Important: We updated this article in July 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. If you don’t have a 100% P&T VA compensation rating but cannot work because of your health, don’t give up. There’s a special rule that provides benefits just for disabled vets like you. It’s called “individual unemployability,” but you’ll usually hear people call it “VA unemployability.” Take a closer look at how this program works and how to apply below.
How the VA Unemployability Rule Works
Essentially, this program offers something like unemployment plus disability benefits for vets without a 100% P&T rating. (If you’re a veteran with several service-connected disabilities rated below 100%, this program combines them for higher benefits.) This way, veterans with lower P&T ratings can qualify for monthly benefits at the 100% compensation level. Congress first passed this VA unemployability rule in 1934, and legislators updated it again in 2001.
Who’s Eligible to Apply for VA Unemployability (IA) Benefits?
Not sure if you’re eligible for VA unemployability benefits? You need to meet all requirements listed below before you apply:
- You’re a veteran with one or more service-connected disabilities that prevent you from working full-time.
- In addition, the VA must rate one of your service-connected disabilities at 60% or higher, OR
- You must have multiple service-connected disabilities that total 70% or higher when combined. Of those, you need at least one disability rated 40% or higher to qualify for VA unemployability.
In addition, the VA won’t count odd jobs, seasonal work or what it calls “marginal employment” under this rule. The VA defines marginal employment as earnings that fall below the poverty line, according to Census Bureau guidelines. You can see the current federal poverty guidelines and amounts listed here.
Documents To Include When You Apply for VA Unemployability Benefits
As always, strong medical evidence is key for winning VA benefits. You’ll need:
- A record showing you have at least one service-connected disability.
- Medical evidence that supports the claim you cannot work due to service-connected impairment(s).
Important: Remember, you’re not trying to prove to the VA that you are disabled. Instead, prove you can’t perform required work tasks 40 hours per week to support yourself, specifically due to a condition that comes from your military service.
A rating veterans service representative (RVSR) will decide if you may qualify for VA unemployability.
What Medical Records Does the VA Usually Look At When Reviewing Your Case?
Since the VA’s decision is based on your medical records, expect them to review the following items that may apply to you:
- Occupational evaluation from a VA clinical social worker.
- Disability examination report from a physician or psychologist.
- Report from a vocational specialist or medical doctor that states you cannot work and why (for best results, get one report from each!).
- Termination notices, employment records or statements from past job(s).
Unfortunately, this rule stops the VA from considering health problems that aren’t service-connected in deciding your case.
VA Unemployability Rule Exceptions That May Help You
Exceptions to this IU rule can also help certain vets get benefits at the 100% compensation rate. Does one of the descriptions below apply to your specific situation? If so, consider filing for IU benefits using VA Form 21-8940:
- You already reached full retirement age (67), but don’t qualify for Social Security retirement or VA pension benefits.
- Blood transfusions, dialysis, or other health issues that require frequent hospitalization keep you from working full time.
- You work in the “gig” economy (Uber/Lyft driver or similar), do odd jobs, or seasonal work.
Which Veterans Currently Get VA Unemployability Benefits Each Month?
You may wonder which vets benefit most from the VA unemployability program. According to A 21st Century System for Evaluating Veterans for Disability Benefits, IU is a fast-growing compensation option for vets. According to the VA’s annual finance report, in FY2020, 322,908 vets got IU benefits. Veterans from these service eras qualified for VA unemployability benefits from 2000-2006, per the SSA:
- Vietnam veterans who served from 1964-1975 (68%).
- Peacetime veterans who served from 1975-1990 (17.1%).
- Gulf War veterans who served from 1990-present (15.2%).
What Disabling Conditions Usually Qualify for VA Unemployability Benefits?
According to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), most vets get VA unemployability for mental health issues (35%). Among those beneficiaries, more than two-thirds list PTSD as their primary diagnosis. In fact, PTSD is the fastest-growing service-connected disability for veterans today. This is likely because annual VBA reports show the average VA disability rating for PTSD is 70%. Here are the most common issues that may qualify, ranked highest to lowest:
- Mental health issues, like chronic adjustment disorder, depression, or PTSD (35%).
- Musculoskeletal conditions, like chronic neck or back pain, joint problems, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia (29%).
- Cardiovascular problems, like heart disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension (high blood pressure), and coronary artery disease (13%).
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Not sure if your combined rating qualifies you for VA unemployability benefits? We can match you with a VA-accredited lawyer to review all your options. Our lawyers charge nothing to check your claim paperwork or file your appeal. Already got a denial letter from the VA? Our lawyers can fight to get the most benefits you deserve during your appeals hearing. The VA assigns 1 in 10 the wrong rating every year, on average. This means the VA also pays them the wrong benefit amount each month!
If the lawyer doesn’t help you succeed, then you owe $0 for legal assistance. And if a judge awards you benefits after the VA made a mistake, you may also owe your lawyer $0. That’s because the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) may apply to your case, forcing the government to cover your legal fees!
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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.