Veterans Disability Info Blog

What is the Poverty Threshold and How Does it Relate to TDIU?


If you are a veteran who receives disability benefits under a Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) rating, you are limited in the amount of paid work you are allowed to do. The TDIU rating is an affirmation that your disability prevents you from maintaining gainful employment — employment that is more than casual or marginal and above the poverty threshold. Getting a job that constitutes gainful employment while you’re on TDIU can be grounds for the Veterans Affairs Services (VAS) to revoke your TDIU benefits.

This doesn’t mean you can’t hold any job at all. The Veterans Affairs (VA) permits veterans with a TDIU rating to engage in “marginal employment.” This means that veterans can work in specific protected environments for individuals with disabilities, or they can work at jobs that pay them a very low wage.

What Is Marginal Employment?

The VA defines marginal employment as any job (or jobs) that pay less than the federal poverty level for one person. In 2022, that amount is $13,590 per year. That’s the equivalent of earning $261.34 per week or less.

What Is the Federal Poverty Line?

The federal poverty level is based on a calculation of how much money an individual or family needs to pay for living expenses. The U.S. government calculates the cost of living using the “Orshansky Method,” a formula created by Mollie Orshansky, an economist who worked at the U.S. Social Security Administration in the 1960s. Her formula determines basic income needs by estimating the cost of a basic basket of food and then multiplying that amount by three. If an individual makes less than that amount, they are considered “below the poverty line.”

The poverty line for families recognizes that the cost of supporting multiple people is higher. The poverty line for families is calculated based on how many people live in the household. Each additional family member raises the official poverty line by $4,720. This means that a family of two is considered beneath the poverty line if they make $18,310 per year. A family of three is beneath the poverty line if they make $23,030 per year, and so on.

The poverty line is the same for the 48 contiguous United States. It does not account for variations in the real cost of living by region, except Alaska and Hawaii, which have their own poverty lines.

Does the Federal Poverty Line Change?

The federal poverty line increases year by year. The increase generally reflects how much inflation has affected the cost of food. Increases are not predictable; the new poverty line measures are different each year. The updated numbers are published each year in January.

Poverty Line Income Over the Past Decade

The poverty threshold has been increasing slowly but steadily for the past 10 years. While there are years when the poverty line is unchanged from the year before, it has never gone down from one year to the next.

YearFirst PersonEach Additional Person(Four-Person Family)
2022$13,590$4,720($27,750)
2021$12,880$4,540($26,500)
2020$12,760$4,480($26,200)
2019$12,490$4,420($25,750)
2018$12,140$4,320($25,100)
2017$12,060$4,180($24,600)
2016$11,880Varies($24,300)
2015$11,770$4,160($24,250)
2014$11,670$4,060($23,850)
2013$11,490$4,020($23,550)
2012$11,170$3,960($23,050)

What Does This Mean for Veterans?

If you are a veteran receiving TDIU benefits, you should be aware of the poverty threshold or poverty line for individuals. Earning an amount above the poverty line can trigger an investigation from the VA and possibly affect your benefits. The VA only evaluates the earnings of the veteran when determining whether income disqualifies a veteran from TDIU. Income from other household members is not calculated.

Each year, the VA checks income data for veterans with TDIU ratings. The VA consults the Social Security Administration to identify veterans on TDIU who paid into social security in the prior year. If the SSA shows your income was higher than the federal poverty line, the VA will send you a VA Form 21-4140 Employment Questionnaire to learn more about your employment. If you earned above the income limits and your job was not considered protected, the VA can revoke TDIU benefits.

It also means that if you are seeking TDIU benefits but have a marginal or casual employment that does not exceed the poverty threshold, you can still qualify for TDIU. It is important to remember that TDIU does not require an inability to engage in all work. It just requires the inability to sustain gainful employment, which means employment that earns above the poverty threshold.

Veterans Disability Info

If you are a veteran who has received notice that your TDIU is being reviewed or discontinued, we may be able to help protect your benefits. We have successfully represented thousands of veterans over the years and have a strong track record of winning claims for TDIU. Contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.