(110) Individual Unemployability Benefit under Attack

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

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What is Individual Unemployability and am I Eligible?

The VA offers a benefit called Individual Unemployability (IU) to Veterans, who cannot work because of a service-connected disability under certain conditions. Over 318,000 Veterans receive this benefit. The VA suggests this program “. . . allows [the] VA to pay certain Veterans disability compensation at the 100 percent rate, even though [the] VA has not rated their service-connected disabilities at the total level.”

Eligibility Requirements are described on the VA website:

  • You must be a Veteran
  • You must have at least one service connected disability rated at least at 60%, OR
  • Two or more service connected disabilities at least one disability ratable at 40 percent or more with a combined rating of 70 percent or more.
  • You must be unable to maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of service-connected disabilities (marginal employment, such as odd jobs, is not considered substantial gainful employment for VA purposes).

You can apply for the benefit online at http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-special-individual_unemployability.asp.

Why is the IU Program under Attack? 

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) analyzed the program in 2006 and again in 2015, recommending changes be made to improve consistency in awarding the benefit and to sunset the benefit at the age of retirement. Cost containment reared its head with comments that the total cost of the benefit increased 22 percent since 2009, with program costs exceeding $5 billion annually.

On July 16, 2015, Tom Philpott of Stars and Stripes wrote an article, reporting on testimony by the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans. These representatives asked lawmakers to resist efforts underway to impose a sunset on the benefit at the age of retirement. In 2013, over 54 percent of those receiving the benefit were aged 65 and older. Of that percentage, 56,578 were 75 and older and 10,567 were 90 years and older (see “Testimony Before the Committee on Veteran Affairs” in a statement of Daniel Bertoni, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security dated July 16, 2015).

Summary of Reform Options 

The GAO report sparked committee reviews of the IU benefit, which surfaced seven recommended options for reform. The summary follows:

# Option Description
1 Discontinue benefit after retirement age When the Veteran reaches Social Security retirement age, discontinue the benefit
2 Eligibility decision to consider vocational assessment Consider the results of a mandatory vocational assessment before determining benefit to learn if the Veteran can be rehabilitated in order to maintain employment
3 Increase earnings limit Increase the maximum earnings limit for eligibility to match that used in SSDI
4 Lower disability rating criteria Change the rules of rating to eliminate the requirement for one of the disabilities (under the multiple rating threshold) to have a minimum rating of 40 percent
5 Add new Unemployability criteria Consider education, work history, and the medical effects of an individual’s age on potential employment for eligibility
6 Use patient-centered work disability measure In addition to the criteria added in #5 above, consider other factors such as motivation, interests, impairments, functional limitations, and disability for eligibility
7 Gradually reduce benefit payment with increase in individual’s income Gradually decrease payments with increases in the Veterans income when returning to work for more than one year

If you would like to comment on changes to the IU program, Stars and Stripes invites you to write to:

Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120

OR email to milupdate@aol.com or twitter: @Military_Update

Molly Blog Team Comments 

As a retired city manager, I found the discussion interesting. I pondered things such as equity distribution, program efficiencies, and program intent versus execution.

My Veteran commented, “They should keep their noses out of it and leave the Vets alone. If they want to save money or reform something, they should take on welfare reform.”

Miss Molly’s comment, “They are barking up the wrong tree.” 

Post your Comments: 

What are your thoughts about making changes to the Individual Unemployability benefit? Please reply below.  

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.