Vocational Rehabilitation and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs: Important Terms and Definitions
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, assists American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, and other veterans, with service-connected disabilities achieve independence in daily living and obtain and maintain suitable employment. This practice guideline features terms and definitions that are commonly used by the Department of Veterans Affairs compensation, pension, and vocational rehabilitation programs. To understand how these programs work, vocational rehabilitation counselors, disability advocates, and veterans should be familiar with these terms and definitions.
Service-connected disability: For a disability to be service-connected the VA must determine the veteran's disability was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during active military, naval or air service.1
Non-service connected disability: The veteran's disability was not incurred or aggravated in the line of duty in the active military, naval or air service.2
In the line of duty: An injury or disease was incurred or aggravated during a period of active service, unless the injury or disease is the result of a veteran's own willful misconduct or abuse of alcohol or drugs.3
Total disability individual unemployability (TDIU): Total disability ratings for compensation may be assigned when the VA determines the disabled veteran is unable to secure or follow a substantially gainful occupation as a result of service-connected disabilities.4
Employment handicap: An impairment of the veteran's ability to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with his or her abilities, aptitudes, and interests. The impairment results in substantial part from a service-connected disability.5 For veterans rated at 20 percent or more, a finding of employment handicap results in a finding of 'entitled'.
Serious employment handicap: A significant impairment of a veteran's ability to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with his or her abilities, aptitudes, and interests.6 The serious employment handicap results in substantial part from a service-connected disability. The finding of a serious employment handicap is necessary for entitlement for veterans with a 10-percent service-connected disability, and for those whose 12-year period of basic eligibility has passed.
Suitable employment: Work that is within a veteran's physical and emotional capabilities and consistent with his or her pattern of abilities, aptitudes, and interests.7
Transferable skills: Reasonably developed skills, knowledge, and abilities attained through both training and experience (civilian and military) that relate to current employment opportunities in the labor market.8
Pension: For entitlement to these benefits the veteran must have wartime service, total and permanent disabilities, and very low income. Similar to Social Security's Supplemental Security Income, pension is a needs-based program.9 Example: A homeless, low-income American Indian or Alaska Native Vietnam veteran, or other veteran, who is permanently and totally disabled because of a severe spinal injury not connected to military service may be eligible for pension benefits.
Compensation: Compensation benefits are not based on need or income. Veterans applying for compensation benefits do not need to have total disability, low income, or wartime service; however, they must first connect their disability to the period of their military service.10 Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance and VA pension programs, a total, or 100% disability evaluation, does not have tobe made for entitlement to service-connected compensation. Veterans can also receive both SSDI and VA compensation benefits. Example: An American Indian or Alaska Native veteran, or other veteran, became a paraplegic following a helicopter crash while serving in Vietnam. This veteran may be eligible for compensation benefits if the disability is "connected" to military service.
1 38 U.S.C.S. 101(16); 38 C.F.R. 3.1(k), 3.303(a) (2004).
2 38 U.S.C.S. 101(17); 38 C.F.R. 3.1(l) (2004).
3 38 U.S.C.S. 105; 38 C.F.R. 3.1(m) (2004).
4 38 U.S.C.S. 501; 38 C.F.R. 4.16 (2004).
5 38 U.S.C.S. 3101(1); 38 C.F.R. 21.35(a) (2004).
6 38 U.S.C.S. 3101(7); 38 C.F.R. 21.35 (g) (2004).
9 38 U.S.C.S. 1521 (2004).
10 38 U.S.C.S. 1110 (2004) (Wartime service); 38 U.S.C.S. 1131 (2004) (Peacetime service).
This practice guideline is supported by a cooperative agreement (#H235K00002) with the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration.
This practice guideline was developed by Alan P. Fugleberg.
American Indian Disability Technical Assistance Center