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Chairman Luttrell Delivers Opening Remarks at Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Hearing on VA TDIU Program

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-Texas), the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the subcommittee’s oversight hearing to examine VA’s TDIU program and its effectiveness at properly compensating today's veterans:


The subcommittee will come to order.

Good morning, everyone.


Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here.


We are here today to take a closer look at the veterans’ disability benefit program known as a “total disability rating based on individual unemployability”, or T.D.I.U. 


We will examine whether this disability benefit properly compensates today’s veterans.


TDIU is a tax-free monthly benefit that VA awards to veterans who are unable to work due to their service-connected disabilities. Eligible veterans can potentially receive both TDIU, and VA occupational rehabilitation benefits.


TDIU was established in the 1930s and the requirements to be eligible for TDIU essentially have not changed since the 1940s – that’s over 80 years ago.


TDIU is meant to make veterans whole for their total loss of income resulting from their service-related disabilities.


We must ensure that TDIU is properly and adequately supporting the men and women who have earned it and their families.


Under current law, VA takes into account a veterans’ education and work history to decide whether a veteran is eligible for TDIU.


But the benefit itself is flat rate of roughly thirty-eight hundred dollars, regardless of a veteran’s education and work history and career growth potential. 


Further, a veteran may be eligible for TDIU if they are only able to maintain “marginal employment.” 


VA states that marginal employment is employment that pays below the poverty level according to the U.S. Census, which is roughly $15,000.


But even when a veteran’s income is higher than the poverty level, VA will still consider their job “marginal employment” if it is “employment in a protected environment”, which can include a family business or a sheltered workshop.


For decades, VA refused to define exactly what “employment in a protected environment” means. Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims attempted to define it as a “lower-income position that . . . is shielded in some respect from competition in the employment market.”


But we know it’s still unclear to veterans about what counts as “employment in a protected environment”. 


We’ve also heard from civilian workforce experts that the current flat rate of TDIU is outdated. 


However, these occupational experts emphasized that VA must conduct further studies and obtain robust data to ensure that Congress is fully informed if we were to change the TDIU eligibility criteria and rates to properly make veterans whole.


Similarly, the Federal Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation recommended that VA study the use of age to determine vocational assessments in TDIU.


VA conducted that study, but VA has refused to share the study’s results with Congress despite numerous requests from committee staff. 


In 2023, nearly three-hundred-thousand veterans were receiving TDIU, and that number continues to grow.


Times have changed, and today’s veterans look different from the veterans who came home after World War II. 


We must ensure that the TDIU benefit works for today’s veterans and their families. That includes ensuring that we have all the data and information we need to determine whether the TDIU eligibility criteria and benefit amount should be modernized. 


With that, I yield to Ranking Member Pappas for his opening statement.
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