Louisiana VA Benefits: Explaining Individual Unemployability Benefit.

The Individual Unemployability (“IU”) benefit program is a Veteran’s Administration (“VA”) disability program that allows for veterans to be paid VA benefits at the 100 percent disability rate, even if the veteran has not been rated at 100 percent for their service-connected disabilities. As discussed below, recent budget proposals by the Trump Administration threatened to eliminate IU for an estimated 225,000 veterans. 

Here is what you need to know:

What is the IU Benefit Program?

To be eligible for the IU benefit program, you must:

  • Be a veteran; AND
  • Be unable to maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of service-connected disabilities; AND
  • Have at least one service-connected disability rated at least at 60 percent; OR
  • Have two or more service connected disabilities at least one disability ratable at 40% or more with a combined rating of 70% or more.

Under the IU benefit program, so-called “marginal employment” is not considered “substantially gainful employment.” Thus, odd jobs here and there will not count. A veteran receiving IU must complete and file an annual employment questionnaire (VA Form 21-4140) to continued eligibility for IU.

Why is the IUBP Unique?

In general, VA disability benefits are paid regardless of one’s ability to engage in gainful employment.  This is very different from Social Security disability benefits, which are entirely based on how and to what degree you are limited in your ability to work.  However, IU benefits ARE based on an evaluation of the veteran’s ability to work.  

What is a VA Disability Rating and How Does it Relate to New Orleans VA Benefits?

As we at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC discussed and described previously, to qualify for VA disability benefits you must meet the following criteria:

  • You sustained a service-connected disability (or under some conditions, had a pre-existing disability aggravated);
  • You did not receive a dishonorable discharged; and
  • The VA gives you a disability rating of at least 10 percent.

To provide a “disability rating,” the VA uses the rating tables found in 38 CFR 4.25. Hundreds of medical conditions are listed with each receiving a corresponding rating.

As an example, 38 CFR 4.79 provides the schedule of ratings for eyes. Each eye-related disease or condition is given a code. If you scroll down to code #6061, you find that the disability rating is 100 for “anatomical loss of both eyes.” A rating of 100 is the highest rating and means you are eligible for 100 percent disability benefits.

Scrolling down two more code to #6063, the rating for “anatomical loss of one eye” depends on how much sight is available in the other eye. Assuming 20/20 is “perfect vision,” then if your sight in the other eye is at least 20/40, then the disability rating for loss of one eye is 40. The disability rating rises to 100 if the sight in the other eye is 5/200.

Mental and cognitive disorders are rated based on severity. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) is listed as code #9411. A mild case of PTSD will result in a rating of 10. That is described as “[o]ccupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or symptoms controlled by continuous medication.”

By contrast, intermediate PTSD having a rating of 50 is described as a reduction in productivity or reliability in the workplace as a result of:

  • Problematic speech patterns;
  • Frequent panic attacks;
  • Difficulty interpreting complex commands;
  • Memory impairments;
  • Judgement impairments;
  • Difficulties with abstract thinking;
  • Mood disturbances; and
  • Challenges in maintaining effective relationships at work or socially.

PTSD can be severe enough to be assigned a 100 disability rating. As we discussed here, veterans with PTSD are eligible for VA benefits.

How Does the VA Assign a Disability Rating for Multiple Disabilities?

Many veterans are diagnosed with more than one disability. When sufficient evidence is presented of multiple disabilities, the VA uses the table at CFR 38 4.25 to assign a combined disability rating. Using our examples above, assume that you are a veteran with one eye being lost, but having sight in the other of at least 20/40. That disability has a 40 rating. Then assume you have PTSD that rates at 50. The VA does not just combine the numbers. Rather, the VA looks to the table, finds the 50 on the left side and finds the 40 along the top. The combined disability rating is the number found at the intersection of the row and the column on the table. In this case, the rating is 70.

Eligibility for the New Orleans IU Program and VA Benefits

As noted above, if you have a combined disability rating of 70 or higher, you are eligible for the IU benefit program. Based on our example, you would be eligible if you can also show that you are unable to maintain “substantially gainful employment.” A veteran and his or her lawyer must prove this additional element with statements from your doctor and other evidence.

Your Lawyer and Doctor Play Key Roles in Obtaining Louisiana VA Benefits

In your efforts to obtain VA benefits in Louisiana, both your lawyer and your doctor play important roles. A skilled disability attorney helps navigate the complicated forms that must be filed and organizes the various evidence that must be produced. As can be seen above, evidence of your medical condition and a diagnosis is crucial. Key documents will include:

  • Laboratory tests
  • Body scans (like x-rays, MRIs and CAT-scans)
  • Blood and other tests
  • Past medical records and medical evaluations
  • Medical records related to any service-connected injury or event
  • Present medical records and evaluations
  • Disease/condition history documenting onset and progression
  • Diagnosis
  • Prognosis

From these medical records and documents, the VA determines your disability conditions. When mental and cognitive disorders are claimed, you lawyer will also coordinate your doctor’s examinations and reports related to severity including how your mental disorder impacts and limits various functions including:

  • Occupational impairment
  • Assessments of reliability
  • Assessments of productivity, ability to complete tasks
  • Speech limitations
  • Ability to comprehend instructions
  • Existence of panic and similar attacks that impair physical activity
  • Memory-related effects of your disorder and on your ability to function
  • Mood and motivation impairments
  • Impairment of concept formation, reasoning, and judgment
  • Social interaction impairment

These types of examinations and reports also provide evidence of your inability to work which bolsters your claim for benefits under the IU benefits program. An experienced VA disability attorney will also help obtain additional documentation such as a statement from your doctor with respect to work limitations. Such will be invaluable in obtaining IU benefits.

Plans To Cut IU Benefits for Louisiana Veterans

As noted, in May 2017, the Trump Administration’s 2017 budget proposed to eliminate IU for an estimated 225,000 veterans. The proposal called for removing veterans from the benefit program once they reach the minimum age for social security, if they are eligible for social security payments. The change was projected to save $3.2 billion in fiscal 2018.

However, there has been a significant and vocal backlash against the administration’s efforts to cut IU benefits. The budget has not yet been finalized, so it is yet to be seen if IU benefits will be cut.

Seek Legal Help in New Orleans Obtaining VA Benefits

If you need more information on obtaining VA benefits and IU benefits, contact the professionals at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC. For over a decade, the lawyers at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC have been helping US military veterans and citizens of Louisiana obtain the benefits to which they are entitled. Click on “Free Consultation” at the top right or scroll to the bottom of the page to contact us via email or call us to schedule your no-obligation consultation. Call today. Your benefits cannot begin until you file.