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Differences Between Social Security Disability and VA Disability

There is some confusion about the similarities and differences between a Social Security Disability claim and the VA Disability program, which is designed to assist veterans injured on duty. Those who lack sufficient information often assume that these programs are similar because an individual eligible for assistance under the VA Disability program may also be able to get disability. Read on to discover the myriad of differences between the two programs.

Different Funding Sources for Social Security Disability and VA Benefits

Social Security Disability is an insurance program which is designed to give a portion of earnings back to insured workers who cannot perform work at a level that is both gainful and substantial. The money used to pay Social Security Disability claims comes from taxes paid by workers under the Self-Employment Contributions Act and the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. VA Disability, on the other hand, is not considered to be insurance. Instead, it is purely a compensation program which awards benefits to veterans who have sustained an injury during military duty. VA Disability is funded by a specific VA budget for the Veterans Administration rather than taxes paid by military personnel.

All Or Nothing

The Social Security Disability system operates on an all or nothing basis. In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, you must conclusively prove that you are unable to perform labor to a degree where you can earn a livable wage. Those unable to prove that their disability irrevocably hampers their ability to work receive nothing. Those who prove that their disability prevents them from working will likely get disability benefits.

With VA Disability, there are percentages of disability and benefits received. It is possible to claim 40% of the available benefits, for example. Also, under VA Disability you are allowed to earn as much as your body allows you to whereas those filing for disability are only allowed earn up to $720 a month through non-physically demanding labor. This is because Social Security Disability is considered to be an entitlement while VA Disability is viewed as an obligation that the nation owes veterans for injuries sustained while defending their country.

VA Disability Claims are Approved More Quickly

Claiming VA Disability benefits is not as long winded of a process as claiming Social Security Disability. Those seeking the latter are likely to go through several different steps which could take approximately two years. The initial claim must be filed and this has a 30% success rate. The 70% who fail at this juncture are entitled to either make another claim or take the next step which is known as reconsideration. If this appeal fails, then the claimant can continue and ask for a hearing. This involves a day in court in front of an Administrative Law Judge who will take all the evidence presented and make a decision. Should this process fail, step four is to go to the Appeals Council. Should this also be unsuccessful, the final step is to appeal to the Federal District Court. As you can tell, this is a lengthy procedure.

In contrast, VA Disability has only two steps. The first step is for the claimant to prove that he or she was a military veteran and did not leave because of a dishonorable discharge. The other step involves proving that the injuries sustained were as a result of military service. In VA Disability cases where it is shown that the injury sustained by the veteran cannot be conclusively attributed to military duty, the veteran is still given the benefit of the doubt. VA Disability claims have a policy known as ‘presumptive conditions’ which makes the presumption that certain illnesses sustained by the veteran are related to military duty. For example, Vietnam veterans who suffered Agent Orange exposure, veterans who are diagnosed with a chronic illness less than one year after discharge and veterans of the Gulf War who have mysterious illnesses are all entitled to VA Disability benefits because it is assumed their conditions arose because of military duty. Once it is determined that the illness resulted from military duty, the degree to which it affects the veteran is calculated on a scale of 0% to 100%. A minimum of 10% is required for a veteran to receive some form of compensation.

Different Scale

The Social Security Disability Program is much larger than its VA Disability counterpart. At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 7.7 million people receiving Social Security Disability benefits. The VA Disability program had 3.1 million claimants at the end of 2009. The average monthly payment for those receiving VA Disability is more than double what those on the Social Security Disability program are awarded. Veterans are also entitled to apply for Social Security Disability benefits if they choose. Those who receive payment from both programs are not penalized in any way and are allowed to take full payments from both.