VA and SSDI: A Primer

Disabled veterans are eligible to obtain Social Security disability benefits and veterans disability benefits (“VA benefits”) at the same time.  However, both programs are separate and veterans will have to go through both disability application and appeals processes.

The Process

Social Security disability benefits are an entirely separate program from VA benefits.  And, just because you obtained a 80-100% disability rating at the VA does not mean you will be found disabled under Social Security’s rules.  (If you would like this changed, please call your Congressman!) (link!

Veterans should apply for disability benefits at a Social Security office, online, or by calling their local Social Security office.  A decision at the “application level” usually takes four months. Fortunately, veterans with service-connected disabilities can have their cases expedited by asking Social Security to file a form called I-2-1-95. Exhibit – Critical Request Evaluation Sheet.

At the application level, a case examiner reviews the veteran’s medical records, work history, and function reports, and works with a physician to make an approval or denial decision.

Over 80% of Social Security applications are denied, veterans included!  Receiving a denial is common and does not mean that you are disabled.  Receiving a denial only means you must follow the disability appeals process.

VA vs. Social Security Disability – The Differences

Social Security is an “all or nothing” system.  Unlike the VA, Social Security does not assign percentages to a veteran’s disability.  However, this does not mean that if the VA rated a disability lower than 100%, the person will not be disabled under Social Security.  In most cases, a sub-100% VA rating will still lead to Social Security disability benefits.

A VA disability rating can help veterans get Social Security disability benefits.  VA ratings only related to service-connected disabilities, while Social Security will look at all of an individual’s disabilities.  This means Social Security is not limited to only one or a few medical impairments and must take a look at the “bigger picture.”

Because of the similarity between a VA unemployability findings and Security disability program rules Social Security gives some deference to VA decisions. Social Security Ruling 06-3p says that the decision and the evidence used to make the VA decision “may provide insight into the individual’s mental and physical impairment(s) and show the degree of disability determined by these agencies based on their rules.” All of this comes down to the fact that Social Security should strongly consider that you were approved for disability benefits in making its decision on is the rule in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 11th that VA disability ratings are entitled to greater weight. See McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072 (9th Cir. 2002); Chambliss v. Massanari, 269 F.3d 520, 522 (5th Cir. 2001); Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 921 (11th Cir. 1984); De Loatche v. Heckler, 715 F.2d 148, 150 n.1 (4th Cir. 1983).) And one circuit court said that VA disability ratings were entitled to “substantial weight.” Kane v. Heckler, 776 F.2d 1130, 1135 (3d Cir. 1985).

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