disc and cannot work
- I have a herniated disc. I am in pain all the time but I deal with it. About twice a month, the pain is so severe that I cannot get out of bed. I used to go fishing with my grandchildren when they came to visit. I do not do that anymore because I cannot sit in the boat comfortably. When we travel, I have to stop and walk around every hour because my back gets too stiff. My doctor says that I should not lift anything weighing more than 10 pounds. I cry more than I used to because I am just not able to do the things I wanted to do anymore. I’ve tried to hold down a job but I miss days from work because of my pain and cannot do what my employers physically want me to do.
#1 and #2 could be describing the exact same person. However, the information in #2 provides a much clearer information of why that veteran’s back injury should qualify for a TDIU grant. If all the information VA has is that you have a herniated disc and cannot work, then it will probably not be enough for VA to grant your TDIU claim.
Should I get other information to help prove my TDIU claim?
It depends. You may want to hire a vocational expert to provide information to VA about how your disabilities affect your ability to find a suitable job. Whether you need a vocational expert will depend on the specific facts of your case.
A successful TDIU claim can drastically increase the benefits you should draw from VA. But, proving TDIU is very difficult. It can also be expensive.
If you have filed or are considering filing a TDIU claim, I would recommend that you talk to a veterans disability attorney. An attorney can help make sure that you develop the best evidence to prove your TDIU claim. They can also advise you on whether it makes sense to pursue a claim or not.
Our firm provides free veterans disability consultations. This article I wrote explains the free consultation process in more detail. If you would like to schedule one, just call our office at (770) 214-8885 or complete and submit the free consultation form on this page.