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Social Security Benefits – A Guide for Veterans

If you are a veteran who is disabled, you might be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits regardless of the nature of your disability. You can receive Social Security disability benefits at the same time you are receiving Veterans Administration (VA) benefits. While both are government benefit programs, they work very differently. You can have pending applications for both kinds of disability benefits – Social Security and VA – at the same time. The income you receive from one program does not impact your benefits from the other program, as neither is income-based.

Differences Between VA Benefits and Social Security Disability Benefits

Veterans Administration (VA) Benefits and Social Security Disability benefits are both government programs that provide monthly benefits for disabled individuals. There are several differences between the two programs. To receive VA benefits, you must be a disabled veteran, and your disability must be related to your active duty service. You will be given a disability rating. A rating as low as 0% indicates that there is a military-related disability but is not compensable. Your rating must be at least 10% to be eligible for compensation. You do not have to be completely disabled to receive VA benefits. And, if your condition worsens, you can ask to be re-evaluated and your disability rating can be adjusted appropriately.

To receive Social Security disability, you must be completely disabled and unable to earn income. Your disability can result from multiple medical issues. They do not have to be related to your military service, but they certainly can be. For example, you might have a 30% disability rating from the VA, and you might also have diabetes, heart problems, and arthritis that aren't related to service. With all those conditions are combined, you might meet the requirements to be fully disabled per the guidelines established to determine disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

How can veterans qualify for Social Security benefits?

Keep in mind that if you are approved for benefits from one agency, such as the SSA or VA, does not mean you will also be awarded benefits from the other. Your claim might be denied, but you might have to file an appeal if so.

Benefits Approval for Disabled Veterans

VA benefits are also known as compensation for a service-related disability. The VA only considers disabilities that resulted from military service. VA compensation is not based on income. You are compensated on partial disability through the VA disability program. The SSA will not compensate for partial disability or partial loss of employability. In the past, another major difference in disability from the SSA and the VA involved the “treating physician rule.” Up until March 27, 2017, the SSA gave extra weight to the treating physician’s opinion. The VA, however, would review the claimant’s entire medical file, with no extra weight given to any specific evidence. After March 27, 2017, the SSA will not give deference to the opinions or records provided by the treating physician.

Does Being Approved for Benefits from One Program Help Approval for the Other?

If you are approved for disability benefits from one program, that does not mean you will automatically be approved for disability benefits from the other program. In prior years, if you were given a very high VA rating, such as 70% or more, you had greater odds of being approved for Social Security benefits. Federal circuit courts had determined that decisions made by the VA warranted great weight in the Social Security disability claims process. As of 2017, the SSA will no longer take VA disability approvals into consideration when determining about Social Security disability benefits.

The SSA will consider all evidence that the VA considered when making its determination whether to award disability benefits. If you are approved for benefits from the SSA first, the VA might not give much weight to the SSA ruling because it will not be clear as to whether your disabilities are service-related or not. Often, veterans have disabilities that are service-related as well as those that are not related to military duty. To prove to the VA that the veteran is unable to work because of service-related disabilities, a vocational expert might have to be hired by the veteran to attribute the unemployability specifically to military-related disabilities.

Applying for Disability Benefits

If you are applying for disability benefits, you will need all your medical records to show your diagnosis, the severity of your conditions, your symptoms, the treatments and side effects, and how your disabilities restrict your ability to work. To be approved for disability benefits through the SSA, you will need to meet the specified criteria for your condition in the medical guide, which is called the Blue Book. There are different listings for different conditions. Sometimes you might not meet the criteria of one listing, but you might be able to meet the criteria for another listing based on your systems. The entire Blue Book can be found online, so you can review the listings with your doctor to determine if you may qualify.

Expedited Benefits For Some Veterans

There are some veterans who qualify for expedited claims processing for Social Security benefits. If you are considered a Wounded Warrior, you will get your claim handled more quickly. If you are a veteran who became disabled after October 1, 2001, while on active service and regardless of your location, however, you must indicate on your application that your disability occurred while you were on active duty. Another way to have your claim expedited is if you received a 100% P&T rating from the VA. You must identify yourself as a military veteran with a rating of 100% P&T from the VA on the application--there is a section at the end of the application titled "remarks" where you can make a note of your status as a wounded warrior.

How Do Other Benefits Come Into Play?

After a two-year Medicare waiting period, you will be eligible for both Medicare and Tricare. When you have both Medicare and Tricare, Medicare will be your primary insurer and Tricare will serve as your secondary insurance. Your family might be eligible for auxiliary benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Auxiliary SSDI benefits are based on your earnings history and your monthly benefits check. If you are ready to apply for disability benefits, you should consult with a disability attorney. The claims process can be challenging, and your claim might be denied, but you can file an appeal. Eventually, you can go before a judge for a hearing and a ruling on whether you are disabled or not.

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