This post discusses Social Security Disability for Veterans. The process for receiving service-connected ratings from the VA and the process for receiving disability benefits from SSA is very different. Read on for more information.
Social Security Disability Benefits
The Social Security Administration offers two main types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is based on the credits from the work you have done in your life while SSI is a need (income) based program.
You must be found disabled under SSA’s Five Step Sequential Evaluation before you are entitled to either benefit. The SSA pays benefits if you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to your medical impairments. In other words, working can stop you from receiving benefits. There are no percentages of disability or ratings used for SSA disability.
Veterans Disability Benefits
The Veterans Administration offers service-connected veterans disability benefits including unemployability. In order to be eligible for VA disability you must be a veteran with a current disability with evidence of an occurrence/aggravation during your service connected (nexus) to your current disability. Veterans can receive monthly benefits for ratings of 10% to 100%.
Veterans can generally receive service connected benefits even though they are working (an exception is TDIU-unemployability). Even veterans who are 100% (scheduler) can still work.
The VA also offers a pension which is similar to SSA’s Supplemental Security Income. To receive a VA pension the veteran must have low income, war-time service and a permanent and total (P&T) disability. The P&T disability does not need to be related to their military service. But, assets and employment will stop a veteran from receiving a pension because the VA must find that the veteran’s disability is P&T and that the veteran is in financial need. Luckily, Supplemental Security Income is not counted as income against the disabled veteran.
Social Security Disability for Veterans
Many veterans assume because they have been found disabled by the Veterans Administration that they will automatically be found disabled by Social Security. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Everyone, veteran or not, must be found disabled under the Social Security Administration’s own standard to receive SSDI or SSI benefits.
Military retirement and Veterans Disability benefits are not counted as earnings by SSA, but a veteran receiving military pay for active duty is considered working if it rises to the level of substantial gainful activity (SGA).
The application process for a disabled veteran who wants to apply for Social Security Disability is the same for any other claimant. Making an appointment with your local Social Security Office or online is the first step.
After you apply for Social Security Disability benefits at your local SSA office or online, you case will be sent to Disability Determination Services (or your state’s equivalent) where it will go through the initial level. If you are denied at the initial level, you will have to appeal within 60 days to keep your Social Security Disability claim alive. The next level of appeal is called the reconsideration.
At the reconsideration level, your case is sent back to DDS for them to make a determination if you are disabled under SSA’s Five Step Sequential Evaluation. If you are denied at the reconsideration level, you will have to request a hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
The Social Security Disability hearing is where you have your best statistical chance of being approved for disability benefits. Providing the ALJ with your most current disability rating as well as the explanation for the rating can help your disability claim.
But, SSA will not defer or give any specific weight to the rating decision. The decision will be considered as any other piece of medical evidence which must be supportable and consistent with the other medical evidence in your Social Security Disability file (Per § 404.1520c).
While the process is the same for all disability claims, SSA does have some programs in place to help veterans. The Social Security’s below programs can help to expedite your claim:
Permanent and Total Veterans Initiative – In 2014, the SSA announced that veterans who have a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T) may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security disability benefits. When you apply for benefits, you must inform SSA that you are 100% P&T. I would suggest taking a copy of your rating with you when you file.
Wounded Warriors – Military service members who become disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001 (regardless of where the disability occurred) should receive expedited processing of their claim. Again, informing SSA when you file will give you the most benefit.
Dire Need – If neither of the above two programs apply to you; another way to have your claim expedited is by asking for a dire need. Unfortunately, mental illness (PTSD) is not uncommon to veterans, nor is homelessness.
The VA has estimated that up to 30% of veterans can have PTSD (depending on their service era) and among veterans who use VA Healthcare, 23% reported sexual assault and 55% reported sexual harassment. According to the VA, 37,085 veterans experienced homelessness in January 2019. While dire needs are not limited to veterans, they can definitely help a military veteran that lacks food, medical care or shelter.
If you or a veteran you care for are in this situation there are places that you can go to for help. The first place is, of course, The Veterans Administration . Their phone number is 1-800-827-1000. You can also call your local VA . There are shelters available in North Carolina for the homeless and local mental health facilities may be able to see you before the VA can schedule an appointment.
In my experience, the veterans who need the most help are the least likely to obtain it due to mental illness or housing issues. The most important thing that a veteran (or anyone) can do for their Social Security Disability or VA Disability benefit case is obtain regular medical treatment that produces medical evidence, but this can be the last thing on someone’s mind when they don’t have food or shelter.
Also read The Disability Process