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Can Veterans Qualify for VA Disability and SSDI?

Veterans May Be Eligible for Both VA Disability and SSDI

By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

Connelly Law Offices Disability Benefits
Attorney RJ Connelly III

"If you are a veteran, you may be eligible for both the VA disability and the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)," said professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "But there is a caveat, and an important one, receiving one benefit can affect the other, so it's imperative to understand the differences between the two."

"To be eligible for the VA disability benefit, the veteran must have suffered an illness or an injury during their military service or have a condition aggravated by the services," stated Attorney Connelly. "Disability benefits through the VA are tax-free and meant to assist the veteran in helping with expenses of daily living and ongoing medical care."

"Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are for those with disabilities and have paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes. The individual's work history and income become the qualifiers for SSDI and don't specifically relate to their military service."

Dual Benefits Affect Benefit Amounts

"The caveat I alluded to earlier now comes into play, if a veteran is getting a VA disability benefit and SSDI, the SSDI amount is reduced because the Social Security Administration (SSA) views the VA benefits as income," said Attorney Connelly. "Even so, veterans can still receive VA and SSDI benefits if they meet certain requirements."

Connelly Law Offices Disability Benefits
It's important to understand benefits

"For example, a veteran can have a VA disability rating of 100 percent; in this case, the SSA considers the veteran to be 'permanently and totally' disabled. In some cases, a veteran may even be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or a veteran's pension," stated Attorney Connelly. "But remember, SSI and VA pensions are considered needs-based, meaning the assistance is subject to income caps. In most cases, veterans with a disability rating of 70 percent or more are usually unable to work, which may make them eligible for additional assistance."

Qualifying for VA Disability Benefits

"If a veteran receives VA disability and SSDI, the SSDI amount is reduced because the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers VA disability benefits as income," stated Attorney Connelly. "Even so, veterans can receive VA disability and SSDI benefits if they meet the appropriate requirements. For example, a veteran can have a VA disability rating of 100 percent, and the SSA will consider this individual to be 'permanently and totally disabled'.”

Connelly Law Offices Disability Benefits
There are specific criteria for qualifying

"In some cases, veterans can even access Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or veterans' pensions, which can provide additional financial assistance. But remember, SSI and VA pensions are needs-based, so veterans must be below certain resource or income caps."

"Veterans with a disability rating of 70 percent or more are often unable to work. However, even those veterans with a rating below 70 percent disability may still be eligible for SSDI and SSI if their circumstances warrant," said Attorney Connelly.

To qualify for VA disability benefits, four specific criteria must be met. They are:

  1. The veteran’s medical record includes a medical diagnosis of a disability.

  2. Evidence of an in-service injury, disease, event, or aggravation relates to their diagnosis.

  3. The veteran’s disability is service-connected, and medical evidence links their service to their condition.

  4. The veteran is actively coping with symptoms from their presenting condition.

Qualifying for SSDI Benefits

The SSA has a higher threshold for qualifying for SSDI, you are either considered disabled or not, and it’s a federal program for all US citizens. Comparatively, VA disability pay qualification is much easier, and they maintain a percentage-based system of disability severity that links to military service and discharge status. There are two qualifiers to receive SSDI. An individual must provide both:

  1. Evidence of a mental or physical health condition limiting the ability to maintain gainful employment.

  2. Evidence this condition has lasted or will last for at least 12 months or end in death.

Each qualifier has sub-set qualifications defining gainful employment and medical evidence for a specified condition that meets the standard using the SSA’s Blue Book.

The Application Process

VA disability and SSDI benefits are different programs, each with a distinct application process," said Attorney Connelly. "The impact of VA disability and SSDI benefits on each other can be complex, so veterans considering applying for both benefit types may want to seek the advice of an accredited disability benefits attorney. Lawyers specializing in veterans and SSA benefits understand one benefit’s potential impact on the other and recommend the best action."

Connelly Law Offices Disability Benefits
VA and SSDI benefits can impact each other

The processing time for VA disability and SSDI benefits can vary depending on claim complexity, evidence requirements, and the number of claims each agency is processing.

"As a rule, VA disability claims tend to have a shorter processing time than SSDI claims. A fully complete application can take three to five months before a decision," said Attorney Connelly. "An unresolved claim, after 125 days, is considered a VA backlog. However, once a veteran does receive approval, the first payment will arrive within 15 days, either by check or direct deposit."

"For SSDI benefits, approval usually requires a second application, as most first-time claimants receive a denial. First-time applications for benefits take, on average, three to six months, with the possibility of rejection and appeal. Wait time is due to the number of applications filed annually. Applicants begin receiving benefits after approval, starting six months after their established onset date of the disability. The wait time is the result of the mandatory five-month waiting period."

How an Attorney Helps with Claims

"I can't stress enough how important it is to work with a qualified VA or disability rights attorney to receive what is due to the disabled individual," stated Attorney Connelly. Such attorneys can help:

  • Help the applicant understand eligibility requirements and what medical and financial documentation is needed.

  • Assist in collecting and submitting evidence required regarding medical history, employment records, and other evidence that supports the claim. These records may include medical opinions from treating physicians and other experts to demonstrate the extent of the disability.

  • File appeals and represent the individual in hearings before the VA or SSA after a first-time claim denial. The appeal may involve preparing and presenting additional evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making legal arguments that bolster the claim.

  • Advise the individual on maximizing benefits under the VA and SSDI systems, including structuring any settlement or award to avoid reducing benefits and help navigate other potential financial issues.

  • To navigate the VA and SSDI systems with any additional claims or appeals, provide continued support after a claim is approved. They communicate your rights and responsibilities under the current laws.

"A qualified disability attorney is critical in securing VA and SSDI disability benefits," said Attorney Connelly. "Working with an experienced attorney increases the chances of success and protects the individual's rights throughout the claims process. It’s imperative for veterans to carefully consider their options and understand the potential impacts of receiving both VA disability and SSDI benefits and make informed decisions that lead to the best possible outcomes."

Connelly Law Offices Disability Benefits

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