Veterans who are unemployed because of service-connected disabilities can receive individual unemployability benefits. This financial support ensures they are able to meet their basic needs, even though their disability prevents them from working.
For eligibility of qualifying for individual unemployability benefits, you must:
- Be a veteran
- Have at least one or more service-connected disabilities rated at the qualifying percentage
- Show that you are unable to obtain and/or maintain gainful employment
Additionally, for total disability individual unemployability, veterans must show their disability:
- Is connected to their time served and…
- Is sufficient to prevent them mentally or physically from gaining or maintain employment and…
- Is rated at 60 percent or more or…
- Is rated at 40 percent or more with a combined rating of 70 percent or more if two or more disabilities are present
Qualifying with a disability rating and don’t necessarily require long-term care, doesn’t mean you have no job at all or can never work. Many veterans receiving unemployability benefits and disability compensation still do odd jobs or work on an occasional basis. However, their disability prevents them from finding or keeping jobs that would provide enough income to support their basic needs.
Having a gainful occupation does put some limits on your access to disability benefits. For instance, if you currently have a job, it must be considered marginal or be sheltered, which means your income from the job does not put you above the poverty level and you receive accommodation with your job that is related to your disability. Many applicants have found they are more likely to be denied—at least initially—their benefits if they are employed but being employed doesn’t disqualify you. It’s important to understand the restrictions on benefits so you can appeal your denial if you believe you qualify.
Some veterans are concerned that support from other people will disqualify them for benefits. This is not the case. The VA looks at the individual’s income; so, even if a spouse or other person is paying your living expenses, you could still qualify for benefits.
It’s also possible to reapply for benefits if your rating changes. For instance, if you were denied benefits a decade ago because you were rated as 20 percent disabled, but you believe this rating has increased or you know for a fact that it has, you can reapply for unemployability benefits based on your current rating.
What if My Disability Is Mental or Emotional?
VA unemployability benefits are available for vets with both physical and mental disabilities. You can have one or the other or both, as long as your disability is related to your service in the military. As long as the disability is severe enough to qualify for benefits, it can be physical or mental, including PTSD.
Furthermore, the VA considers all service-related mental and physical disabilities. Therefore, even if you have no individual disability that qualifies, you might still be eligible for benefits if two or more disabilities qualify you.
How Much Can I Earn from VA Unemployability Benefits?
The current rate of payment for VA unemployability ratings is as follows:
- Single Veteran: $2,906.83 per month ($34, 882 per year)
- Veteran with Spouse: $3,068.90 ($36,826.80 per year)
- Veteran with Spouse and 1 Child: $3,187.60 ($38,251.20 per year)
It’s easy to understand why a veteran might want to continue working, if possible, even if they are receiving benefits. Though these might seem like a substantial amount of money to some people, it can be extraordinarily difficult to make ends meet with this as your only income. Many veterans supplement their benefits with odd jobs or other ways of making money. This should not disqualify them from receiving benefits.
Many also enjoy the emotional satisfaction of continuing to work can bring. There are vets who continue to work despite receiving benefits and having support from others that helps them meet their basic needs and beyond.
What if My Job Provides Special Accommodations so I Can Work?
There are instances in which veterans are able to work only because their jobs provide them with special accommodation. This is known as the sheltered employment and many vets qualify for benefits under these circumstances.
However, not everyone who receives special accommodations will qualify for VA unemployability benefits. There have been instances in which a vet was charged with criminal fraud because they were receiving benefits while working at a job they thought was considered sheltered employment.
Though it’s unlikely you’ll go to jail for this, facing legal action can make life difficult and be an unnecessary expense. You’re better off consulting someone who has experience with VA benefits before applying and accepting income to avoid any problems if you are earning income above the poverty threshold and want to know if it is or is not considered sheltered employment.
If you are told you do not qualify for VA benefits because you are already working at a job and that job provides accommodation or you received benefits and you are concerned, it could pose a problem in the future, consider the following:
Would your employer modify your position if you were replaced by another employee and the accommodation you received related to work duties, the environment, or your schedule would not be provided to that employee?
Would your employer provide the same benefits to a future employee that has a situation similar to yours?
In either case, you have a good argument that your job is sheltered employment. However, if the company plans to eliminate the position once you are gone, it’s most likely not considered sheltered employment.
Businesses can create positions for veterans for any reason—be it altruistic, “feel-good” reasons, tax incentives, or anything else. The more evidence you prevent that this is the case, the stronger your chances of proving your position is “sheltered employment.”
The rules concerning VA unemployability requirements can be confusing and can lead to a great deal of frustration if you are trying to apply for income. The best thing you can do is work with an individual or organization that understands VA benefits and will help you determine whether or not you qualify.