SSA and VA Disability Benefits: Tips for Veterans
Connecting Veterans with Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits is a critical step to increasing income stability for Veterans and their families, as well as providing health insurance for those who may not qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care.
SSI/SSDI and VA Disability Benefits
Veterans may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), in conjunction with, or as an alternative to VA disability payments. They may also use the Medicaid and Medicare health benefits that come with SSI/SSDI to supplement VA health services.
The definition of disability and application process is different for SSA and VA disability benefits, and Veterans may begin receiving SSA benefits while they are waiting on a VA benefit decision.
Definition of Disability
For service-connected disability benefits through the VA, the applicant must show that they have a disabling condition that was “incurred or aggravated by their military service." (Source: “Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016 Edition). The compensation rates are paid on a graduated scale, based on the degree of a Veteran’s disability, ranging from 10 to 100 percent, in 10 percent increments.
Pensions, or non-service-connected disability payments, require that Veterans served in a wartime period, have limited resources and assets, and have a discharge other than dishonorable (among other factors).
Alternatively, the definition of disability for SSI/SSDI does not require the Veteran’s disability to be linked to their military service, does not take into account a Veteran’s discharge status, and does not pay on a graduated scale. For SSI/SSDI, the Veteran needs to show:
- Evidence of a physical or mental health condition, which results in functional impairments that limit their ability to work at a substantial gainful level.
- That the disabling condition has lasted or is expected to last, for 12 months or end in death.
SSA Expedited Processing for Veterans
100% Permanent and Total Veterans Initiative
In March 2014, SSA introduced a new initiative to expedite the processing of applications from Veterans who have a 100% Permanent and Total (P&T) disability rating from the VA. To receive expedited processing, Veterans should identify themselves as a “Veteran rated 100% P&T” when initiating the SSI/SSDI application and should provide the VA rating notification letter to SSA.
Veterans who received disabling mental or physical health injuries while on active duty on or after October 1, 2001, are eligible for expedited SSI/SSDI application processing. The injury does not need to have occurred during combat operations. When initiating the SSI/SSDI application, Veterans should inform SSA that their injury occurred while on active duty.
For more information about SSA expedited processing go to the Social Security Administration's Veterans page.
Accessing VA Health Records
Veterans can access and manage their VA health records and documents using the VA Blue Button feature. To access the VA Blue Button, Veterans must meet the below requirements:
- Enrolled in VA health care, and
- Registered as a patient in a VA health facility, and
- Have one of these free accounts:
How VA Disability Benefits Impact Social Security Payments
Since SSI is a needs-based program, additional income from VA benefits will affect the cash benefit amount. SSA classifies VA benefits as “unearned income,” since it does not come from paid employment. As such, it will be deducted dollar for dollar from the SSI federal payment amount, after a general exclusion of $20. All SSI recipients are eligible for this exclusion, where the first $20 of earned or unearned income is not counted against their SSI payment.
Example: Paul receives partial VA benefits of $400 per month, and has been approved for SSI. The following table illustrates how the VA benefits will affect his SSI cash benefit:
|VA Monthly Disability Benefit Amount||$400|
|General Exclusion||- $20|
|Counted Income||= $380|
|Maximum Monthly SSI Benefit Amount (2024 rates)||$943|
|Counted Income||- $380|
|Monthly SSI Amount||= $563|
|Total Monthly Income (VA + SSI benefit amounts)||$963|
Veterans who are approved for a VA pension will not qualify to receive SSI because the pension amount is higher than the SSI payment amount, which reduces the SSI payment amount to zero in the equation above. However, these Veterans may qualify to receive SSDI if they’ve earned enough work credits through SSA.
Alternatively, SSDI benefits are not affected by unearned income through VA benefits.
Example: In Jane receives partial VA benefits of $400 per month. Because she worked and paid into the Social Security system, she now receives $850 per month in SSDI. Her VA and SSDI monthly benefit amounts will be added together:
|VA Monthly Disability Benefit Amount||$400|
|SSDI Monthly Benefit Amount||+ $850|
|Total Monthly Income||= $1250|
Using the SOAR Model to Assist Veterans: The SOAR model assists Veterans who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness to access SSA disability benefits. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://soarworks.samhsa.gov.
National Call Center for Homeless Veterans: If you, or a Veteran you know, is experiencing or at risk of homelessness, call 877-4AID-VET (424-3838) to access 24/7 confidential support and connect with VA services.
- December, 2017