Generally, VA disability benefits are awarded to veterans who have an illness or injury that was caused by or worsened during active military service.
For many veterans who receive disability compensation, their benefits replace the income they’d be receiving from employment.
But is it possible to work and collect VA disability?
The short answer: in some cases. In this post, Tennessee veterans disability attorney Michael Hartup explains when you can work while receiving VA disability benefits and when you can’t.
If you need further help understanding your disability benefits, applying for VA disability, or appealing a claim, call The Law Offices of Michael Hartup at 731-424-5559. You may also contact us by filling out an online form.
Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU)
You can work and collect VA disability benefits as long as you are not receiving benefits called Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
If you qualify for TDIU, this means you may be able to get disability benefits at the same level as a veteran who has a 100 percent disability rating. Qualifying for TDIU usually means you’re unable to work.
Remember, the VA assigns a disability rating based on the severity of your condition in order to determine how much compensation you should receive. Your rating is expressed in a percentage, from 0 to 100 percent.
For example, a 20 percent disability rating means your condition entitles you to compensation, but it’s less severe than an 80 percent rating.
One of the eligibility requirements for TDIU is an inability to hold down a steady job that supports you financially, also called substantially gainful employment, because of your service-connected disability.
So, if you are receiving VA disability benefits under TDIU, you cannot also work a job that supports you financially.
Substantially Gainful Employment
What if you work part-time or as a freelancer? Is that considered substantially gainful employment? There is no fixed income list that describes what the VA considers substantially gainful employment, but the following information can help.
The VA 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.”
In other words, if you make a certain amount of money per year, generally an amount over the poverty line in your area, you’re able to be gainfully employed, which means you do not or no longer qualify for TDIU.
If you receive VA disability benefits under TDIU, you can still work under certain circumstances to make ends meet and remain eligible. That’s where “marginal employment” comes into play.
A job may be considered marginal employment if you work less than one-half the usual hours in a role, or you receive less than one-half the average wage for that occupation.
Other jobs can also be considered marginal employment; for example, jobs in a family or friend’s business that make special accommodations for you.
In other words, if your employment does not exceed the poverty line and your job has reduced hours, reduced wages, or is in a protected environment, it may be deemed marginal employment. You can have marginal employment and receive VA disability benefits at the same time.
Can I have a job when I apply for benefits?
There’s no requirement that you must be unemployed when applying for VA disability benefits. However, the VA does look at your ability to work in order to determine your eligibility for benefits. Working during the application process can give the VA the wrong impression.
What if I’m self-employed?
Self-employment can be tricky when it comes to VA disability benefits. That’s because if you own your own business or work as a freelancer, you have control over the amount of wages you receive.
However, the VA still decides if your work is substantially gainful employment by comparing it to your work before your condition, not solely based on current wages.
Consult a VA Disability Lawyer for Help
If you’re uncertain whether your employment is considered substantially gainful or marginal, or if your income exceeds the poverty threshold, speak to a VA disability lawyer.
A skilled VA disability lawyer can help you understand your disability rating, your employment, and your eligibility. A lawyer can also help you appeal a denied claim or change your rating if your condition worsens.
The Law Offices of Michael Hartup represents VA disability clients throughout Tennessee. If you need assistance with a Veteran’s disability claim, schedule a free consultation by calling our office at 731-424-5559. You may also contact us by liking and following our Facebook page, or filling out an online form.