People are often unaware that they may be eligible for both Social Security Disability (SSD) and veterans disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you are eligible for both benefits, you can receive them at the same time. The two programs are quite different, however, so meeting the eligibility requirements for both can be challenging.
Percentage Rating vs. Total Disability
First, the two federal agencies define "disabled" differently. To receive SSD benefits, you must prove that you paid into the system for the required number of years and are totally disabled to the point where you cannot work. To receive VA disability benefits, you must demonstrate that you have a service-connected disability; the VA will award you a rating that indicates your degree of disability. The rating can be from 100 percent disabled to 0 percent. The rating is tied to how much compensation you receive from the VA. A 0 percent rating means that you receive nothing.
However, receiving a 0 percent disability rating from the VA does not mean that you cannot ever receive benefits. It means that the VA acknowledges yourdisability, but believes that it does not affect your ability to function. This is important, because if your disability worsens, you have already established that you have a service-connected disability.
SSD Benefits Are Income-Based; VA Disability Is Not
Second, there are no income or work requirements associated with VA disability, so you can continue to work if you are able. As stated above, SSD benefits are generally for people who cannot work because of their disabilities.
Differences in Changing Benefit Awards
Third, a veteran who initially receives a 0 percent rating can seek an increase in that rating if his or her condition deteriorates. Because SSD benefits are awarded to people who cannot work at all, they are already deemed to be completely disabled and will not receive a higher award if they become worse. However, if they initially are denied benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA), they could start the application process all over again if their condition worsens. In contrast, some of the work of applying is already done if you are a veteran with a 0 percent disability rating seeking an increase in that rating.
Differences in How the VA & SSA Use Multiple Disability Information
Fourth, although both agencies recognize that recipients can have more than one disability, how they use this information differs. The VA can make awards for each disability that is proven to be service-connected. In contrast, the SSA uses the existence of multiple disabilities simply to establish total disability. There is no difference in the award for those who have one disability and those who have multiple disabilities.
Relationship Between SSD & VA Disability
If you receive a high disability rating from the VA (70 percent or more), you have a better chance of receiving SSD benefits because another federal agency has already determined that you cannot work or will find working extremely difficult. However, that does not always apply if you receive SSD benefits first, because the VA considers only service-connected conditions when evaluating a vet's degree of disability. If the VA determines that the disability for which you are receiving SSD benefits was not service-connected, then you will not be awarded benefits.
For Clarification, Contact an SSD Advocate at Binder & Binder®
As you can see from this brief summary of the differences between SSD and VA benefits, it is important to obtain assistance with both applications. At Binder & Binder®, our advocates understand the differences and similarities between the two programs and will advise you about your options for seeking both types of benefits.