US veterans with service-connected health conditions that impair their ability to maintain substantially gainful employment may qualify for total disability benefits based on individual unemployability (TDIU). Not including special monthly compensation, TDIU benefits are the highest level of veteran’s benefits available, offering a 100% disability rating even when a veteran’s combined rating does not add up to 100%.
To win TDIU benefits, veterans must meet two requirements:
- Veterans must show an inability to maintain “substantially gainful employment” due to a service-connected disability(s).
- Veterans must meet the service-connected disability rating requirement.
Most veterans know two ways to meet the second service-connected disability rating requirement. You can either (1) have at least 1 service-connected disability at a 60% rating, OR (2) have 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%. [38 CFR § 4.16(a)]
But there is a third way to meet the service-connected disability rating requirement—the extraschedular TDIU route.
How to Apply for Extraschedular TDIU Benefits
When the standard rating schedule cannot sufficiently represent the severity of a veteran’s health issues, the VA’s extraschedular route offers a case-by-case evaluation of the veteran’s situation, broadening the standards for eligibility.
Extraschedular TDIU does not have set rating requirements. Instead, to meet TDIU eligibility under the extraschedular route, veterans must meet the following two criteria: [38 CFR § 4.16 (b)]
- Diagnosis with a unique service-connected disability that cannot be properly rated using the current VA rating schedule, and
- The unique service-connected disability drastically affects the veteran’s ability to maintain employment or requires frequent and recurring hospitalization.
Under 38 CFR § 4.16(b), veterans who cannot maintain substantially gainful employment due to service-connected health conditions and do not meet the rating requirements for TDIU benefits can have the VA forward their claim to the Director of Compensation Service.
The Director will then examine the veteran’s employment history, service-connected disabilities, and vocational and educational records to determine whether their specific circumstances make them eligible for the extraschedular rating process.
Veterans eligible for the extraschedular rating process include veterans with disability(s) for which the “application of the regular schedular standards is impractical because the disability is so exceptional or unusual due to such related factors as marked interference with employment or frequent periods of hospitalization.” [38 CFR § 3.321(b)(1)]
Note that TDIU claims going the extraschedular route take longer to process than the traditional route. However, veterans can collect retroactive pay for claims processing time. Veterans who obtain TDIU benefits using the extraschedular route receive the same monthly payment amount as veterans who use the traditional route.