What qualifies as “substantially gainful employment” with regard to Individual Unemployability, and how is it different from marginal employment?

Individual Unemployability (IU) is a type of disability compensation offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). IU pays out disability benefits at the total, or 100%, disability rate even though the veteran's service-connected disabilities have been rated at a lower level if the veteran is unable to engage in substantially gainful employment. The option provides a safety net for veterans who find themselves unable to work because of their service injuries but who do not receive a total disability rating.

Do You Qualify for Individual Unemployability?

In order to qualify for IU compensation, the veteran must be unable to maintain “substantially gainful employment” because of his service-connected disabilities.

Substantially gainful employment describes employment where a non-disabled individual is able to earn an income level appropriate for that occupation in the community where the veteran lives. This would be a job providing the veteran with full-time employment at a liveable wage.

This Doesn’t Include All Employment Opportunities

For VA purposes, marginal employment is not viewed as substantially gainful. Marginal employment describes employment where the veteran's earned income is not more than the poverty level established by the U.S. Census Bureau for the community where the veteran lives. Thus, you may be able to work part time or do odd jobs and still qualify for IU disability benefits.

Get the Information You Need So You Get the Benefits You Deserve

If you are a veteran and you think you may qualify for IU disability compensation from the VA—or if you have any questions about the VA disability benefits application and appeals process—consider reviewing your case with an experienced veterans' disability attorney as soon as possible. We can help you fill out VA form 21-8940, “Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability,” and advise you about the steps you should take to protect all of your rights.

Carl M. Weisbrod
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Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law