Friday, June 7, 2013

"I Was Awarded Social Security Disability for My Service Connected Conditions...Does That Mean I Am Automatically Eligible for Unemployability Benefits (TDIU)?"

The short answer:   No.

Now the long answer...

The Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration use different standards to determine whether someone is unable to work.

The Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to decide whether an individual is able or unable to perform "Substantial Gainful Activity" on a consistent basis.  What type of work did they do in the past?  How old is the individual? Can the individual show up for work eight hours a day for each of the five days per week?  Can they maintain concentration for 85-90% of the work day?  Would they miss too may days in a month?  

What is important to note is that an individual can be rendered "disabled" by the Social Security Administration and still be "able" to perform some level of work - maybe part-time work or, depending on age, full-time sedentary (age 50-54) or light (age 55-59) level work.  

What is also important to highlight is that the Social Security Administration may have based their decision on both service-connected and non-service connected conditions. 

In contrast, the Veterans Administration will evaluate only service-connected conditions.  Step one for the VA to determine eligibility for unemployability / TDIU (Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability) is to ask whether the veteran:

  • has a a single service connected disability rated at 60% or more, or
  • has two or more service-connected disabilities where the total rating is 70% and at least one disability is 40% or more.

If it is determined that the veteran meets the above criteria, the VA will then evaluate whether the veteran can perform a "substantially gainful occupation" due to their service-connected conditions.  Substantial gainful occupation has been defined by the Veterans Administration as an occupation that would provide a veteran with an annual income that exceeds the federal poverty level for one individual.

Note the distinction:  SSA is looking at whether you can perform "substantial gainful activity" of $1,000 or more per month, on a full-time basis, whereas the VA is trying to determine whether your service-related conditions preclude working at a poverty-level income. 

Make no mistake, an award from Social Security Disability is a helpful tool for pursuing a claim for unemployability/TDIU benefits.  However, it takes understanding the nuance between the two programs - something we know well from handling a large volume of both cases - to make sure the veterans receives the maximum amount of benefits.

If you have been denied unemployability benefits / TDIU by the VA, call (888-534-6016) or email our firm to set up a consultation at our offices in Greensburg, Pittsburgh or Latrobe.  We are also happy to speak over the phone to help you through the legal maze that is the VA.

- The Veterans Disability Law Group at Quatrini Rafferty

Greensburg     Pittsburgh     Latrobe

Note:  The above discussion is simple and generic.  Each case is different and requires a review of the facts by our office and most likely a consultation with medical/vocational resources. 

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