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How to Qualify for SSDI While Receiving VA Benefits

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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.

You can still receive Social Security disability benefits while receiving VA benefits. Continue for more on how to qualify.

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.

Benefits include:

  • 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.

Additional Resources


Hi Nancy,
It may not affect your benefits for that month, however you may want to contact your local SSA office regarding this, they may adjust your benefits by $3.00 for the next month.

Hi Bryan,
I am a veteran, totally and permanently disabled (100 percent). Due to PTSD and agoraphobia caused by military sexual trauma. Am I likely to be awarded SSDI in your opinion? (I do counseling 13 hours a month in a retirement home) thank you very much

Hi Albert,
I really could not say, but given that you do have a VA rating of 100%, your chances may be better than someone with a lower rating.

My husband's buddy filed for va disability and social security disability benefits for MS since his dad had it. My husband wrote out a letter saying his buddy showed symptoms. He now has quite a bit of money coming in and plays golf almost every day because the letter was used to make the decision. 8 I told my husband that what he was doing was wrong and illegal but he didnt seem to care. This took place several years ago, I can't see any signs of Jerry shaking with MS and I have it. And it is flat out wrong to take the government's money meant for the disabled, and live high off the hog, and laugh about it!

Hi Jaqueline,
YOu may want to contact the SSA regarding this, you can contact them at 1-800-772-1213.

I have a % of 100 and a additional 70% I have been approved for my va disability but social security denied me twice once before awarded va disability and then after I received the va 100% which I was told I could not work or I would lose all my disability from va. Why is ssi denying me for the second time.

Hi Willis,
If you were applying for benefits based on income, you would be denied as the SSA only awards those benefits based on income, which you would have after being awarded VA benefits.

was denied 2x had hearing in dec now was denied today..
ive had 14 surgeries, 1 purple heart and 100perm n total from va
i still dont meet medical conditions
just dont get it

Hi, my husband received an 80% rating from the VA for PTSD and Asthma both service related conditions not allowing him to work at all. He rates for individual unemployablity. Do you believe he will qualify if we apply for social security?

Hi Jessica,

It's definitely possible, but those cases are a bit tough to win though. Wishing you an your husband nothing but the best.

I have been denied 2 times now just received the letter today, I did apply back in October 2017 since then I received my 100% total and permanent and have had 3 surgeries and still got denied what else can I do? I want to appeal but I want a lawyer now

Hi Mckayla,

It won't automatically qualify you, but it's a good indication that you'll have a good chance go qualifying. When you apply, use both your military and civilian medical records. The more medical evidence you have, the better chance you'll have of getting approved!

The VA rated me at 80%. They stated I am unemployable, permanently and totally disabled. I am being paid at the 100% rate with all the benefits that coincide. I filed for SSI in August of 2019. Do you think I will get approved? How long until you think I will know something since it is now October? Thank you for your time.

Hi Tracy,

Thank you for your service! With a high VA rating, you'll have a good chance of medically qualifying. The SSA will also take into consideration technical qualifications. For SSI, this means household income. You'll have to be within certain income limits. It typically takes a few months to hear back. Best of luck!