How Does Individual Unemployability Work? VA Unemployability Requirements

Individual Unemployability is a part of VA’s disability compensation program that allows VA to pay certain Veterans disability compensation at the 100% rate, even though VA has not rated their service-connected disabilities at the total level.

There’s an exception to every rule. We’ve all heard this before, and most of the time it’s true. As it turns out, the VA makes exceptions to their rules too. When it comes to disability benefits the rule is, you can’t get compensated for 100% disability unless you have a 100% disability rating.  You need to prove for Individual Unemployability BUT, there’s an exception.

Individual unemployability (IU) allows the VA to pay veterans disability benefits at the 100% level, even though the veteran doesn’t have a 100% disability rating. Confused yet? We’ll explain.

How Disability Ratings Work

First, let’s quickly explain how VA disability ratings work. The disability rating is typically the third step in the process. First you need to fill out all the paperwork for the initial application, then you’ll establish service-connection. Once those are both taken care of, you’ll get your disability rating.

Ratings are meant to reflect the severity of your disability and how it affects your ability to work and earn money. A veteran’s rating will be anywhere between 0% to 100%, and are always assigned in percentages that increase in 10% steps. To simplify the rating process the VA created a schedule of ratings. This schedule of ratings breaks down possible disabilities by groups and categories that have predetermined ratings.

Obviously, a 100% rating is the highest possible rating and has the biggest monthly benefit payment. Currently, veterans with a 100% rating get between $2,906.83 – $3,187.60 a month depending on the number of dependants they have.

 VA Unemployability Requirements

This is where the exception comes in. With VA individual unemployability (IU) veterans can get 100% disability pay without having a 100% rating. Not every veteran will qualify for this exception to the rule, but some will. Here’s the requirements for VA unemployability requirements.

  • The First VA unemployability requirements, You must be a veteran who is eligible for VA disability benefits.
    • If you have one disability that is service connected, the rating of that disability must be at least 60% or;
    • If you have two or more disabilities that are service connected and a combined rating of 70%, at least one disability must have a 40% or higher rating.
  • You are unable to engage in substantially gainful employment due to your service connected disability(s). Odd jobs and side work don’t count as substantially gainful employment.
    • Substantially gainful employment is classified as full-time work that earns you more income than the poverty level ($12,316 for anyone under 65 according to the 2014 census).

The VA Difference

Other public assistance programs offer similar total disability benefits, but the VA’s criteria is a little different than other program’s criteria. Unlike the Social Security Administration, who takes the applicant’s age, education, and work experience into account when approving the application, the VA only looks at the service connected disabilities and decides if they prevent you from engaging in substantial gainful employment.

Veterans who qualify for IU may need to fill out some paperwork every year to maintain approved status.


To help illustrate how all these requirements work, here are a few examples. All names and events were made up for the purpose of illustration.

Megan injured her spine during her tour in Iraq. When she got home the VA gave her a 40% disability rating. She eventually developed PTSD, which made it impossible to find steady work. The VA gave her a 50% rating for her PTSD. Megan’s overall combined rating was 70%.

After struggling to find consistent work, Megan applied for individual unemployability. Since both of her disabilities were found to be service-connected and the combined disability rating met the minimum requirement of 70% with at least one rated a minimum of 40%, the VA was able to grant Megan benefits at the 100% disability rating.

Joe served in Afghanistan and returned home a few years ago. During his service, he suffered a back injury and was given a 70% disability rating.

He found work, and was able to maintain steady income for a while. However, now his back injury is keeping him from working. Joe went to see his doctor and he suggested that Joe retire from working.

Following this appointment Joe decided to file for VA individual unemployability. The VA looked at his application, current disability status, education, and doctor’s diagnosis. They reviewed all the information and decided Joe was unemployable, and increased his benefits payments equal to a 100% rating.

The VA offers individual unemployability to help veterans who don’t qualify for a 100% disability rating, but are unable to maintain substantially gainful activity due to their disability. This a valuable service veterans need to be aware of.

Too often veterans get discouraged when they don’t get a 100% rating and think there’s no hope for their case. With individual unemployability veterans get a second chance at being paid the 100% rate without fighting for a rating increase using the rating schedule.

If you’re a veteran who is unable to maintain steady work due to your disability, but have a disability rating less than 100%, you may want to consider filing for individual unemployability. Getting approved for this kind of benefit isn’t easy, but it is doable.

At Jan Dils Attorneys at Law, we have years of experience helping veterans fight for VA individual unemployability benefits. We offer free consultations and friendly service.

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