Maximizing benefits for disabled veterans

I am a disabled veteran. Can I get both Social Security and VA benefits?

The answer is an unsatisfying “maybe.” Whether a disabled veteran is eligible for both Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits depends on several factors.

1. Income

There are two types of SSA disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSI is a needs-based program, which means that your income and resources must be below certain limits in order for you to apply, and your current monthly income will affect your monthly SSI benefit amount. Thus, if you are already receiving VA benefits, your VA benefits will affect your eligibility for SSI and your monthly benefit amount.

Conversely, SSDI is not a needs-based program. Thus, your current income, including any VA benefits you are receiving, will not affect your eligibility or your monthly benefit amount.

VA Disability Compensation is not a needs-based program, so your receipt of SSA benefits will not affect your eligibility or monthly benefit amount. VA Pension benefits are needs-based, however, so your eligibility may be affected if you are already receiving Social Security benefits.

2. Definition of Disability

The Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs define disability differently.

To be eligible for VA Disability Compensation, veterans must show that they have a service-connected disability, meaning their disabling condition was “incurred or aggravated by their military service.” They also must have an other-than-dishonorable discharge. Veterans do not have to be totally disabled. They will receive a disability rating from 0-100%, and receive the correlated monthly benefit.

In contrast, to be eligible for SSA disability benefits, you must be completely disabled. SSA does not provide benefits for individuals who are partially disabled. Additionally, your eligibility is unrelated to your military service and discharge. In order to be considered disabled under SSA’s definition, you must have a severe medical condition that has lasted for 12 months, or is expected to last for 12 months or result in death, and results in an inability to engage in “substantial gainful activity.” Substantial gainful activity is the ability to earn a certain amount of money per month through work.

Additionally, your monthly benefit amount for SSI and SSDI is not determined by reference to your disability. For SSI, your monthly benefit amount is determined by how much income you are already receiving. For SSDI, the monthly benefit depends on how much you paid into the system when you were working.

3. How your disability determination with one program may affect the other

Because the definition of disability under each program is different, having been approved by SSA does not mean that you will be approved for VA benefits, and vice-versa.

As of 2017, SSA will no longer take VA approvals for disability compensation into account when deciding whether to grant disability benefits. The VA also does not give much weight to SSA determinations of disability. However, both agencies will consider evidence in the other agency’s files to determine whether you are disabled according to their criteria.

However, if you are a Wounded Warrior or 100% disabled veteran, you can receive expedited consideration by SSA.

If you are a disabled veteran, you should always consider applying for both Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration benefits.  Though the eligibility criteria are different, you may be able to receive both benefits at once.

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Author: Kathryn L. Blevins, Esq.

Attorney. Small business owner. Military family. I am the owner and attorney at Blevins Law, LLC. My firm focuses on Social Security disability claims (SSI and SSDI), Veterans' Disability Compensation, Advance Medical Directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. I also assist veterans assessing other types of VA benefits they may be eligible for. I am licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and am a VA Accredited Attorney. I am the proud wife of an Army veteran, and the proud mother of two amazing children and three rescued fur children.

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