The Difference between VA Disability Benefits and Social Security Benefits

Many veterans find the differences between the VA Disability Program and the Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI) confusing.  First off, veterans should know that these programs, though both run by the federal government, differ in terms of eligibility, the burden of proof required, and the amount of benefits you receive.  Veterans are usually eligible for both programs, and eligibility is determined by the administering department.  Importantly, a veteran is usually eligible for both programs, and should apply to both programs separately.  A veteran can also receive full benefits in both programs because his or her eligibility for each program is determined separately.  If a veteran qualifies under both programs, and proves disability under their respective rules, he or she can receive benefits under both programs at the same time.  If your VA benefits are service-connected, there will be no reduction in the amount you receive under each program.  If your VA benefits are non-service connected, or you are only eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits under the Social Security program (SSI), then there will likely be a reduction in benefits.  Match and Farnsworth, PC are experienced Social Security Disability Attorneys practicing in Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Washington State.  We can assist with navigating the complex interaction between VA benefits and Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits.

In the VA program, eligibility is determined by the type of service and discharge, and you also must be found to be at least 10% disabled to receive any benefit.  To determine disability ratings, VA physicians conduct CP & P examinations to determine the per cent of disability for each alleged impairment.  These include both physical and mental impairments.  Once a per cent is determined for each disabling impairment, the VA adds these together to determine an overall disability rating.  For example, a back impairment can be rated at 40%, and PTSD at 10%.  However, this does not always equate to a 50% rating, because when the VA combines ratings to determine an overall disability rating, the system used is more complex than simply adding the numbers together.  The amount of benefit you receive is dependent upon your overall rating.  There is also a lesser burden of proof in the VA program than in the Social Security Disability program.  If the evidence isn’t completely supportive of a disability rating, but does show some level of impairment, the VA under the law should give a veteran the benefit of the doubt, and theoretically should grant the rating and accompanying benefits.

To be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, any applicant (including veterans) must have worked and paid taxes in the United States.  Military pay on which you have filed taxes qualifies toward the credits for eligibility in the Social Security Disability program, as do nearly all jobs where FICA taxes are deducted from a paycheck.  You must have worked enough years and paid enough taxes to earn the requisite credits to qualify.  In the Social Security Disability program, there is no per cent rating system.  To receive any benefit, a person must prove through medical evidence that he or she is unable to perform any job in the national economy on a full-time basis.  A person is therefore found either “disabled” or “not disabled,” and there is no middle ground for the Social Security Administration to find a person partially disabled.  This is an important distinction, because a person must prove full disability from all jobs, and the Social Security Administration looks at all impairments as a whole in the first instance, rather than separating them out and assigning different percentages of disability as they do in the VA program.  Further, all applicants have the burden of proof in the Social Security Disability Insurance program and in the Supplemental Security Income program.  A judge will not give a veteran, or any other claimant, the benefit of the doubt, but will require medical evidence proving full disability in the form of regular treatment, surgeries, medical imaging, doctor statements, and other relevant evidence.  Finally, the amount you receive in the Disability Insurance program is directly determined by the amount of taxes you have paid into the system (i.e., the amount of FICA taxes deducted from pay checks).  Importantly, you must actually file a tax return in years in which you have earnings.  Failure to file a tax return will result in not receiving the work credits.  In the event you are found disabled, the amount you receive under the SSDI program doesn’t change except for occasional cost of living adjustments, whereas in the VA system the amount you receive could go up or down depending on whether the VA increases or decreases your disability rating.

Offset of Benefits if Receiving both VA and Social Security Benefits

A veteran is often entitled to receive both VA disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits.  In some cases a veteran can receive both benefits and there is no reduction in either, but in other cases there is an offset of benefits if a veteran is found disabled under both programs.

If you are receiving VA benefits, you can receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) at the same time. Social Security not only allows you to receive VA and Social Security disability benefits at the same time, they do not reduce the amount of your monthly Social Security disability benefit amount because of your VA benefits.  This means you are able to receive the full amount of your Social Security disability benefits and your full VA benefit amount simultaneously if your VA benefits are service connected.

However, it does not mean entitlement to Social Security disability will not affect the amount of a VA pension in all cases. If you receive a non-service connected pension, it is likely that your Social Security disability benefits may cause an offset of your VA benefits depending upon the amount of your Social Security disability. Further, if you receive VA disability benefits, you may not be able to receive any Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI).  This is because eligibility for SSI benefits is related to how much income you are receiving from any source, including income from VA benefits.  SSI is a need-based program where eligibility is determined in part by need.  If the amount you receive in VA benefits is too high, therefore, a veteran may be completely ineligible for SSI benefits, or the amount you can receive in SSI benefits may be reduced.   It is important to contact an experienced Social Security Disability attorney to assist with this complex process.
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