Veterans Disability Info Blog

Top 8 Mistakes in TDIU Claims

U.S. military veterans with service-connected health conditions can find it challenging to secure and maintain substantially gainful employment. These veterans have a right to collect Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits at the 100% disability rate. The highest VA benefits available are total disability benefits based on individual unemployability (TDIU).

When a veteran’s combined rating does not equal 100%, a TDIU claim provides an alternate path to the 100% disability rating. But because TDIU payments are so high, the VA is careful about doling them out. Veterans who are aware of common mistakes surrounding the TDIU claims process can significantly boost their chances of winning a 100% rating.

To learn more about the TDIU claims process—including TDIU eligibility requirements, tips on filling out forms, and valuable claims strategies—read our free eBook, TDIU Benefit Claims: An Essential Guide for U.S. Veterans.

To help avoid errors and ensure you receive your benefit payments as fast as possible, avoid these common mistakes veterans make in applying for TDIU.

Mistake #1: Not Using VA Form 21-8940

Technically, you don’t have to submit VA form 21-8940 to win a TDIU claim. If you qualify for TDIU benefits, you could get them by submitting a general VA disability benefits claim alone. But winning TDIU benefits without form 21-8940 is very rare.

Even if you meet every requirement for TDIU benefits, there is no reason not to submit this form with your claim. VA form 21-8940 serves as an addendum to your disability benefits claims that lists the evidence supporting your eligibility for TDIU benefits. It presents vital evidence required to win TDIU benefits in an organized fashion. If you only submit a general disability claim and VA sends you a copy of form 21-8940 to fill out, failing to do so will likely result in TDIU denial.

Mistake #2: Listing Ineligible Disabilities

Any disability that is not service-connected cannot be considered in evaluating your TDIU claim. While your knee pain may significantly impair your employability, the VA doesn’t want to see it if it isn’t service-connected. Adding non-service-connected disabilities to box 8 on VA form 21-8940 will only confuse the review process and can result in an erroneous denial of your application.

Also, if you are currently seeking service connection for a disability but haven’t yet been approved, you can list that disability, but it won’t improve your eligibility. The only reason you would list it is if you want to get a TDIU claim filed with the VA for later consideration (after receiving a service connection). If you are eligible for TDIU with your currently service-connected disabilities, listing a non-service-connected condition may delay the process or lead to VA denial.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the Rating Threshold

The disabilities you list in box 8 of VA form 21-8940 are critical. Do not make the mistake of listing service-connected disabilities that do not meet the requirements for TDIU benefits. Remember, you must have the following:

(1) At least one service-connected disability at a 60% rating, OR

(2) Several service-connected disabilities with individual ratings adding up to 70% or higher, AND at least one of those individual ratings has a rating of at least 40%.

When choosing what to list in box 8, do not make the mistake of listing only your highest-rated disability and ignoring your other, lower-rated disabilities. Pay attention to your ratings and ensure the disabilities you list meet the rating threshold requirements.

Mistake #4: Including Excluded Income in Earnings Calculations

In box 20A of VA form 21-8940, you will write your total income earned in the past year. “Earned” income does not include SSI, retirement, pension, 401k, SSD, or IRAs, so do not include these in your calculation. And do not include any income earned from the Veterans Health Administration’s Compensated Work Therapy Program (CWT).

The amount entered in box 20A will often be $0 unless you just recently stopped working or are working in marginal employment. Marginal employment includes:

  • Any odd jobs or income earned that does not add up to the poverty threshold amount in a single year
  • Protected employment (employment in a sheltered environment or family business)

Earnings from protected employment CAN exceed the poverty threshold in a single year.

Mistake #5: Relying on SSDI as Evidence

Many veterans mistakenly think they are automatically eligible for TDIU benefits because they receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). Veterans can receive both TDIU and SSDI, but the evidence required for eligibility is very different for these two types of benefits.

Many veterans collect SSDI but do not qualify for TDIU. The VA will consider the records that supported your SSDI claim if your SSDI involves service-connected disabilities, but VA requires additional evidence to grant TDIU.

Mistake #6: Omitting Employment History Evidence

Include as much evidence on employment history as possible, including records demonstrating work experience, skills, vocational training, education, licenses, vocational exam reports, disciplinary records, layoffs, resignations, terminations, earnings, and hours worked. Your work history information is vital to proving that your service-connected disability has damaged your earning potential.

Mistake #7: Omitting Important Medical Evidence

Medical records and expert opinions demonstrate not only the severity of your disability, but also the time constraints that may prevent you from working, for example, the number of breaks you must take or the frequency of hospitalizations or treatments.

In addition to VA C&P exam records, be sure to include all medical evidence showing the severity of EACH disability you are listing in box 8 of VA form 21-8940 – including records showing the frequency of hospital visits, ongoing treatment requirements, private doctor care, physical therapy, psychiatric examinations, specialist reports, and buddy letters supporting symptom severity from a spouse, friend, co-worker, fellow service member, or employer.

Mistake #8: Failing to Seek Input From a Veterans’ Disability Lawyer

TDIU claims are difficult to win. Veterans can prepare the claim and fill out the forms themselves. Still, the likelihood of VA denial drops drastically when you have a veterans’ disability lawyer review your TDIU claim before submission.

Better yet, having an experienced veterans disability lawyer prepare the claim from start to finish means less work for you and increases the odds that your claim will be approved the first time around.

A skilled veterans disability lawyer will evaluate your specific case, help you gather all necessary evidence, pinpoint potential problem areas, tighten up the presentation, and help ensure the VA has all the information needed to grant TDIU benefits.

Certain veterans’ law firms will cover the costs of gathering evidence and preparing your TDIU claim, allowing you to pay them back after you win your claim.

More Questions About Your TDIU Benefits Claim?

To learn more about the TDIU claims process—including TDIU eligibility requirements, tips on filling out forms, and valuable claims strategies—read our free eBook, TDIU Benefit Claims: An Essential Guide for U.S. Veterans.

If you have further questions about filing a TDIU benefits claim, your rights as a veteran, or other concerns, please call our attorneys at 888.878.9350 or contact us online. We are happy to help and work diligently to protect your privacy.

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If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.