Believe it or not, it is still possible to receive Veterans Affairs (VA) disability and continue working. Even with a 100% military disability rating, there are still opportunities available to work and earn a personal income.
In the real world, you rarely find a veteran lounging on the couch all day for seven days a week after being assigned a disability rating of 100%. Despite their rating, many still consider themselves able to contribute and decide to land a part-time or full-time gig.
For others, working is an important part of who they are, and they simply must pitch in to have something to do with their time. In other cases, veterans are sadly forced to continue working because even a 100% VA disability rating falls short of covering all their living expenses.
Not All Ratings are the Same
If you want to find out whether you can work with a 100% VA disability rating, you need to first find out what rating you have been given. Although many assume that there is simply “one rating,” the truth is that there are two rating types that can be given, and they have different implications.
The first rating type is called the Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) rating and is issued in a percentage form. If on this scale the VA assigns you a rating of 100%, then you are prohibited from having “substantial gainful employment” based on your disability. The TDIU regulations are outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations.
However, there is no strict definition of what “substantial gainful employment” refers to. Consequently, it is fine for veterans to seek “marginal employment” which the VA defines as “not exceeding...the poverty threshold for one person”. In other words, those with a 100% TDIU rating are able to work legally but shall not generate any income over the poverty line.
Scheduler Ratings vs. TDIU
Before receiving a TDIU, veterans will receive a percentage scale known as the “schedule of rating,” or a “scheduler rating” for short. This scale determines the severity of one’s disability, with the higher the percentage corresponding to a lesser likelihood they would be able to hold a job.
From there, the TDIU determines the veteran’s legal restrictions for working based on their scheduler rating. Even if you receive a scheduler rating of only 40 or 50 percent, if the condition is severe enough as to bar you from operating functionally in the workplace, then you may still be assigned a 100% TDIU rating.
Plain and Simple
Although it may sound complicated at first, whether you can work with a 100% VA-rated disability is more straightforward than you might think. If you receive a “schedule of ratings” disability percentage up to 100%, you can still seek “substantial gainful employment” and work to your heart’s content.
However, regardless of your scheduler rating, if you receive Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) compensation, then you are not legally permitted to work above the poverty line. In other words, you can work with a 100% VA-rated disability and TDIU only up to the amount the US Census Bureau determines to be the poverty threshold.
The US Poverty Threshold
What constitutes “poverty” changes every year and varies depending on family size and one’s cost of living. In 2017, the US Census Bureau released their most recent US poverty threshold data. For one person under 65 living alone, the weighted average poverty threshold was $12,488 in annual income.
With more children or financial dependents in the family, the amount of money needed to cross the poverty threshold increases dramatically. For instance, a family of five with three dependent children has a poverty threshold of $29,986, while a family with four children has a poverty threshold of $32,753.
Unfortunately, single-parent households are held to a lower poverty line than two-parent households. For example, a family of four with two parents and two children has a poverty line of $24,858. However, with only one parent and two children, the poverty line currently sits at $19,749.
If you are unable to continue working past the poverty line after receiving TDIU, you can still earn a side income via “sheltered employment.” There are two criteria for income to be considered “sheltered,” and they are:
- Family business-related income
- Sheltered workshop (supervised workplaces for those with handicaps)
Unfortunately, not all family businesses count as sheltered income. Instead, the family workplace must be classified as a “protected environment” by federal regulations. Although this sounds complicated, it is common that a family business will reduce its tax burden by employing a veteran family member under these special accommodations.
Ask your local family business if they are a protected work environment. If they are classified as such, you will be able to earn an income above the poverty line while still collecting TDIU benefits. However, the employer will be required to provide special accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Sheltered Employment and the Law
You must be very careful in sheltered workplace environments. In fact, even many who work for the VA are not fully aware of the Sheltered Employment Rules and can sometimes erroneously penalize someone for earning an income in such a situation.
In the worst of cases, veterans can be charged with criminal fraud if they are found to be working above the poverty line at an established that is not a VA-designated sheltered employer while also collecting TDIU benefits. To keep the risks as low as possible, make sure that you speak to a VA-accredited attorney about whether an establishment is truly “sheltered.”
Yes, you can earn an income with a 100% VA-rated disability. However, if you receive TDIU benefits after being given a schedule of ratings, then there are strict limitations on the amount of income you can earn from working. In 2017, the maximum amount you can earn in a single-person household is $12,488 annually while collecting TDIU benefits.
The only way around this regulation is to work in a “sheltered environment,” which are specially accommodated workplaces that are meant to employ family members who are veterans. However, you should always speak to an attorney because considering working in a sheltered environment.