What is the difference between VA Disability and Social Security Disability Benefits?
If I am a disabled veteran can I file for both VA and Social Security disability?
Author Attorney Greg Reed:
Veterans Administration (VA) disability compensation is a tax-free benefit paid to veterans due to injuries and diseases incurred while in military service. The disability can be a physical injury or illness or a mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are a veteran who was injured while in military service and became unable to work, should you apply for Social Security Disability benefits or Veterans Administration disability benefits? Can you receive both SSDI and VA benefits? How are they different?
There are differences in eligibility requirements, application process, and compensation, but perhaps the most important distinction between SSDI and VA disability benefits is the way the two agencies define “disability.”
The Social Security Administration has an all or nothing definition: an applicant is either 100% disabled and unable to work or they are not disabled. The Veterans Administration bases its definition of disability on the severity of the individual’s condition or injury. A person might be 10% disabled if they injured their wrist, or 30% disabled if they hurt their back and one knee. Each disability is evaluated separately, receiving a separate disability rating.
You do not need to be totally disabled to receive VA disability benefits; an individual can receive a 10% rating and still receive some disability benefits.
Applicants do not have to prove a loss of earnings to qualify or an inability to earn income, but must meet the following requirements:
- Must qualify as a veteran;
- Must be at least 10% disabled by an injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training.
In addition, the applicant must be discharged under conditions that were not dishonorable.
Applicants must submit all relevant evidence to their claim as well as information sufficient to enable the VA to obtain any evidence not in the applicant’s possession.
Evidence should include:
- Discharge or separation papers;
- Service treatment records;
- Medical reports from doctors, hospitals; and
- Reports from employers or government agencies.
The length of time the process takes varies by region and depends on the number of disabilities claimed and their severity as well as the availability of evidence.
Each disability is evaluated separately. It is the VA’s responsibility to obtain relevant records from federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration or VA medical centers and provide a medical examination if necessary. It is the claimant’s responsibility to obtain records from private doctors and hospitals and employers. The VA’s goal is to issue decisions on claims within 125 days of submission. Any claim taking longer is termed “backlogged.” In January 2017 a Fully Developed Claim, (a claim that includes all evidence and records when submitted), took 119 days to process. While standard claims for SSDI may take three months to 2 years for approval, veterans can receive expedited processing of disability claims from Social Security through its Wounded Warrior program.
If you have been denied disability don’t give up! Contact a Disability lawyer at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and get the benefits you deserve.
The amount of compensation awarded by the VA depends on the severity of an individual’s disability.
In addition, a claimant with dependents who is at least 30% disabled can receive more benefits. The VA follows a rating scale with adjusted amounts of compensation. For example, a veteran, alone, who is rated 10% disabled will receive $144.14 per month, $284.93 if 20% disabled, and $441.35 if 30% disabled. A veteran with a spouse, parents or children can receive close to $550 per month if 30% disabled and more than $3,500 per month if rated 100% disabled.
VA disability benefits generally last as long as the veteran is disabled and until death.
A claimant may be re-evaluated six months after leaving service and between 2-5 years later. An individual’s disability rating can be increased, decreased, or remain the same. If a rating is lowered, benefit payments may be lowered or even discontinued if the VA decides the individual is no longer disabled. However, if a veteran is totally disabled and has received benefits for 20 years or more, their benefits cannot be reduced. If the veteran is less than permanently disabled and has received benefits for at least 20 years and their disability rating is lowered, their benefit amount will not be reduced below the original amount received. If a veteran was 50% disabled for 20 years and their rating is lowered to 20%, the veteran will still receive benefits at the 50% rate.
Can a veteran receive both SSDI and VA disability benefits at the same time?
Yes, because VA benefits are not based on income. However, a person who is approved for SSDI will not always be awarded VA disability benefits. The claimant’s condition must be related to military service which can be difficult to determine if there are multiple physical and mental issues involved.
Why should you file for VA disability benefits if you are already receiving SSDI?
- VA disability benefits are tax-free and will not affect government payments such as Social Security;
- VA benefits have no age limits whereas SSDI terminates at age 66 when the recipient receives Social Security Retirement;
- The VA benefit amount can be substantial, in some cases over $3,000; and
- VA benefits accumulate during the claims process.
If you are receiving VA benefits, should you apply for SSDI?
If you meet the eligibility requirements of the Social Security Administration – that is, your disability is total and your condition is expected to last 12 months – you may be awarded SSDI benefits in addition to your VA benefits and SSDI payments will not be offset by any compensation you receive from the VA.
There are several ways to apply for disability benefits with the Veterans Administration:
- Apply online using an eBenefits account
- Apply in person at a regional VA office
- Mail VA Form 21-526EZ with copies of service treatment records to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
P.O. Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
- Fax to (844) 531-7818 (inside U.S.) or (248) 524-4260 (outside U.S.)
The Veterans Administration also recommends obtaining assistance from an attorney or other representative when filing a claim.
Filing for either VA benefits or SSDA can be confusing for an individual who is inexperienced with the process. It is always a good idea to seek guidance from a qualified professional.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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