Can I Work With a 100% Military Disability Rating?

Updated: December 24, 2022
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    Can you work with a 100% military disability rating? What are the implications? The answers may surprise you, in part because of some misconceptions about how the Department of Veterans Affairs applies the term “disability” to its ratings.

    Quick Answer: A veteran can generally still work while receiving VA disability, but not always.

    What Is a VA Disability Rating?

    VA disability ratings and compensation are not automatic. The Department of Veterans Affairs assigns a disability rating to service members who submitted their current conditions and medical records to the VA for a medical review.

    VA disability ratings and pay are awarded based on injuries, diseases or other medical conditions the VA has determined to be as a result of military service. Certain conditions may not be detected until after a veteran has completed military service; however, the VA continues to make determinations on conditions detected after a veteran has completed military service.

    Types of VA Disability Ratings

    The VA has two kinds of disability ratings: the schedule of rating, or percentage scale, and the individual unemployability rating.

    Whether or not you can work while receiving 100% disability benefits depends on the type of disability rating you have.

    Are You Getting a 100% Schedular Rating or 100% Unemployability (AKA Unemployability, TDIU or IU)?

    Veterans receiving 100% schedular ratings have no limitations on working. The VA gives an individual unemployability rating (IU) when it determines a veteran can not find and keep a job with the rated conditions, or a large percentage of work time would be lost due to related illness or medical treatments.

    The VA Disability Rating Percentage Scale

    Disability ratings and pay are scaled by percentages. One veteran may be listed as 10% disabled, while another one is rated at 100%, depending on the conditions and circumstances. But high percentages do not necessarily mean a veteran’s disability percentage impacts their ability to work or perform self-care.

    The VA may assign a percentage to a single condition, or a disability rating might be made up of smaller percentages assigned to multiple conditions.

    If one type of injury results in a 60% disability rating, and another injury results in a 25% rating, the VA would recognize the veteran’s total percentage of disability at 70% (60% + (25% * 40%).

    That’s because the second disability rating is calculated by how much it affects the veteran’s non-disability percentage. To the VA, a veteran with a 60% disability has a 40% “ability” percentage. The combined percentage rating is calculated by the effect the new 25% disability rating has on the 40% “ability” percentage. One-fourth of 40% is 10%. So the veteran’s combined disability score is 70% instead of 95%.

    Why Is a Veteran Rated At 100% Disability If They Are Not Fully Impaired in Some Way?

    If a veteran has a VA-rated condition that earns, for example, 50% disability, but the condition results in the veteran being unable to function in the workplace, that veteran could be awarded 100% disability compensation based on unemployability, even though the condition does not fully impair them in everyday life.

    When Can I Legally Work With a 100% VA Disability Rating?

    A veteran may legally work even with a 100% VA disability rating on the schedule of ratings, either as a combined percentage or as the result of a single medical issue.

    However, if the veteran is listed by the VA as being 100% unable to work under the total disability/individual unemployability rating, the veteran is not permitted to have “substantial gainful employment.” This is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations, but there is no comprehensive list describing what is considered “substantial gainful employment.”

    Instead, the Code of Federal Regulations defines what it does not consider to be a violation of these rules, something called “marginal employment.” This is defined as follows:

    Marginal employment generally shall be deemed to exist when a veteran’s earned annual income does not exceed the amount established by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, as the poverty threshold for one person.

    There’s more. So-called marginal employment may also include (but may not be limited to) “employment in a protected environment such as a family business or sheltered workshop…when earned annual income exceeds the poverty threshold.”

    To Summarize

    • Veterans with “schedule of ratings” disability percentages may legally have “substantial gainful employment,” even if they are rated at 100% disabled unless they receive total disability/individual unemployability compensation.
    • Receiving the individual unemployability benefit that designates you as 100% “unemployable” means you cannot work a job deemed “substantial gainful employment” that elevates your income above the “official” Census Bureau’s definition of the poverty line.
    • With individual unemployability, it does not matter how much or how little you work. The measure of “gainful employment” here is whether or not your earnings rise above the poverty threshold, as determined by the government.
    • If you’re still not certain of your circumstances, it may be best to consult with a lawyer.

    Bonus Questions

    Can a Veteran Receive Both VA and Social Security Benefits?

    Yes. A veteran can receive both VA service-connected disability benefits and Social Security benefits. However, it is important to note that receipt of one does not guarantee receipt of the other.

    Can You Get More Than a 100% VA Disability Rating?

    No. By law, you cannot have more than a 100% rating. This is also because the VA states “a person can’t be more than 100% able-bodied.”

    Written by Joe Wallace

    Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.