According to the United States Census Bureau, almost 3.8 million US Veterans currently experience some form of disability. Of these, around 1.1 million have a VA disability rating of 70% or higher, meaning their condition prevents them from working or living normally.
Although VA benefits are designed to provide monthly supplements in proportion to your disability, some veterans with severe conditions require extra assistance. In this case, Social Security disability benefits may be an option. Veterans can qualify for both VA benefits and Social Security disability insurance (SSDI).
Continue below to learn how you may qualify for SSDI while receiving VA benefits.
Requirements of SSDI
Although VA benefits and SSDI are both government programs, their requirements and benefits vary slightly. This is because:
- VA benefits are awarded on a percentage-based system: SSDI, on the other hand, is only awarded to people who qualify as “totally and permanently disabled” (similar to a VA rating of 70% or higher)
- VA benefits are only available to disabled veterans: SSDI is available to all Americans who require assistance for their disabilities, making a program a bit pickier when deciding who does/doesn’t qualify.
- Disability for VA is determined by doctors for the VA Disability program: SSDI can not mimic this evaluation for the entire American populace, leaving applicants to provide as much specific certified evidence as possible when making their case.
To see if your condition meets the higher requirements of SSDI, you can consult the Blue Book found on the SSA’s main website. This book lists all conditions and the requirements for each needed in order to qualify for disability benefits.
The book is broken up into sections depending on the type of disorder — for example, amputations would be listed under Section 1.00 “Musculoskeletal System”, while traumatic brain injury would be listed under section 11.00 “Neurological Disorders”.
While some entries are rather simple and only require a diagnosis to qualify, others can be more broad, complicated, or filled with uncommon medical terms. Before applying, be sure to contact your physician for updated tests and medical records to discuss your qualifications.
Benefits of Receiving SSDI as a Veteran
Most US residents see nothing but benefits after qualifying for SSDI. However, veterans in particular receive special perks from the application process onward as a “thank you” for their selfless service on behalf of the nation.
- An expedited application: Most applicants experience a lengthy claims process that can take anywhere from a few months to over a year.
However, all military service members who became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001 receive an accelerated application process. This means, unlike most, you could receive your benefits decision in a matter of weeks after your application.
- Increased chance of qualification: For veterans with a VA rating of 70% or higher, the SSA is much more likely to award benefits. This is because the Veterans Association (another government program) has already recognized you as severely disabled and unable to work, further supporting your need for benefits.
- Continued military pay without affecting eligibility. Most SSDI recipients are prevented from earning money through work because it may disqualify them from disability benefits. However, many veterans receive military pay from non-work activity, which does not count towards benefit disqualification.
- Medicare and TRICARE benefits awarded simultaneously. Medicare, which is awarded to both disabled and retired Americans, is one of the best government-provided health care plans in the country. While TRICARE does benefit millions of veterans, Medicare awarded through SSDI provides more coverage. This doesn’t mean TRICARE benefits go away — in fact, TRICARE continues to cover extra costs by functioning as your secondary insurance.
Are There Limits to the Amount of Benefits You Can Receive
Your ability to receive disability benefits is not tied to income, though you do need to have enough work credits to apply.
Anyone who has paid Social Security taxes can apply for disability benefits, and your ability to qualify is tied to the number of work credits you have earned over the years. Generally speaking, you need to have 40 work credits and 20 of those credits must have been earned in the past ten years leading up to when you were diagnosed with your condition.
The number of work credits needed is based upon your age, though, as you earn four credits each year you earn a certain amount of money. The amount changes each year; in 2019, the amount is $5440. Younger applicants will need fewer than 40 credits to apply.
There is no income limit to apply for disability benefits, but in order to qualify for benefits you cannot be able to perform work. There are incentive programs through the SSA that allow you to work while receiving benefits, such as the Ticket to Work program. It is important to talk with the SSA if you want to work while disabled as this can jeopardize your ability to receive your disability benefits.
Using the RFC If You Do Not Meet Blue Book Requirements
The Social Security Administration will use their set of medical guidelines, commonly known as the Blue Book, to determine whether your condition qualifies you for disability benefits. If you are found to be able to work, either in a modified setting at your current job or in another position that accommodates your condition, then you will not be eligible for benefits.
In some cases, your medical condition will not be enough to meet the medical guidelines listed in the Blue Book, but you are still unable to work. This is where the residual function capacity form (RFC) will come into play.
The RFC determines the maximum amount of work that you are able to perform given your condition. Your doctor will be the one to complete the form, and this is beneficial for your case because it is an opportunity to present information specific to your condition directly to the SSA.
Your doctor is likely the one who diagnosed you and was the one to develop your treatment plan, so he or she can explain how you are actually doing and what issues have come about that prevent you from performing certain tasks.
You should inform your doctor of your intent to file an application for disability benefits as early as possible so that the RFC can be completed and submitted quickly. In many cases where a diagnosis is not enough to qualify for benefits, the RFC is the most important document in the claim.
If you know that your condition might not be enough to qualify you for benefits, then you should build your case with the RFC in mind. Be sure to include all supporting medical documentation that supports the claims made in your RFC so that the SSA will be able to make their decision.
Starting the Application
SSDI applications can be started whenever you are ready by visiting the SSA’s main website. Here, you can also find FAQs and paperwork lists to assist you during the process.
Aside from normal medical and financial papers, beside to have the following prepared before applying:
- Form DD 214 (if you were formally discharged)
- Proof of military pay or workers’ compensation
- Any military medical records that support your disability (medical tests, physician’s notes, therapy documentation, etc.)
If you require assistance filling out your application, you may want to consider a free consultation with a local disability attorney.
Their experience can further simplify the process by organizing paperwork, keeping in contact with the SSA, and helping fight on your behalf to get you the benefits you deserve.