A vocational assessment can provide valuable information for decision-makers regarding Total Disability Individual Unemployability cases, also known as TDIU cases and help answer whether a veteran’s service-connected disabilities prevent him or her from securing substantially gainful employment (“SGE”).
The Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) defines SGE as “employment that is ordinarily followed by the nondisabled to earn their livelihood with earnings common to the particular occupation in the community where the veteran resides. The VA specifies that SGE cannot include sheltered or protected employment. Further, if a veteran’s annual wages are below the poverty level, this employment cannot be considered substantially gainful. If a veteran is unable to secure SGE as a result of a service-related disability, then he or she is entitled to receive 100% compensation for TDIU.
Decision-makers in these types of cases often rely on the opinion of physicians and other medical providers to determine whether a veteran can still obtain SGE. These individuals, however, do not have specialized vocational experience or expertise and are not equipped to determine the feasibility of the veteran’s ability to work. A vocational assessment can help bridge the gap between any documented medical and psychological limitations and residual functional limitations within the context of jobs present in the labor market.
A vocational assessment is a multi-step process and is prepared by a vocational expert (“VE”). The vocational rehabilitation assessment must have a methodology that fulfills VA requirements to address the critical questions in a TDIU manner. These questions include:
- Is the veteran disabled?
- What is the estimated date of TDIU?
- Was past work sheltered or protected employment?
The analysis also includes a vocational opinion based on both objective and subjective evidence regarding the estimated date the veteran was unable to work at SGE.
Vocational assessments are structured by topic, starting with the reason for the referral. All records to be considered in that matter are summarized in a report. This records summary is critical because it outlines the objective and subjective evidence in the case, including a review of the medical, psychological, and other records contained in the file. Additionally, a thorough interview is conducted with the veteran regarding symptomatology, limitations, educational history and work history.
This information is synthesized, and the residual function capacity (“RFC”) of the veteran is identified. RFC is the functional ability a person has after the effects of the disabling condition. RFC can relate to physical and/or mental abilities that result in restrictions on certain behaviors and/or exposure to specific environments. The RFC identified in the records are matched with the veteran’s past work as defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the functional demands of the job. If the functional limitations prelude past work, the VE will perform a transferable skills analysis. No more than the past fifteen years of work are analyzed as it is no longer realistic to expect skills to continue after fifteen years. For