Social Security Benefits and You as a Veteran

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Social Security Disability Insurance

Note:  This section discusses Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a workers’ disability  program which pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are “insured” – meaning that  you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.  It does not address Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), which is a financial needs-based program similar to the VA’s Disability Pension program and also pays disability benefits. You may be eligible for that program also.

For various reasons, many veterans with a VA-rated disability are unaware that they may also be entitled to a Social Security benefit program known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  Like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) service-connected compensation program, it too has come under congressional scrutiny for its processing times. However, on 19 February 2014, Social Security Administration (SSA) officials announced plans to expedite disability claims for individuals with a VA approved, 100 percent disability rating.

The agency had already offered quicker processing for active-duty troops who are wounded, injured or ill due to service.  It is another little known fact that you can receive SSDI while remaining on active duty, under certain conditions.

This latest action could reduce months of waiting for payouts and is expected to begin Mid-March of 2014.  While it does not guarantee approval for the benefit, it does guarantee expedited processing if the veteran has a 100 percent disability rating from the VA.  Therefore, veterans must ensure they identify themselves as a 100 percent disabled veteran when they submit their claim to alert the processors.

However, the Social Security Administration’s rules on being disabled are very strict by law – much more so than the VA’s.  Nor does Social Security provide for partial or short-term disability as does the VA.  You must be unable to do substantial work because of your medical condition(s); and your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or to result in death.

Application is tedious but easy. If you can’t go to your local Social Security Office, call 1-800-772-1213 or file online through the portal site which provides other needed information.

If you do not yet have a 100 per cent determination from the VA or are about to submit a VA claim, it may be advisable to apply for both benefits simultaneously, since you may be entitled to both and the two departments operate independent programs not dependent upon one another for determinations.  Veterans who are suffering from debilitating diseases and can no longer work, but aren’t getting speedy service from the Department of Veterans Affairs should definitely apply  for SSDI immediately.  It could mean the difference in bridging the gap between employment and Veterans Disability Compensation.

Indeed, the Social Security Administration, unlike the VA, appears to have a statutory obligation to provide benefits quickly to applicants whose medical conditions are so serious that their conditions obviously meet disability standards.  To aid in accomplishing this obligation, SSA uses a concept called Compassionate Allowances (CAL) Conditions.  It allows SSA to quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify under the Listing of Impairments based on minimal objective medical information. While the system is not perfect, Social Security employees are enabled to target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances based on objective medical information that it can obtain quickly. Decisions can be made in weeks rather than months or years.  These conditions involve cancers, neurological and other rare diseases affecting adults and children.  The listing can be found by clicking here.

Prior receipt of the Social Security benefit may actually aid in your VA compensation case.  According to some, receipt of SSDI may influence the VA in deciding that since you are receiving SSDI you are, therefore, totally disabled and cannot work.  The fly in the ointment is the VA must see a service-connection.  It is the stumbling block in their logic because the SSA does not concern itself with determining if a disability is military-service connected.  Nevertheless, it may make a difference in your disability rating.  Coming from the opposite direction, some authorities report a very high VA service-connected disability rating (typically 70% or higher) can help your case with the Social Security Administration.

In addition to the SSA website, these reference sites may be useful to you:

  1. This Nolo-published site written by a practicing lawyer provides a quick overview and comparison of the VA and SSA disability benefits.
  2. This Nolo webpage delves a little deeper in answering questions about when can veterans get SSDI.
  3. The Social Security and Disability Resource Center website explains what benefits are available, how to apply, and also provides answers to many questions that veterans typically have, but to which often have trouble finding answers though it is not veterans-oriented.
  4. The National Academy of Social Insurance website is also another excellent general source of information.

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Earning Income While Receiving SSDI or SSI

Can you earn income while receiving SSDI or SSI (and by the way, you may be eligible for both)?  The basic answer is yes, but there are limitations on what you can earn.  It all revolves around the term Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) which the Social Security Administration defines based upon your situation.

A primer on the subject is the Red Book {A Summary Guide to Employment Supports for Persons with Disabilities Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs}, which can also be found on the agency’s FAQ site by clicking here.   However, NOLO provides perhaps a more easily read explanation.

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Last Updated:  18 December 2016 (Earning Income SSDI/SSI added)

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