How does VA disability pay affect Social Security Payments? This is a very important question for those who need to apply or continue to receive Social Security and VA compensation for service-connected medical issues. The answer depends greatly on which Social Security disability benefit you are applying for.
Some Background On VA Benefits Compared To Social Security Disability
VA compensation for medical conditions, injuries, and other issues is conditional. The VA must determine that your medical issues are service-connected or service-aggravated and award a disability rating on that basis.
VA disability pay requires the veteran to submit medical documentation, evidence (including photos and letters from those who observe the veteran’s disabilities), civilian care records, etc. A VA medical claim may be reviewed by the VA and given a 0% rating (depending on the medical issue) all the way up to 100% disability.
The VA has complex criteria for awarding disability benefits. You must not have a dishonorable discharge in most cases (punitive discharges may be reviewed on a case-by-case basis), and you must submit a formal claim.
The VA system is unlike the Social Security system in this way; to apply for Social Security disability payments you must have a minimum period of time on the job and have paid a minimum amount into Social Security through your payroll taxes.
The VA does not require such financial contributions from payroll, nor does it require you to have worked within the last five or ten years. Drawing Social Security payments, however, requires you to have worked a certain amount within the last five to ten years.
This requirement is subject to change due to federal law and other variables. Check with the Social Security Administration for the most current guidelines.
VA Disability Award Amounts
The VA awards these percentages in groups of ten, so from 0% to 10%, 20%, 30%, etc. on a graduating scale, as the VA official site terms it. Veterans can never be awarded more than 100% disability. In cases where there are multiple disabilities the percentages are added together but can never be cumulatively more than 100% total regardless.
The VA claims process takes time; some veterans may find it faster to get signed up for Social Security disability benefits, but it’s not necessary to decide which to apply for first as a general rule. There are always exceptions to that, but since these two programs (VA and Social Security) are completely separate, applicants are subject to the waiting times required due to demand and other factors.
Social Security Disability Claims
The Social Security disability claims process is quite different in several ways, the least of which being that you do NOT have to prove that your disabilities are service-related. Your status as a veteran does not affect your claim, and the nature of your military discharge is not taken into consideration.
That is important for those who have punitive discharges who may or may not qualify for VA medical benefits. Social Security payments do NOT depend on whether your discharge was characterized in a certain way.
Social Security disability requires the applicant to submit proof of a physical or mental health issue resulting in a reduced capacity to work “at a substantial gainful level” which may be quantified by a specific earnings amount.
That amount was listed in 2016 as being roughly $1,300 of income per month, and is listed here only as an example of how these rules have functioned in the past. To determine the current level of “substantial gainful” employment, you will need to look at the Social Security Administration official site.
But that’s not the only requirement, a second part to be mindful for is that your condition must be disabling for at least 12 months or must be such that it will “end in death.”
Does VA Compensation Reduce A Social Security Payout?
If you apply for both VA disability benefits AND Social Security disability benefits, will the amount of either be reduced because you draw both?
The key to understanding this issue to is recognize that Social Security comes in two different options: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). One program allows you to draw VA disability pay with no penalty, while the other features a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount of Social Security payments based on the amount of the VA disability payments.
SSI Payments Are Affected By Your VA Disability Pay
SSI is considered a “need-based” benefit and applicants may be subject to monthly income caps to qualify. Applicants who exceed the monthly income caps will not qualify–INCLUDING monthly income that is exceeded due to disability payments to you by the VA.
At the time of this writing, Social Security Income features a $20 “general exclusion” which means the first $20 dollars of your VA compensation is excluded from the dollar-for-dollar reduction in SSI based on your VA benefit amount each month. VA benefits are classified by the Social Security Administration as “unearned income” that does not come from a paying job.
Under this rule, if your VA disability pay is $250, minus the $20 general exclusion, your SSI benefits would be reduced by $225.
SSDI Payments Are NOT Affected By Your VA Disability Payments
SSDI payments are not reduced by “unearned income” such as VA disability payments. Your VA and SSDI payments will be sent to you unaffected by how much you qualify for under VA medical disability compensation.
Qualifying For One Does Not Qualify You For The Other
The VA and Social Security Administration have completely separate processes and requirements for getting benefits such as these. Just because you are approved for one program does not mean you will qualify for another and just because you draw benefits from one does not mean you will automatically get the other. Each must be applied for separately and approved separately.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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