Social Security & VA Benefits for Disabled Veterans
An overview of two distinct benefit programs available to veterans who've become disabled.
The United States has been engaged in the longest military campaigns in the nation’s history. As a result, thousands of veterans are returning home with significant physical and mental disabilities.
These veterans are eligible for benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and by the Social Security Administration (SSA). VA benefits and SSA benefits are defined and administered by two different sets of statutes and regulations.
The VA offers two major disability benefits programs to veterans: service-connected disability compensation and non-service connected pension.
Service-connected disability is available to veterans if:
- They were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable;
- Their disability was incurred in the line of duty; and
- The disability is not the result of their own misconduct or abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
Veterans entitled to disability compensation receive payment based on a rating scheduled, which rates disability for multiple body systems (musculoskeletal, respiratory, etc.) and mental impairments. These ratings are in increments of 10% and go up to 100%. A veteran can be employed and still receive disability compensation.
VA pension benefits are separate and distinct from VA compensation benefits. To be eligible for pension benefits a veteran must have:
- Served during wartime;
- Be of low income; and
- Have a total and permanent disability.
The disability does not need to be connected to their military service. For example, a homeless Iraq veteran who is totally disabled because of a non-service connected mental condition can collect VA pension benefits.
Although a veteran may work and collect service-connected compensation, working will prevent a veteran from collection pension benefits since the VA must find the veteran totally disabled and in financial need.
Social Security Disability
Social Security Disability is a Federal program created to help people with illnesses or injuries which prevent them from working. The legal definition of Social Security Disability is as follows:
"The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."
You do not have to be totally incapacitated to receive Social Security Disability nor do you have to be of retirement age.
Two Programs For Disabled People
Social Security Disability benefits are given to people falling into one of two categories. The first is the Social Security Disability program. These are called Title II cases. People are eligible for the Social Security Disability program if they have worked and paid into the Social Security system.
The second category is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability program. These are called SSI or Title XVI cases. Title XVI applicants are people who have never worked or who have worked but have not paid enough into the Social Security Disability system. SSI applicants must meet an assets and resources test to be eligible for SSI benefits.
Medicare and Medicaid Benefits
If an individual is successful in getting Social Security Disability or SSI, he will become eligible for medical benefits. If the claimant is receiving benefits under Title II, he will become eligible for Medicare two years from the date his benefits first began. If an individual is eligible for SSI benefits, he can become eligible for Medicaid during the first month of his disability.
People Who Can Apply for Title II and Title XVI Benefits
The following individuals can apply for Title II benefits:
- Disabled workers under 65 years of age, if the worker has paid sufficient Social Security taxes;
- A person continuously disabled since childhood (under age 22), if one of the parents who is covered under Social Security retires at age 62 or older, becomes disabled or dies; and
- A disabled widow or widower, age 50 to 60 years, if the deceased spouse was covered under Social Security.
The following individuals can apply for Title XVI benefits:
- An adult (age 18 and over) who meets the income and resources requirement;
- An adult who meets the definition of statutory blindness; and
- A child (under age 18) whose parents meet the income and resources requirements.
Who Can Get Both?
All military service members have paid into Social Security since January 1, 1957. Since VA benefits and Social Security Disability benefits are administered by different entities, a finding by the VA that one is disabled does not require the SSA to agree. Likewise, a finding of disability by the SSA does not require the VA to agree. However, courts have ruled that the VA must obtain and consider the records relied on by the SSA.
A serious disability resulting from military service may entitle an individual to Social Security Disability and VA disability compensation. A disabled veteran may receive both.
For example, a veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to military-related events and who is unable to work can apply for and receive Social Security Disability and VA disability compensation.
However, a veteran who is working and receiving VA disability compensation is not eligible for Social Security Disability because the first requirement for Social Security Disability is that the applicant is unable to work.
A veteran who is poor, lacks a work record, and qualifies for a pension must be careful. Although SSI benefits will not count against a VA pension, the SSA will reduce or eliminate SSI payments when one begins to receive a pension. Furthermore, loss of SSI can mean loss of Medicaid eligibility.
In any Social Security Disability Hearing, the claimant should produce evidence and testimony regarding the receipt of VA compensation benefits. The SSA Law Judge must consider this evidence in making any decision.
In short, veterans who are eligible should apply for VA service-connected compensation. Depending on their VA disability and rating they may be eligible for additional Social Security Disability compensation. Veterans who have SSI should be cautious about applying for service-connected pensions since a VA service-connected pension could cause the loss of Medicaid.
In all events, disabled veterans should seek consultation with a Social Security Disability attorney who has experience with Social Security Disability benefits and VA benefits.