SSA and VA Disability Benefits: Tips for Veterans

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Connecting Veterans with Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits is a critical step to increasing income stability for Veterans and their families, as well as providing health insurance for those who may not qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. Veterans may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), in conjunction with, or as an alternative to VA disability compensation. They may also use the Medicaid and Medicare health benefits that come with SSI/SSDI to supplement VA health services.

The definition of disability and application process is different for SSA and VA disability benefits, and Veterans may begin receiving SSA benefits while they are waiting on a VA benefit decision.  In some cases an active duty service member awaiting MEB/PEB discharge may also qualify while still active duty. 

DEFINITION OF DISABILITY

VA Benefits

For disability benefits through the VA, also known as service-connected disability, the applicant must show that they have a disabling condition that was “incurred or aggravated by their military service.1” The compensation rates are paid on a graduated scale, based on the degree of a Veteran’s disability, ranging from 10 to 100 percent, in 10 percent increments. 

SSA Benefits 

Alternatively, the definition of disability for SSI/SSDI does not require the Veteran’s disability to be linked to their military service, does not take into account a Veteran’s discharge status, and does not pay on a graduated scale. For SSI/SSDI, the Veteran needs to show:

  1. Evidence of a physical or mental health condition, which results in functional impairments that limit their ability to work at a substantial gainful level (quantified as $1,260/month in 2020).
  2. That the disabling condition has lasted, or is expected to last, for 12 months or end in death.

SSA EXPEDITED PROCESSING FOR VETERANS

Veterans may qualify for programs from SSA that expedite disability decisions:

  1. 100% Permanent and Total Veterans Initiative In March 2014, SSA introduced a new initiative to expedite the processing of applications from Veterans who have a 100% Permanent and Total (P&T) disability rating from the VA. To receive expedited processing, Veterans should identify themselves as a “Veteran rated 100% P&T” when initiating the SSI/SSDI application, and should provide the VA rating notification letter to SSA.
  2. Wounded Warriors Veterans who received disabling mental or physical health injuries while on active duty on or after October 1, 2001 are eligible for expedited SSI/SSDI application processing. The injury does not need to have occurred during combat operations. When initiating the SSI/SSDI application, Veterans should inform SSA that their injury occurred while on active duty.
  3. When filing for SSDI make sure you include all VA disability determination letters, a copy of your Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam results and a personal statement on how ALL your disabilities affect you on a daily basis and how they affect your ability to work. Include statements from co-workers and family or have them fill out a

HOW SSA AND VA DISABILITY BENEFITS IMPACT ONE ANOTHER

Veterans who receive a partial VA disability rating and limited VA benefits, may also receive SSA benefits. For cash benefits, the receipt of VA benefits will affect SSI and SSDI differently. 

SSI

 Since SSI is a needs-based program, additional income from VA benefits will affect the cash benefit amount. SSA classifies VA benefits as “unearned income,” since it does not come from paid employment. As such, it will be deducted dollar for dollar from the SSI federal payment amount, after a general exclusion of $20. All SSI recipients are eligible for this exclusion, where the first $20 of earned or unearned income is not counted against their SSI payment.

For example, Paul receives partial VA benefits of $400 per month, and has been approved for SSI. The following table illustrates how the VA benefits will affect his SSI cash benefit:

The monthly maximum Federal amounts for 2020 are $783 for an eligible individual, $1,175 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse.

SSDI

Alternatively, SSDI benefits are not affected by unearned income through VA benefits. In the following example, Jane receives partial VA benefits of $400 per month. Because she worked and paid into the Social Security system, she now receives $850 per month in SSDI. Her VA and SSDI monthly benefit amounts will be added together: 

The monthly level of substantial gainful activity for 2020 is $1,260/month (non-Blind) and $2,110/month (Blind).  If you earn over $910/month you will be placed on Trial Work Period (TWP).

SS Retirement and SSDI

If you are collecting SS Retirement you cannot also collect SSDI.

How to file for SSDI

In order to file for SSDI fill out a SSA-16 Application for Disability Insurance Benefits or file online here: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityonline/  

You will need to fill out a SSA-3373-BK Function Report – Adult

You will also be filing a SSA-3369-BK Work History Report

You can also help your claim by having a spouse, family member or co-worker fill out a SSA-3380-BK Function Report - Adult - Third Party Form

CAUTION: You may be able to file for both SSI and SSDI but you will nto get both. That usually happens when a person qualifies for both and the SSI claim will process faster. 

CAUTION: You may be told you no longer qualify for SSDI because you have been out of work too long. This may not be true if you were insured when you became totally disabled. Always verify if you were insured on the date you became disabled.

CAUTION: Always check your own account online here at the MY SS website 

RESOURCES:

USING THE SOAR MODEL TO ASSIST VETERANS

The SOAR (SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access, and Recovery) model assists Veterans nationwide who are experiencing or at-risk of homelessness in accessing SSA disability benefits. Training in the SOAR model is available, free of charge, from the SAMHSA SOAR Technical Assistance Center. For more information on SOAR, contact SOAR@prainc.com or visit http://soarworks.prainc.com

NATIONAL CALL CENTER FOR HOMELESS VETERANS

If you, or a Veteran you know, is experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, make the call to 877-4AID-VET (424-3838) to access 24/7 confidential support and connect with VA services. 

More information about SSA expedited processing can be found at: www.socialsecurity.gov/veterans

DAH 11/15/2019