Can You Qualify for VA Unemployability Benefits?

VA unemployability benefits

If you don’t have a 100% P&T VA compensation rating but are too disabled to work, 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.” Let’s take a closer look at how this program works and what you’ll need to apply.



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 the requirements listed below before you apply:

  1. Unable to maintain a full-time job due to your service-connected impairment(s), AND
  2. Have at least one service-connected disability rated 60% or higher, OR
  3. Have two or more service-connected disabilities rated at least 40% that total 70% or more when combined

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, convincing medical evidence is key to winning most disability benefits from the VA. You’ll need:

  • A record showing you have at least one service-connected disability
  • Medical evidence that supports your claim that you cannot work due to your 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 full-time to support yourself, specifically due to your service-connected impairment(s).

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 prohibits the VA from considering disabilities 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 disabled vets get benefits at the 100% compensation rate. Does one of the descriptions below apply to your specific situation? If so, consider applying for benefits under the IU program using VA Form 21-8940:

  • You already reached full retirement age (typically 65), 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’re employed in the “gig” economy (Uber/Lyft driver or similar) or do odd jobs/seasonal work only

Which Veterans Currently Get VA Unemployability Benefits Each Month?

You may wonder which veterans benefit most from the VA unemployability program. According to A 21st Century System for Evaluating Veterans for Disability Benefits, IU is a fast-growing disability compensation option for vets. Here are the biggest veterans’ groups getting VA unemployability benefits every month:

  1. Vietnam veterans (52%)
  2. Peacetime veterans (16.4%)
  3. World War II veterans (16.3%)

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. Here are the most common disabling conditions that may qualify, ranked highest to lowest:

  1. Mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. (35%)
  2. Musculoskeletal conditions, like chronic back or neck pain, joint problems, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia (29%)
  3. Cardiovascular impairments, like heart disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension and coronary artery disease (13%)

You May Qualify for Legal Assistance

Not sure if your combined rating qualifies you for VA unemployability benefits? You can meet with a VA-accredited lawyer to review all your VA disability compensation options. Our lawyers charge nothing for this confidential, in-person meeting and can help you file your application. If you already received a denial letter from the VA, our lawyers can fight to get the most benefits you’re owed during your appeals hearing.

You’ll pay nothing now for legal help, and if your ALJ hearing awards you benefits, the federal government may cover your fees. That’s because if the VA mistakenly denies eligible veterans the benefits they’re owed, the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) pays your lawyer to represent you.

To see if you may qualify, click the button below to start your free veterans disability benefits evaluation now.

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