SSDI and VA Benefits

By Stephani Bennett, Veterans Attorney

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and VA Disability Benefits exist to provide a safety net for the disabled. Nothing prevents qualifying Veterans from receiving both benefits and there is no offset. In other words, a Veteran can receive both benefits entirely. However, receipt of one benefit does not necessarily help qualify for the other, and in some cases they can negatively affect one another.

VA Disability Compensation

VA Disability Compensation is a monthly, tax-free benefit paid to Veterans whose service has left them at least 10 percent disabled. The amount of the benefit increases with the corresponding degree of disability, ranging from 10 percent to 100 percent. In allowing for degrees of disability, the VA compensates Veterans for loss of work time from exacerbations in illness or injury. In other words, unlike SSDI, a Veteran does not have to be fully disabled to receive benefits.

Determining eligibility for VA benefits starts with the Veteran’s type of service. To qualify for VA benefits, the Veteran must have served in the Uniformed Services in one of three ways: active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training (which comes with additional limitations). The Veteran must also have received a discharge under other than dishonorable circumstances. Finally, the Veteran’s injury or disease must have incurred in, been caused by, or been aggravated by the above types of service.

The most relevant type of VA benefit to SSDI is Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability (TDIU). To qualify for TDIU, a Veteran must be unable to work due to service-connected disabilities. The requirement of being unable to work does not apply to most VA benefits, but SSDI shares the requirement. If a Veteran qualifies for TDIU, they often qualify for SSDI.

Social Security

Social Security Disability Insurance is a government program that pays monthly benefits to any qualifying income worker who becomes too disabled to work before they reach retirement age. Unlike VA benefits, SSDI does not cover short-term or partial disability. SSDI compensates only those who have become completely unable to work.

To qualify for SSDI, a person must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security for a number of years. Generally, the Social Security Administration will consider someone disabled if they cannot do the work they could before, they cannot adjust to new work, and their disability will likely last longer than a year.

SSDI differs from Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Social Security Administration manages both benefits and both offer benefits to disabled individuals, but the financial eligibility differs between them. SSI is a needs-based program according to income and assets. Most relevant to VA benefits, SSI can be reduced by other income received whereas SSDI is not.

Interaction of Benefits

Until 2017, VA determinations which granted a Veteran a high rating (usually 70 percent or higher) were given great weight in determining whether that Veteran also qualified for SSDI. But the rules have changed. The Social Security Administration no longer takes VA approvals for disability compensation into account when determining whether to grant SSDI. They will consider whatever the VA used to grant benefits, such as relevant medical records.

There is one way receipt of VA benefits can help with the filing SSDI claims: If a Veteran receives benefits at a combined rating of 100 percent through the VA and they have a permanent and total disability status, the Social Security Administration will expedite a review of the SSDI claim. This can help a Veteran get a determination much quicker than by the normal process.

Conversely, a grant of SSDI does not necessarily help a Veteran receive VA benefits. This holds particularly true when the grant of SSDI comes from multiple disabilities, only some of which qualify for service connection. In other words, if a Veteran receives SSDI because of PTSD from the military and a traumatic brain injury which occurred afterwards, the VA might simply say that the total disability shown by SSDI can be attributed to non-service-connected disabilities. This can be particularly harmful when seeking TDIU because the Veteran needs to show which service-connected disabilities render him or her unemployable.

SSDI can help raise the issue of TDIU on the record. The VA has an obligation to obtain Social Security records if the Veteran makes the VA aware of them. When the VA receives evidence through the Social Security Administration that the Veteran is unemployable, the VA becomes obligated to investigate a claim for TDIU even if a claim has not been filed.

Veterans Serving Veterans

Berry Law Firm was founded by Vietnam War Veteran and legendary trial lawyer John Stevens Berry Sr. We are proud to have many military Veterans among our attorneys and staff who understand what it means to serve and know firsthand the struggles many of our clients face every day.

If your VA disability claim has been denied, Berry Law Firm may be able to help. We have been successfully representing Veterans for decades. Contact us today for a free evaluation.