Social Security vs. Veterans Affairs: The Nitty Gritty on Disability Benefits

I recently wrote a post called Maximizing Benefits for Disabled Veterans. That post discussed a brief overview of how disabled veterans might be able to benefit from Social Security disability benefits in addition to their VA Disability Compensation benefits.  However, there is much more to consider when you are thinking of applying for both SSA and VA benefits.

Trying to navigate one program is confusing enough, but when you add in navigating a second program, it becomes almost impossible to keep everything straight. The table below answers some common questions about SSA and VA benefits, and highlights important differences between the two programs.

 

 

Social Security Administration disability benefits (SSI and SSDI) Veterans’ Affairs Disability Compensation
What is the application process like?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You apply for benefits at a local Social Security office, over the phone, or online.

Your case is then transferred to a disability examiner at a different office called Disability Determination Services (DDS). This person will review your medical evidence and, in consultation with a doctor, approve or deny your claim. Generally, you will receive a decision within 4-6 months.

If you are denied, you can go through the appeals process, which has a total of four levels of appeal. The whole process can take three years or more, depending on where you live.

 

 

 

You file a claim with your local VA Regional Office or Medical Center in person, online, or through the mail.

A Veterans Service Representative will review your claim, collect your medical documentation, and prepare a decision. Once a decision is made, the VA will send you a Rating Decision giving you the details of the decision and your disability rating. This process can take a year or more.

If you disagree with the decision, you can appeal. The appeals process is complicated, circular, and as of this writing, is being completely overhauled. For right now, you should know that there are three levels of appeal and multiple ways you can pursue each appeal. The process can take many years – much longer than the Social Security process.

How do they collect my medical records?

 

 

 

 

 

DDS will send requests to all of the doctors and medical facilities you listed on your application, and will pay reasonable fees your doctors charge. If your doctors do not reply, DDS will make the decision without those records, and might send you for an exam if they need additional evidence. The VA will obtain all VA records listed on your application, and has a “duty to assist” applicants to obtain their private records. However, the VA will not pay for private medical records. It is ultimately your responsibility to make sure the VA has your records. The VA may send you for an examination if they need additional evidence.
Can I submit my medical records to speed up the process? Yes, and I always suggest that you do so. However, DO NOT give either the SSA or VA your only copy of medical records.
If I get benefits from one program, will I automatically receive benefits with the other? Not automatically, but you may be eligible for both. See my prior post, Maximizing Benefits for Disabled Veterans, for more information.
How does the definition of “disabled” differ between the programs? Drastically. See my prior post, Maximizing Benefits for Disabled Veterans, for more information.
How hard is it to prove that I am disabled?

 

 

 

 

 

Social Security is very skeptical of disability claims, and it is much easier to be denied than approved. Social Security claimants are not given the benefit of the doubt, and they have the burden to prove their disability. Only about 25% of all cases are approved on the first application. Veterans are generally given the benefit of the doubt in proving their disability. This means that if there is only slightly more evidence that the veteran is disabled than evidence that he is not disabled, the VA will find the veteran to be disabled.

 

 

What is the benefit amount?

 

 

 

 

 

 

For SSI, the monthly benefit amount changes every year. In 2018, it is $750 for individuals.

For SSDI, your monthly benefit amount is based on your prior earnings. The longer you have worked and more you have earned, the higher your benefit will be.

 

Your monthly benefit amount is based on your disability rating. You can also get additional benefits if you meet certain requirements.

Go here to view the current disability rating benefit amounts.

 

 

Can I hire an attorney to help?

 

You can obtain an attorney at any point in the process.

 

You can hire an attorney to help at the first level of appeal, called the Notice of Disagreement, and onward.
How much will an attorney cost?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attorneys must work on a contingency fee basis, which means they can only receive a fee if you are approved for back-payments.

An attorney is limited to receiving 25% of your back payments, or $6,000, whichever is less.

Your attorney may require you to pay for expenses.

Attorneys may charge by the hour, a flat fee, or work on a contingency fee basis. There is not a set amount an attorney is limited to receiving.

Your attorney may require you to pay for expenses.

 

 

 

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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