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How Veterans Can Use VA Eligibility to Support a SSDI Claim

November 23, 2016
SSDI - How Veterans Can Use VA Eligibility to Support a SSDI Claim

When U.S. military veterans start receiving Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability benefits, they may not be aware that their successful application can also support a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim. This can impact the claims of several female veterans in particular.

At one time, female military personnel were not as likely to regard themselves as veterans and apply for the disability benefits they were entitled to. In 2000, women accounted for only 5.2% of disability recipients. That is slowly changing: in 2015 the number of female veterans receiving disability compensation was at 9.3%, which is an encouraging sign that women are receiving the government support they have earned.

Does Qualifying for VA Benefits Improve Eligibility for SSDI?

If you are receiving VA benefits because you have a medical disability, your chances of a successful Social Security Administration (SSA) claim are increased because a Veteran’s Administration definition of ‘unemployability’ and the SSA criteria for disability are alike in several important respects.

Unemployability Defined

To be eligible for an ‘unemployability’ rating, a military veteran must meet one of the following criteria:

  • A disability evaluation of 60% or more based on a single service-connected injury
  • A combined disability evaluation of 70% or more based on several service-related disabilities, with at least one rated at 40% or more

In either instance, the applicant is considered unemployable because they are unable to maintain substantially gainful employment as a result of their service-connected disability (or disabilities). By gainful employment, the VA refers to full-time work that pays a wage greater than the poverty level.

This criteria is close to the SSA definition of disability, which is a physical or mental condition that prevents you from doing significant work and is expected to last at least a year or end in death. The SSA will also expedite the disability applications of ex-military personnel who have been deemed unemployable by the Veteran’s Administration and meet one (or both) of the following criteria:

  • Serving in the armed forces after October 1, 2001 and becoming disabled while on active duty
  • Permanent and total VA disability rating of 100%

How Veterans Qualify for SSA Benefits

Former members of the U.S. military are only eligible for SSDI if they worked full-time for at least five of the previous ten years. (If you wait too long after becoming disabled to apply, it may affect your eligibility.) You must be unable to maintain gainful employment and your claim must be accompanied by medical proof that your disability is expected to last at least one year.

Your SSA monthly benefit is calculated according to how much you earned in both your military and civilian occupations. If you served in 2001 or earlier your earnings receive special credits for calculation purposes. For those who served between 1957 and 1977, credits are the equivalent of $300 for each quarter of active duty pay. Serving between 1978 and 2001 entitles you to credits equal to an additional $100 for every $300 you received. Credits are no longer supplemented after 2002.

Veterans who served before 1957, when the military was included in the Social Security system, are credited with $160 in earnings when their Social Security benefits are computed.

How to Apply for Both SSDI and VA Benefits

To be eligible for SSDI benefits as a disabled veteran, you must meet a listing in the Blue Book, which is the SSA catalog of recognized disabilities and the criteria for meeting each one. Your application needs to be accompanied by comprehensive medical documentation and a completed Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form, which the SSA will use to assess the extent to which your disability has impacted your ability to maintain gainful employment.

This process is similar to the VA disability application process: you must file VA Form 21-526 (the Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension) and discharge or separation paperwork, along with copies of medical records and proof that the disability was caused by active service. Like SSDI recipients, those with dependents are eligible for larger payments.

There are no actual impediments or conflicts when it comes to applying for both SSDI and VA benefits, because neither program is offset by other income or needs-based. It is important to remember, however, that SSDI can lower your monthly VA pension payments, as VA is income-based.

For more information about VA and SSA benefits and how to apply for both, visit the SSA website at https://www.ssa.gov/ and the Veteran’s Administration website at http://www.va.gov/. You may also contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 and the VA at 1-800-827-1000.

This article was written by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at http://www.disability-benefits-help.org or by contacting them at help@ssd-help.org.