TDIU benefits qualify veterans for a 100 percent rating. It is very difficult to reach a 100 percent rating without TDIU. A 100 percent rating provides a large increase in the monthly disability benefit compared to a 90 percent or lower rating.
But, can you get a 100 percent TDIU rating if you are still working? Since TDIU focuses on “unemployability”, you might think that you could not.
38 CFR 4.16 is the part of the Code of Federal Regulations that deals with individual unemployability claims. The general rule is that you cannot work and receive TDIU benefits.
But, if you look in 38 CFR 4.16, you would find out that there are some exceptions to this general rule. Toward the second half of that regulation, you will find the exceptions. some exceptions to the general rule which is you can’t work and draw TDIU benefits.
What is the exception about “marginal employment”?
So here’s one way you can do that with limited earnings. The rule says that marginal employment shall not be considered substantially gainful employment. The VA M21-1MR manual defines “substantially gainful employment” as:
Employment that is ordinarily followed by the nondisabled to earn their livelihood with earnings common to the particular occupation in the community where the veteran resides.
That definition sounds like a bunch of legalese. So, what does it mean in layman’s terms. Basically, it means typical work used to earn a living where the veteran lives.
With regard to marginal employment, 38 CFR 4.16 gives you a couple of examples of what qualifies. One of those examples is marginal employment based on limited earnings.
The regulation says that marginal employment shall be deemed to exist when a veteran’s earned annual income does not exceed the amount established by the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Census within the Commerce Department. Basically, you can still earn money and draw your full TDIU benefits if you are below the poverty threshold.
How much can I earn and still receive TDIU benefits?
To give you an idea, a veteran can earn $13,465 in 2020 according to the data figures that we have from the Census Bureau. If you’re earning under that amount, you can still draw your full TDIU benefit.
Of course, the poverty threshold can change each year, so you need to check for updated numbers.
The rationale for still qualifying for TDIU through marginal employment is that you are not a full member of the workforce if your earnings are that low. Because of that, VA should not penalize you for trying to get out there and do what you can.
Do I still have to prove the other requirements of TDIU if I meet the “marginal employment” standard?
Yes. You must still prove the other TDIU requirements. “Marginal employment” only provides an exception to the requirement that you must demonstrate that you are not substantially gainfully employed.
However, this exception can provide great benefits to veterans who have significant difficulty working as a result of their service connected medical conditions. If you find yourself in this situation, you should consider filing for TDIU benefits.