Can I work with a 100% military disability rating? And what are the implications of working with such a rating? The answers may surprise you, in part because of some misconceptions about how the term “disability” is applied to such ratings by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Quick Answer: A veteran generally can still work while receiving VA disability but not always.
Are you getting a 100% schedular rating, or 100% unemployability (aka, TDIU or IU)?
Veterans that receive 100% Schedular ratings have no limitation on working. More on the differences below.
What Is A VA Disability Rating?
VA disability ratings and compensation are not automatic. The Department of Veterans Affairs assigns a disability rating to servicemembers who have submitted their current conditions and medical records to the VA, for a medical review.
VA disability ratings and pay are awarded on the basis of injuries, diseases, or other medical conditions the VA has determined to be as a result of military service. It may be that certain conditions are not detected until after military service is complete; however the VA can and does make determinations in such cases regardless on a case-by-case basis.
The VA Disability Rating Percentage Scale
The disability rating and pay is on a scale of percentages. One veteran may be listed as 10% disabled, while another one is rated at 100% depending on circumstances. These percentages do not necessarily mean that a veteran is “fully disabled” in terms of real-world ability to work, perform self-care, etc. even if their ratings are quite high.
The percentage may be assigned to a single condition, or there may be smaller percentages for each multiple condition that add up to a larger VA disability percentage rating.
If one type of injury equals a 25% rating, and there is another injury that equals a 50% rating, the veteran’s total percentage of disability would be recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs at 75%.
There Are Two Types Of VA Disability Ratings
The percentage scale is only one of two types of possible VA ratings. Those percentages are known as the “schedule of rating”. The other type of disability rating possible is related to the veteran’s ability to keep and maintain a job. The “Individual Unemployability” rating measures whether or not the VA believes the veteran can find and keep a job with the rated conditions, and what percentage of work time may be lost due to related illness, treatments, etc.
Why Is A Veteran Rated At 100% Disability When They Are Not Fully Impaired In Some Way?
If a veteran who has a VA-rated condition that earns, for example, 50% disability, but said condition results in the veteran being unable to realistically function in the workplace, that veteran could be awarded 100% disability compensation on the basis of the unemployability even though the condition does not fully impair them in everyday life.
When Can I Legally Work With A 100% VA Disability Rating?
A veteran may legally work even if she or he is VA rated at 100% disability on the schedule of ratings, either as a combined percentage or as the result of a single medical issue.
However, if the veteran is listed by the VA as being 100% unable to work under the Total Disability/Individual Unemployability rating, the veteran is not permitted to have “substantial gainful employment”. This is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations, but there is no comprehensive list describing what is considered “substantial gainful employment”.
Instead, the Code of Federal Regulations defines what it does not consider to be a violation of these rules; something called “marginal employment”. This is defined as follows:
…marginal employment generally shall be deemed to exist when a veteran’s earned annual income does not exceed the amount established by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, as the poverty threshold for one person.
There’s more. So-called marginal employment may also include (but may not be limited to) “employment in a protected environment such as a family business or sheltered workshop…when earned annual income exceeds the poverty threshold.”
- Veterans with “schedule of ratings” disability percentages may legally have “substantial gainful employment” even if they are rated at 100% disabled UNLESS they receive Total Disability/Individual Unemployability compensation.
- Receiving the Individual Unemployability benefit which designates you as 100% “unemployable” means you cannot work a job deemed “substantial gainful employment” that elevates your income above the “official” Census Bureau’s definition of the poverty line.
- In reference to Individual Unemployability, it does not matter how much or how little you work-the measure of “gainful employment” here is whether or not your earnings rise above the poverty threshold as determined by the government.
- If you’re still not certain of your individual circumstances it may be best to consult with a lawyer.
Bonus Question: Can a veteran receive both VA and Social Security benefits?
Yes! A veteran can receive both VA service-connected disability benefits and Social Security benefits. However, it is important to note that receipt of one does not guarantee receipt of the other. A veteran generally cannot receive both a VA pension and Social Security at the same time.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News