Veterans are some of the country’s most valued and respected citizens. Most veterans with disabilities are cared for by the government through Veteran Affairs (VA), who provides disability benefits in proportion to the veteran’s disorder. However, some veterans with severe disabilities still find trouble financially making it day-to-day, even with their VA benefits.
If you are a veteran coping with a serious disability, then you may qualify for Social Security benefits in addition to your VA benefits. Social Security benefits are available for people who are unable to work for at least 12 months.
The first step when applying for Social Security disability insurance (or SSDI) is looking at the SSA’s medical requirements for qualifying. The requirements for SSDI differ slightly from VA benefits, so it is important to know the difference.
In order to qualify for SSDI, an applicant must be considered “totally and permanently disabled”. This refers to any person whose disability is a) severe enough to affect their daily life and work ability, and b) expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. This is different than VA benefits as it does not allow partial disabilities to qualify.
To determine if you qualify here, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will compare your diagnosis to its corresponding listing in the “Blue Book.” This book lists all SSA-recognized disabilities as well as the symptoms that must be present in order to qualify. To get an idea of your requirements before you apply, you can look up your disorder in the Blue Book on your own.
For example, if you are applying for benefits for an amputated limb, you would refer to Section 1.00 of the Blue Book covering the “Musculoskeletal System”. To qualify here, you would need an amputation (or amputations) involving either both hands, one or both legs, one hand and one leg, or an amputation up to the hip. The majority of disorders require a variety of evidence as support, such as tests, scans, therapy notes, physician assessments, or testimonies. In general, the more evidence you provide, the more likely you are to receive benefits.
One advantage of applying for SSDI with VA benefits is that your VA disability rating may improve your eligibility. Any veteran with a rating of 70% or higher shows the SSA that the government has already ruled their disorder(s) as severely disabling, increasing the chance of benefits. In addition, all military service members who became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001 receive an expedited claims process to help benefits begin as soon as possible.
Finally, your claim will be expedited if your disability rating is 100% P&T. It’s almost certain that you will medically qualify for SSDI benefits.
Aside from medical requirements, the SSA also needs an applicant’s work history and income history. This ensures that you have contributed enough money in taxes to receive monthly benefits from the government. These contributions are measures using “credits”, which can be earned up to four times per year. A person must earn up to $5,200 in taxable income per year to earn the maximum 4 annual credits in 2017. Depending on your age, more credits are required to qualify. For instance, a 46-year old would require 24 credits (6 full years of work) to qualify, while a 58-year-old would require 36 credits (9 years of work).
Luckily, most veterans have no problem qualifying technically for SSDI. This is because the majority of income earned from being in the U.S. military is taxable, which typically gives veterans enough credits to qualify here. However, if you do not possess enough credits for SSDI, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) instead. This program awards benefits based on an applicant’s current income, allowing low-income or unemployed veterans to still be eligible for support. An applicant must technically make under $735/month in order to qualify for SSI, but some make even more than this. In some cases, certain forms of unearned income, such as SNAP benefits or army benefits, do not count towards this SSI income limit, making it even easier for veterans to technically qualify.
Starting the Application
Before applying, be sure to compile all necessary documents for the application, including:
- Proof of US citizenship (typically a birth certificate)
- Form DD 214 (if you were discharged from military service)
- Income and work history documentation
- Proof of workers’ compensation or military pay
- Any military or civilian medical records you possess (or receive after updated testing)
When you are ready, the SSDI application can be completed on the SSA’s website. This website also includes helpful tips and FAQs specifically for veteran applicants, should you have any questions. SSI applications can be filled out in-person by making an appointment with your local Social Security office. You can do so by calling the SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.
[The Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help]