Members of the military who were injured while on active duty and after October 1, 2001 are eligible for expedited processing of their Social Security Disability applications. This is the case regardless of whether the injury occurred in the United States or elsewhere.
The Department of Disability Determination Services, the agency that is contracted by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make disability-related decisions, will process these cases as a priority (along with terminal illness, aka TERI, claims). Should the serviceperson receive a denial at the initial level of the application process, the expedited processing will apply throughout the SSA’s appeals process.
Keep in mind that Social Security Disability benefits are completely separate from any benefits that are received through the Veteran’s Administration.
There are two types of Social Security Disability benefits. The first, Social Security Disability Insurance, requires that the recipient (or their spouse, in some cases,) has earned enough wages in recent years to have the work credits to qualify. The other, Supplemental Security Income (SSI,) is needs-based, and while eligibility doesn’t depend on prior wages, there are strict limits in what assets a recipient can own.
Servicepersons who are applying for disability benefits can also download and view the SSA publication, “Disability Benefits for Wounded Warriors.” Applications for Social Security Disability benefits can be completed online on the SSA’s website, or at your local Social Security Administration office.
There are a few unique provisions that also apply to military service members who are applying for Social Security disability. One is a difference in how what’s referred to as “Substantial Gainful Activity,” is applied when determining whether or not they’re eligible for benefits. When a non-military member applies for disability, and is currently working, the SSA will evaluate their current job duties as well as their earnings to determine if their employment qualifies as SGA. In order to qualify for disability, a disabled worker (military or not) must be deemed unable to perform SGA. Because members of the military may often receive their full pay while undergoing medical treatment and participating in a limited duty assignment, the SSA will only evaluate the workers job duties (and not their income,) in determining if they’re capable of performing SGA.
If a serviceperson was previously disabled for at least a year (and meets the requirement of being on active duty, and the injury occurring prior to 10/1/01,) but is now recovered and able to work, they could still be eligible for a “closed period” of disability benefits. To qualify, they must have filed their application for disability benefits within 14 months of their disability ending. If their application was filed after this, they could still be eligible if they can prove that the delay in filing was due to a physical or mental incapacity. The SSA will still need to evaluate medical records and other evidence from the time period that the serviceperson was disabled, to determine if the applicant met their requirements for disability at that time.
If you are a disabled service member, or know a disable service member, looking for more information about whether you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, it may be in your best interest to speak with a disability representative today.