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Todd R. Renda, Social Security Disability and SSI Disability Attorney

Can I still get Social Security benefits even if I am already on a disability by the Veterans Administration?

Getting Both Social Security and VA Veterans Disability Benefits

If your VA benefits are service connected, you can receive both VA and Social Security Disability benefits without offset. If you’re currently receiving Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability benefits, you may also be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Combined VA and SSA benefits can help ease the financial burden for you and your family when disability prevents or reduces earnings from employment. 

VA Disability vs. Social Security Disability

Although disabled veterans can receive VA and SSDI benefits at the same time, different agencies or administrations still pay these benefits. In other words, the VA and SSA issue monthly benefits separately.

The VA also pays benefits commensurate with level of disability, so recipients that are 100% Permanently and Totally Disabled (100% P & T) receive higher monthly payments than those with a 60% or 40% disability rating. The SSA however bases disability payments on your average earnings from your work history record.

The Difference Between Social Security and Veterans Disability

One major difference between Social Security disability and veterans’ disability is that you don’t need to be totally disabled in order to be eligible for VA compensation. In fact, most veterans who receive VA compensation do not receive a total disability rating. Veterans can receive a compensable rating as low as 10% or lower.

There are additionally some differences in qualification rules for VA verses Social Security disability. Veterans can be partially disabled and still receive disability from the VA. In order to qualify for Social Security disability though, your impairment either must prevent employment completely or prohibit you from participating in “substantial gainful activity.” This means the SSA only approves benefits for people with a severe impairment that stops them from earning a living.

These separate qualification processes mean some veterans can get VA disability but won’t qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The SSA however rarely, if ever, denies benefits for veterans that are 100% P & T if the veteran meets all other SSDI eligibility requirements.

Does Getting Benefits in one Program Help Getting Benefits in the Other Program?

Overall, the answer is maybe; it depends on your circumstances. In 2017, Social Security published new regulations saying that Social Security will no longer take VA approvals for disability compensation into account when deciding whether to grant disability benefits. In addition, written denials or hearing decisions from Social Security will no longer provide any information on whether the agency considered the VA's approval in its determination.

Social Security will, however, consider any evidence that the VA considers in making its disability determination. The VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) share medical records electronically with Social Security, which will use the evidence in evaluating its applications for Social Security disability insurance and SSI. Social Security may also use VA or DOD evidence to expedite processing of claims for Wounded Warriors and veterans with a 100% disability compensation rating.

Social Security approval does not necessarily help you get VA benefits.

If you are disabled under SSA rules, the VA may not give Social Security's decision much weight, since it's not usually clear whether the disability is based on service-connected or non-service disabilities. Many veterans have several disabilities, and the VA can be quick to attribute total disability to a host of non-service disabilities. Also, a veteran must be able to show specifically which disabilities prevent employability. To convince the VA that the veteran is unemployable and that his or her disability was caused by service-connected impairments, a veteran may need to hire a vocational expert to specifically attribute the unemployability to service-related disabilities.

Although the VA will give a Social Security disability decision no special deference, the VA is required to consider Social Security records. Medical records in your Social Security file could provide key evidence for your VA claim.

How the SSA Handles Veterans’ Applications.

Social Security Disability Insurance is a federal program that provides income through a public insurance program. This program is not affiliated with the VA or the DoD and is available to veterans and non-veterans alike. To qualify for SSDI you must have, “a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death,” and meet a “recent work” test and “duration of work” test. Qualifying for compensation through the DoD or the VA does not mean that you automatically qualify for benefits under SSDI. The Social Security Administration (SSA) approves SSDI payments using its own set of qualifications. Medical history is the single most important factor in receiving benefits under SSDI. Which means your VA medical records and military records can play an important role in proving to the SSA that you qualify for SSDI.

Todd Renda