Disabled Veterans Applying for Social Security
Disabled veterans may be eligible for both social security and veterans disability benefits at the same time, and its important to pursue both options to maximize benefits. Since Veteran Affairs (VA) compensation, or service connected disability, is not based on income, veterans are potentially eligible to receive VA compensation and social security disability (SSDI) simultaneously. Pension benefits are part of the need-based program, and are very similar to supplemental social security income (SSI) offered through the Social Security Administration. While veterans must establish that they suffer from a service connected disability in order to be eligible for VA compensation, veterans who have very little or no income and who are disabled based on non-service disabilities, may also be entitled to compensation under the VA pension plan. Social Security Disability (SSDI) and VA compensation typically offer more generous benefits than either SSI or VA pension. However, it is certainly worthwhile to be aware of these other need-based programs.
One significant difference between social security disability and veterans disability is that claimant doesn’t need to establish the total disability in order to be eligible for VA disability compensation. In general, the Social Security Administration only pays benefits to people who are totally disabled, not partially disabled, or suffering from short-term disability. Claimants are considered disabled if they cannot do work that they did before and if social security decides that the claimant cannot adjust to other work because of his or her medical condition. In addition, the claimant’s disability must last or be expected to last for 12 months or in some cases be expected to result in death. This is not the case with the VA disability compensation. In fact, most veterans who receive VA compensation do not receive a total disability rating. Veterans can receive a compensation rating as low as the 10% level. As mentioned above, another major difference between the two benefit programs is that while the VA only considers service connected disabilities (for VA compensation), the Social Security Administration will consider all impairments regardless of whether they are service related or not.
Establishing a compensable disability rating for purposes of VA benefits may actually improve your chances for being deemed eligible for social security benefits; the higher the rating, the more likely you are to be successful in your bid for social security. In fact, it is the rule in some circuits that VA ratings are entitled to "great weight" when determining a claimant’s application for social security disability. This is because another federal agency has already found that you are either incapable of work or you are at a level where full-time work would be very difficult.
Finally, keep in mind a social security claim for survivor benefits based on the death of a veteran also constitutes a VA claim for death benefits. They are said to be received by the VA at the same time as they are received by the SSA. In seeking death benefits or disability benefits, it is absolutely vital that claimant contact both the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration to explore all of the benefits available.