How to Return to Work and Keep Your Disability Benefits

If you are receiving VA Disability Compensation, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or all three, you may be able to work and still keep your benefits. Each program has its own requirements, however, so you may be able to receive one type of benefit but not the others. It all depends on what type of benefit you receive, and how your benefit rate was calculated.

If you receive VA Disability Compensation benefits and…

Your rating is based on the VA Ratings Table

If you are receiving a rating that was calculated based on the Ratings Table, even if it is 100% (called a schedular rating), you can still work and receive your VA benefits.

Your rating is based on TDIU (total disability rating based on individual unemployability)

In order to get approved for TDIU, you must prove to the VA that you are unable to perform substantial gainful employment as a result of your condition(s). Substantial gainful employment for VA purposes is “other than marginal work,” meaning you could work in a sheltered or protected environment such as a family business so long as your earned annual income is less than the federal poverty guideline. In 2018, the federal poverty guideline for a single person household is $12,140/year. If you then go back to work, the VA can decrease your rating to what it was before you were approved for TDIU. See my prior post on TDIU for more information.

If you receive Social Security benefits (SSI and SSDI)…

Each program has its own rules regarding whether and how much recipients can work. If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, SSI and/or SSDI, you can work within certain limitations.

SSI

If you are receiving SSI, you can work so long as your earned income does not exceed substantial gainful activity[1] ($1,180/month), and your monthly income is under the SSI income requirements for eligibility ($750/month for an individual in 2018).[2] If your income is above the monthly limit of $750, your benefit will terminate. Additionally, if you start to earn more income than you were earning when you were first approved, even if that income is below the $750/month limit, SSA will decrease your monthly SSI benefit to account for your increased income.

SSDI

SSDI recipients on the other hand do not have a monthly income limitation other than substantial gainful activity. So long as you earn below SGA, $1,180/month, you can still receive the SSDI benefit.

Trial Work Period for SSDI Recipients

Additionally, when you want to return to work, you can do so during a Trial Work Period (TWP) without immediately losing your benefit. Read this post for more information on TWP.

If you receive both VA Disability Compensation and Social Security benefits…

For individuals who receive both VA and SSI/SSDI, they must consider both program’s limitations if they want to keep both types of benefits. Each program is run independently of each other, so you will have to report separately to each agency. It is possible to keep all of your benefits while working, but depending on the type and amount of work you are engaged in, one or both of your benefits might terminate.

Bottom Line: If you are thinking about returning to work and you receive VA or Social Security disability benefits, you should carefully consider how your work will affect your benefits, especially if you are unsure if you will be able to maintain employment for an extended period of time.


[1] Though the VA and SSA both use the phrase “substantial gainful activity,” it is defined differently by each agency. See above.

[2] Because of how SSA calculates beneficiary’s income for eligibility purposes, it could be possible for someone to earn more than $750/month and still qualify for SSI.

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I am already receiving VA Disability Compensation benefits, but my disability has worsened. Can I apply for an increased rating?

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