Across all age groups, veterans have a higher rate of disability than non-veterans, according to the US Census Bureau. Depending on the degree of disability, you may face substantial medical expenses, barriers to employment, and trouble financially supporting yourself or your family.
If you are a disabled military service member, you may qualify for SSDI for veterans. In this post, our team of experienced Social Security disability lawyers in New York provides an overview of the benefits you may be able to collect as a veteran. If you have any questions, contact Pyrros, Serres, & Rupwani LLP.
What Exactly Is SSDI?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides financial assistance to people who can’t work due to disability. It is a federal insurance program funded by payroll taxes on workers and employers. To collect SSDI, you must have worked and earned enough credits prior to claiming benefits.
SSDI is different from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, which are for people with low incomes and disabilities who are not able to work. Both programs assist individuals with disabilities, but SSI is based on economic need, while SSDI is based on work history. Your monthly SSDI payment amount depends on how much you paid into the program while you were able to work and how old you are when you draw the benefits.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), in December 2020, nearly 7.5 million people collected SSI benefits only, 3.4 million collected SSI benefits only, and almost 1.2 million collected both types of benefits simultaneously.
Can I Collect Both SSDI and VA Disability?
Yes, you can collect SSDI and VA benefits at the same time. The New York City Department of Veterans’ Services reports that 26.6% of veterans in New York City have a disability.
Because SSDI benefits are not need-based, income from the VA in the form of a military pension or disability compensation does not affect your monthly payment. Again, this is in contrast to SSI payments, which may decrease as a result of unearned income in the form of VA benefits.
How Are SSDI and VA Benefits Different?
While you can collect SSDI and VA disability benefits simultaneously, the programs are different:
- Separate government agencies: The SSA administers SSDI benefits, while the VA administers VA disability compensation.
- Different approval processes: You must submit two different applications that have their own requirements. Even if the VA and SSA look at the same evidence, the agencies may come to different conclusions.
- Varying eligibility requirements: Each agency defines disability differently. You may qualify for disability benefits from one agency and not the other. Or you may qualify at both agencies but for different impairments.
- Different benefit amounts: Your SSDI payment depends on the number of credits you earned while working. VA payments, on the other hand, depend on the severity of your disability as evidenced by your VA rating.
- Different processing speeds: The two agencies don’t work through applications at the same rate. Depending on when and where you submit your claim, you may wait months or years for a final decision.
- Different tax implications: You do not have to pay taxes on your VA benefits. However, you may have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits, depending on the amount you collect.
What Are the Qualifications for VA Disability Benefits?
To qualify for VA benefits, you must meet the following criteria:
- You currently suffer from a service-related injury, service-related physical or mental illness, or a preexisting condition that worsened during your time in the military.
- You can prove the connection between your disability and your military service.
- You were not dishonorably discharged from the military.
You may qualify for VA benefits whether you served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. Reserve military personnel of these branches may also qualify, as can cadets attending military academies.
In addition, your VA disability benefit amount depends on your degree of disability. To quantify this, the VA assigns a disability rating in 10% increments, ranging from 10% to 100%. Your rating may change over time as your condition improves or worsens.
If you don’t have a 100% VA disability rating but your service-related injury has made you unable to work, you may qualify for a special benefit called VA Individual Unemployability. Also known as Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), these benefits pay out at 100%.
What Are the Qualifications for SSDI Benefits?
Unlike the VA, the SSA either considers you to have a disability or not — there are no partial payments. In addition, your condition does not need to relate to military service to qualify for SSDI. The eligibility requirements include the following:
- You must have a mental or physical impairment that prevents you from working at a substantially gainful activity at the time of application.
- Your condition must be expected to last for at least 12 months or be terminal.
- You must be under the age of 65.
- You must have earned 20 Social Security credits in the previous 10 years before your disability started.
Can Veterans Qualify for Expedited SSA Processing?
One instance in which SSA and veterans’ disability benefits work together involves the expedited processing of claims. Veterans may qualify for expedited processing of SSDI (or SSI) benefits through the following programs:
100% Permanent and Total (P&T) Veterans Initiative
In 2014, the SSA introduced a new initiative to fast-track claims from veterans meeting the VA’s P&T criteria. P&T veterans have a 100% disability rating and a condition that doctors don’t expect to improve. For expedited SSI and SSDI processing, applicants should identify themselves as a “veteran rated 100% P&T” and should provide the VA rating notification letter to SSA.
The SSA gives these applications high priority but does not ensure approval for either SSDI or SSI benefits.
The Wounded Warriors initiative expedites the applications for SSI and SSDI for veterans who sustained disabling injuries while on active duty on or after October 1, 2001. The injury doesn’t need to have occurred during combat operations. Applicants should inform the SSA that their injury occurred while on active duty.
How Do Social Security Disability Lawyers Help Veterans?
Since the VA and SSA are different government agencies with different guidelines, qualifying for one set of benefits doesn’t mean you will qualify for the other. Even if you have a 100% VA disability rating, the SSA may deny your claim.
That’s why it is essential to prepare a strong case with help from an experienced attorney. SSDI lawyers can help you do the following:
- Determine whether you should apply for SSDI or SSI benefits for your disability. This will depend on a variety of factors, including your work history and your current assets.
- Gather evidence to submit with your application. Disabilities without visible symptoms may prove more challenging to prove than those with obvious physical symptoms.
- Appeal an SSDI denial. You typically only have 60 days after receiving a denial to appeal the claim, so you must act quickly.
Contact Social Security Disability Lawyers in NYC at Pyrros, Serres, & Rupwani LLP
To learn more about which types of Social Security benefits you may qualify for, check out our blog post on SSD vs. SSI.
If you’d like more information about SSDI for veterans, need help applying for benefits, or want assistance filing an appeal, reach out to the Social Security disability lawyers at Pyrros, Serres, & Rupwani LLP. Call us at (718) 626-7730 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.