Veterans Guide to Social Security Disability


Veterans who have been awarded service-connected disability insurance from the Department of Veterans Affairs may also be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. You may even be eligible for expedited claims processing, although this still takes a significant chunk of time and can be held up by missing information, delays in getting medical records, and mistakes in the application.

The requirements for Social Security benefits are different from those of veterans disability insurance, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not bound by the decision of the VA. That means that you may have been approved for veterans disability insurance, but that decision has no influence on the SSA’s own determination.

Still, SSA regulations state that Social Security “will consider all of the supporting evidence underlying the other governmental agency‘s decision that [it receives] as evidence in your claim.”

That’s good news, especially if your disability attorney understands how the VA’s disability determination process works.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits as a Veteran

As a veteran, your disability application will be evaluated according to the same five-step sequential framework that is used for other SSDI applicants.

Step 1: SSA determines whether or not you are engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA), usually because of earnings that exceed the SGA limit.

Step 2: A state-based claims analyst will decide whether you have a severe impairment — one that is expected to keep you from working for at least 12 months or will result in your death.

Step 3: If your impairment is severe, it will be compared with SSA’s Listing of Impairments, also called the “Blue Book.” If your impairment does not meet or exceed a listing, the claims analyst will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC), which is a measure of your ability to engage in work activities.

Step 4: SSA will look at your work history and your RFC to determine whether you can do the work you’ve most recently been doing or any other work you’ve done in the past.

Step 5: SSA will consider your education, variety of experience, age, and other factors to decide whether you can be expected to learn to do some other kind of work that exists at a reasonable level in the national economy.

Veterans with a VA Compensation Rate of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T) qualify for expedited processing.

Two important points:

  • Veterans rated 100% P&T are not guaranteed SSDI benefits.
  • Generally, expedited processing still takes a number of months.

Differences between Veterans Disability Benefits and SSDI

The two primary differences between VA disability benefits and SSDI are these:

  • Your illness or injury — or the aggravation of it — must have been a result of military service.
  • The VA will award partial disability benefits based upon the severity of your disability. SSA takes an all-or-nothing approach. Either you meet the criteria or you don’t.

As we’ve said, a 100% P&T rate does not mean you will be approved for SSDI, but certainly, the higher your P&T rate, the higher your likelihood of a favorable determination from SSA.

Two ways the programs are the same:

  • Service connected VA disability benefits will not affect your SSDI benefits, nor will your SSDI benefits affect your VA disability benefits.
  • Benefits from both programs also count toward your resource limit for determining Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Using Medical Evidence from Your VA Disability Claim

If you’ve been through the VA disability process already, you know that after a claim is submitted, most applicants are scheduled for a Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exam. This exam includes a basic physical assessment and questions based on your medical records, including questions from the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for your condition(s). The provider may also ask you to get other tests.

Depending on the nature of your condition, the DBQ might contain questions about your physical capacity — how much you can lift, for example, how long you can sit or stand, or to what degree you can grip, reach or pinch.

Near the end of the DBQ, the provider is asked to make a determination about your condition’s impact on your ability to work.

All of the medical evidence gained through the C&P exam — including the critical details about your functional capacity — can be used as part of your SSD claim. If you have more than one C&P exam, the evidence from the additional exams can be used, as well.

If you are not required to have a C&P exam, it is because your medical and service records alone are enough evidence of a service-connected disability. Can those records be used for your SSDI claim? You bet.

Accessing Your VA Medical Records and C&P Exam Reports

The results of your C&P exams and your DBQs will be in your VA claims file, often called the C-file. In addition to the C&P, your C-file contains:

  • Claims you’ve made for benefits for service-connected disabilities
  • Medical and service records related to claims made
  • Your disability rating decisions

Every veteran is entitled to a free copy of his or her C-file, but it can take months to receive it. You can request a copy from your regional office using VA Form 3288, Request for and Consent to Release of Information from Individual Records.

You also have the right to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request. FOIA is the law that governs the rights of individuals and groups to request public records from government organizations.

Your other medical records from the VA can be downloaded from your Premium My HealtheVet Account.

If it sounds like a lot of red tape, don’t worry. When we work with veterans filing Social Security Disability claims, we will work to obtain your medical records and continue to follow up until we have everything we need.

If You’re Denied for Social Security Disability Benefits

Veterans who are receiving VA disability benefits may be denied SSDI for a variety of reasons, but they typically boil down to the main difference between the programs — partial disability rating versus all-or-nothing.

For example, if you have a lower disability rating from the VA, you might still be working too much to remain under the threshold for substantial gainful activity. Or your impairment might not be considered “severe” — that is, expected to last for at least 12 months or result in your death.

SSA might also rule that, based on your residual functional capacity, you are still able to perform the work you were doing or have done or, if not, some other type of work.

No matter what the reason, you are entitled to the same appeals process as other SSDI applicants. One thing we are looking for when we review a veteran’s case is evidence that SSA has considered all the records that led to your award of veterans benefits. Remember, while SSA doesn’t have to lend weight to your VA disability rating, regulations require the underlying evidence for your VA case to be thoroughly reviewed.

Let Joyce & Bary Law review your case.

The disability team at Joyce & Bary Law has extensive experience working with disabled veterans to obtain SSDI benefits. We know how to obtain your claims file and medical records and will walk you through the entire process. Call our office or complete the form below to get started.

More resources for veterans:

Department of Veterans Affairs

Department of Defense

Social Security Administration

For veterans in crisis:

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