By Jennifer L. Foster, RN, Attorney-at-Law
Disabled veterans can collect Social Security disability benefits and Veterans Administration (VA) disability benefits at the same time. However, the two systems are very different.
For Social Security disability benefits, you can apply at the local Social Security office or online. Your file is then assigned to a disability examiner, a specialist who will gather your medical records and, then, in consultation with a physician and/or a psychologist who is assigned to the examiner’s unit, make an approval or denial determination. You’ll usually get your first determination six to eight months after you apply. 70% of initial claims in Tennessee are denied. If the claim is denied, you will need to appeal. This stage is known as Reconsideration. You’ll typically get this answer back in two to six months. In Tennessee, 91% of these appeals will be a denial. If you get denied at Reconsideration, you will file an appeal for an Administrative Law Judge hearing. It often takes an additional 12-18 months before you get in front of the judge. However, all of these processing and appeal times may be reduced significantly if you are a veteran.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will expedite the decision process for service members who became disabled on or after October 1, 2001, if the disability occurred while on active duty. The SSA does not consider where or how the disability happened, so your disability does not need to be related to your military duty, just while you were on active duty.
When you first apply for disability, you must let the SSA know that your medical condition began while you were on active duty. You must also tell the SSA the location where your military records are kept. Also, when you file for disability with the SSA, you must make sure that you provide the SSA with proof that you are, or were, a service member.
Once the SSA gets your application, it will be marked as a Military Casualty/Wounded Warrior (MC/WW) file and expedited through all stages of the disability decision process as a critical case.
If the claim is approved, the claimant is considered 100% disabled, and will be paid either SSDI benefits based on their prior wages or SSI benefits based on the amount of income they have (only those with low income and low assets qualify for SSI).
How is the Social Security Disability System Different from the VA System?
To apply for VA benefits, you can go to VA.gov and apply online, contact an accredited representative or a VA service organization, or contact your local regional office.
Primarily, the SSA is different from the VA in that there are no percentages of disability. The VA assigns percentages to various conditions. A veteran may receive compensation from 10% to 100%. The SSA will find you 100% disabled or 0% disabled.
Medical Records and Social Security
If your primary source of treatment is a VA medical center, don’t assume that the Social Security disability examiner who is assigned to your case will be successful in obtaining your VA medical records. The VA is notorious in some areas for not supplying needed medical records to the SSA. For this reason, it’s never a bad idea for vets to personally obtain their medical records themselves so they may supply the records to the SSA when they apply for disability or file an appeal. Never give your only copy to the SSA. Always keep a copy.
If I Get Veterans Disability, Will I Automatically Get Social Security Disability?
No. Even if you have been approved for disability through the VA, you will not be automatically approved for Social Security disability.
The SSA’s disability process, and its definition of disability, is different than that of the VA’s. Your application for Social Security disability is filed with the SSA and is evaluated under its guidelines. The SSA will review any medical records from the VA, but the percentage the VA has determined you are disabled may have little bearing on the SSA’s decision. Even if the VA has determined you are 100% disabled, you can still be denied Social Security benefits.
The disability process can be a very difficult and lengthy process. In the midst of a health crisis, you are dealing with enough; let me fight this battle for you! Contact the Law Office of Jennifer L. Foster, PLLC at 731-506-4006 or 901-866-9495 to discuss which legal strategies will get you the benefits you deserve, or visit us online at www.tndisabilitylaw.com.
The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.