Over 1 million American veterans have a VA disability rating of 70% or higher. According to the VA’s disability percentage breakdown, a rating of 70% or more indicates that a veteran’s condition is severe enough to prevent them from working regularly or living without assistance of some kind. This is also part of the requirement for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), which is provided to Americans who are considered “totally and permanently disabled”.
So what are the differences between these programs? Why are they separate, how do you qualify, and what are the benefits of each? Below, we will look at these questions and more, from the start of your application to the benefits provided after acceptance.
Qualifying for Benefits
SSDI and VA benefits are both government programs designed to help disabled Americans receive benefits. However, each program has slightly different requirements in order to qualify. The largest differences are within the following:
- General qualification. As is probably the most obvious difference, VA benefits are only provided to US veterans. SSDI, on the other hand, is available to any US resident with a disability that prevents them from living or working normally.
- Percentage of disability. When disabled veterans are assessed for their conditions, they are awarded benefits in proportion to their percentage of disability — 10% being the lowest, 100% being the highest. SSDI, however, is not awarded on a percentage basis — applicants are simply either approved or denied benefits.
- Disability assessment. Veteran Affairs uses military doctors and other health personnel to evaluate veterans for their disability. Because any American can apply for SSDI, there is no “official” physician that can approve or deny you for certain benefits. Instead, applicants must reference the listing for their condition in the Blue Book (a listing of all SSA-approved disabilities) and consult with their physicians to compile test results, medication lists, hospitalization history, and physicians notes to prove your eligibility. However, SSDI applicants who already receive VA benefits and have a disability percentage of 70% or higher are much more likely to receive SSDI.
- Application wait time. Both VA disability and SSDI can have a significant wait time before a benefits decision is released. SSDI recipients typically wait anywhere from a few months to over a year for a benefits decision. Because VA benefits allow more leniency when submitting medical records, VA applicants can wait anywhere from a few months to 2 or 3 years to receive a decision. However, in both cases, there are methods to fast track your claim. VA applicants who were POWs or experienced military sexual trauma or PTSD automatically have their claims fast-tracked. SSDI applicants who were active military service members on or after October 1, 2001 also receive automatically fast-tracked claims.
Benefits of SSDI and VA Disability
Both SSDI and VA benefits provide monthly benefits to millions of US residents. These benefits vary slightly in the following ways:
- Benefit Amount. VA benefit recipients are provided monthly funds in proportion to their level of disability. In contrast, SSDI benefits are awarded based on the recipient’s history of contributing to Social Security through taxes. Those with more history of providing receive higher monthly benefits (on average, around $1,100/month.)
- Ability to work. Veterans with low disability percentages (typically 60% or lower) are considered able (and allowed) to work. However, veterans with a disability rating of 70% or higher, as well as SSDI recipients, are considered unfit for work. Those who are able and choose to return to work may have their VA benefits reduced or may lose SSDI altogether after an initial trial work period. However, certain forms of income (such as non-working military pay) does not count towards disqualifying you from either of these benefit programs.
- Insurance. Veterans receiving VA disability are automatically covered by TRICARE benefits, which cover a variety of health costs deemed “medically necessary” for a veteran’s condition. SSDI recipients receive Medicare, which covers a majority of medical costs, typically regardless of condition. Those who receive VA benefits and SSDI receive Medicare as primary insurance and TRICARE as secondary insurance.
Starting Your Application(s)
If you are caught between which program to apply for, there is good news — a large portion of severely disabled veterans receive both SSDI and VA benefits simultaneously. They do not conflict with each other in any way.
The application for VA disability (also called the VONAPP) can be found on the VA forms website. SSDI applications can also be found online via the SSA’s main website. In addition to normal medical and financial paperwork, be sure to have the following with you before you apply for either program:
- Form DD 214 (if you were discharged from the military)
- Proof of military pay or workers’ comp
- Military or civilian medical records that support your disability (medical tests, physician’s notes, therapy documentation, etc.)
Speaking With a Disability Attorney
If you are in need of assistance at any point in the application process, it may be helpful to speak with a local disability attorney along the way. Their legal knowledge is not only statistically proven to help you get benefits, but it is financially sound. In fact, disability attorneys are federally required to work on contingency, meaning they only receive payment if they win your case. Should you be interested, a free consultation with a disability attorney near you is only a phone call away.