TDIU Claims and Protected Work Environments
Published July 7, 2021
As a soldier, you do whatever task is assigned to you without questions and with a strong sense of duty. Therefore, it’s not much of a surprise that after discharge, veterans take whatever job opportunities present themselves with the same level of commitment and duty.
What they don’t know is that even if they have managed to find a job that allows them to work despite disabilities, like dealing with PTSD or other service-connected disabilities, they may still qualify for TDIU, total disability individual unemployability.
They may qualify for TDIU because they work in a “protected environment” job.
What is TDIU?
TDIU means “total disability individual unemployability” within the framework of VA disability benefits. In layman’s terms, that means that the veteran has been deemed to have a service-connected disability sufficiently severe that renders them unable to maintain substantially gainful employment.
It does not mean that you cannot do anything at all or that a veteran is being relegated to a rocking chair on their front porch for life. It just means that the ability to maintain regular and gainful employment over time is substantially impacted.
TDIU benefits are financial disability payments above those that the VA would ordinarily pay according to percentage disability ratings. It is where the VA pays you at the 100% rate without you actually being rated at 100%.
What is a Protected Environment Job?
A protected environment job is a job where the veteran receives special accommodations that are not typically found in the general labor market.
A common example is when the veteran works at a family business or for a friend. In this workplace, their employer is fully aware of the veteran’s disabilities and makes accommodations around them, accommodations that would not generally be available in the workplace.
In the case of psychological issues, for example, the employer may have a relaxed policy on absences when the vet is having “bad days” or suffering from anxiety attacks. The veteran may be able to continue to maintain employment despite frequent angry outbursts or other behavior inconsistent with what an ordinary employer would allow from their employees.
Perhaps a back injury limits the time the veteran can stand or sit without lying down to rest, and the employer allows an accommodation by enabling the veteran to work from home for these needs or provides extra break times. Or maybe the veteran suffers from debilitating migraines, and the employer allows flexible scheduling so long as the veteran still gets their work done.
In short, a protected environment job is more accommodating than similar jobs in the open marketplace. Why does this matter? Because you might be entitled to receive VA total disability individual unemployability benefits even though you have a job.
Marginal employment and unemployability
No one wants to acknowledge that they are unemployable. It is ingrained in soldiers and veterans, at the beginning and throughout their service, to slog through difficult circumstances and make them work. However, there sometimes comes a point when the veteran (or sometimes their family) recognizes that although the veteran can work, it is not substantial or consistent enough to earn a decent living.
For purposes of TDIU, the VA considers a veteran’s employment “marginal” if the veteran earns less than the federal poverty threshold for one person (in 2020, this was $12,760 per year for all states other than Alaska and Hawaii).
Even if the veteran earns more than the federal poverty threshold amount, a veteran’s work may be considered “marginal” for purposes of TDIU if they are only able to have continuous employment in a “protected work environment.”
Does holding a protected environment job preclude TDIU unemployability benefits?
No. Civilian jobs for veterans come in many different forms. Whether those jobs pay less than the federal poverty threshold or not, veterans may be eligible for TDIU (total disability individual unemployability).
For veterans working in a “protected environment” job, the VA may still consider that veteran unable to hold substantially gainful employment. Thus, they receive a TDIU rating from the VA.
How can a veteran prove they have a “protective environment” job?
A protective environment job exists when the employer modifies the veteran’s schedule, duties, or other aspects of the workplace environment or pays to accommodate the veteran’s disability.
This often plays out by allowing more flexibility of time off to accommodate for “bad days,” adjustment of work setting to accommodate physical disabilities, or sometimes continued employment despite factors that ordinarily result in demotion or discharge.
Sometimes a veteran gets paid at a pay rate below what a similar job would pay elsewhere within the industry.
Find out if you are entitled to TDIU even though you are working
Are you working in a protective environment job and want to know whether you qualify for a TDIU determination? Veterans Law Group specializes in working with disabled veterans to obtain the maximum disability benefits to which they and their families are entitled.
Fill out this questionnaire and submit it to our office for evaluation. We will review your request for a consultation and contact you as soon as possible. Our consultations are free of charge.