Veterans who have a disability or multiple disabilities from their time in the service are entitled to benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. One such benefit is TDIU, which gives full disability benefits to Veterans even if they do not have a 100% disability rating.
This raises questions for Veterans who are also eligible for Social Security benefits. Can you still receive TDIU if you’re also receiving Social Security Disability Insurance? Does being disqualified from one automatically mean you’ll be rejected by the other?
The process can be complicated, so we’ll answer all your questions below. We’ll also walk you through the application processes for both kinds of benefits.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is for individuals who have a disability and a qualifying work history, whether it is through their own employment or a family member.
SSDI is different from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which awards benefits based on age and/or disability as well as limited income. SSDI, on the other hand, determines whether you’re eligible for benefits based on your disability and work credits.
If a person qualifies, the average monthly SSDI benefit is about $1,223 as of January 2022. The maximum monthly amount that an individual may receive under SSDI is $3,345.
People may also gain health insurance benefits through SSDI. Once someone is approved to receive SSDI, a 24-month waiting period will begin. After that time has passed, the person will automatically receive Medicare.
Social Security has a strict definition of disability that involves an individual’s ability to work and the overall length of the disability. People with short-term disabilities will not qualify for SSDI.
Fortunately, Veterans with longer-term disabilities are eligible to receive SSDI benefits, provided they meet the other qualifications.
To qualify for SSDI benefits, a person must meet the following two requirements:
In general, Social Security’s guidelines require an accumulation of 40 Social Security work credits for SSDI qualification, with 20 of those credits earned in the decade before the year your disability began. Social Security determines work credits based on total annual earnings (wages or self-employment income).
The number of credits required to qualify for SSDI depends on your age, and younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. For example, if you are 24 to 31 years old, you may qualify if you have credit for working half the time from age 21 until your disability begins.
You can earn up to four work credits in a year, although the amount of work needed for a work credit can differ for any given year. You can consult Social Security’s website to determine the income required to earn a quarter of coverage (the legal term for one Social Security credit) each year from 1978 to 2022.
Social Security defines “disability” in stricter terms than other programs. Partial disability and short-term disability do not qualify for benefits under this definition.
You must meet the following three conditions to have a Social Security qualifying disability:
Veterans who qualify can apply for SSDI at any age on the Social Security website. You can also call your local Social Security office and apply over the phone.
Once a person applies for SSDI, it will take, on average, about 3 to 5 months to process the application.
Some people with severe disabilities will need an expedited application process. In order to receive this expedited process, a person’s disability will have to fall under the Social Security Administration’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) classification.
Social Security provides basic steps that individuals should follow when they apply for SSDI. This process applies to Veterans as well.
Applicants can check the status of their application on their online Social Security account. They can also call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
If an individual receives an SSDI decision and does not agree with it, they can appeal in writing within 60 days of receiving the decision.
There are four levels of appeal:
Once an individual appeals the SSDI decision, they will have to wait to hear back before they can move further along in the process.
Total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) from the VA is a way for Veterans to receive total disability benefits even if their service-connected disability is rated at less than 100 percent.
If a Veteran cannot maintain or obtain substantially gainful employment because of one or more service-connected disabilities, then they can qualify for TDIU.
To qualify for TDIU, Veterans will have to prove that they are not able to obtain or maintain substantially gainful employment. The VA considers employment to be “substantially gainful” if it allows the disabled Veteran to earn approximately as much as a non-disabled person in the same career field and location.
If the VA sees that the Veteran’s income is below the poverty threshold ($12,880 for a single-family in 2021), they will not consider their work to be gainful employment. If the Veteran’s income is slightly above the poverty threshold, the VA’s reviewer will make an individual determination.
Luckily, retirement-aged Veterans can still get TDIU if their disability keeps them from substantially gainful employment. The VA does not take age into consideration when determining if a Veteran is qualified for TDIU.
To qualify for TDIU, the Veteran will also have to have either:
Without both this disability rating and documentation of their employment situation, Veterans will not qualify for TDIU.
Yes — sometimes, the benefits that a Veteran receives from the VA are not enough to cover all their treatment and daily living costs. TDIU offers some of the highest benefits that a Veteran can receive, but that’s not always enough in some cases.
Thankfully, Veterans are able to receive both TDIU and SSDI if they qualify for both.
If you’re denied a benefit from either the VA or the SSA, it’s important to remember that this does not automatically disqualify you from receiving benefits from the other. The requirements for each are different enough that some Veterans will qualify for TDIU but not SSDI, while others will be vice versa.
It’s also worth noting that the VA often processes claims more slowly than the Social Security Administration. Given the possible delays in application processing, it’s wise for Veterans to submit both applications rather than waiting for a response from the VA, which could take months.
Sometimes, a Veteran will not get the benefits they deserve from their initial TDIU claim. Luckily, Veterans can appeal any decision that the VA makes — but they only have one year from the time of the VA’s decision to appeal.
If they do not appeal within that timeframe, they will have to start the whole claims process all over again.
There are three ways that a Veteran can appeal a VA decision:
Having an experienced attorney who is familiar with the VA can significantly help a Veteran when they go through the appeals process. It’s not always clear which of these three paths will be most effective, and a knowledgeable Veterans attorney like Berry Law will be able to offer guidance and support along the way.
Thankfully, Veterans can receive both TDIU from the VA and SSDI from the Social Security Administration. Although they are separate benefits programs with distinct application processes and requirements, both provide important support for Veterans with disabilities.
For more information regarding VA benefits and disability ratings, visit the Berry Law website — or contact Berry Law for a free case evaluation.
SSI vs SSDI: Differences, Benefits, and How to Apply | National Council on Aging
Compassionate Allowances | SSA
What Is Social Security Disability Insurance? | National Academy of Social Insurance
Social Security Credits and Benefit Eligibility | SSA
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