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Social Security and Veterans Disability Programs: Similarities and Differences

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Many veterans do not realize that it is possible to receive both Social Security disability benefits and VA disability benefits at the same time.  The Social Security Administration and Veteran’s Administration each offer two basic disability-based benefit programs.  If you are a veteran with medical conditions that prevent you from working, you may be eligible for benefits from one or both of these two federal  government run programs.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two separate disability benefits programs:  Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Both programs require a finding that a person is “disabled” (meaning having one or more medical or psychological conditions that last, or are expected to last, at least one year or end in death, and which prevent performance of full-time work on a sustained basis over time and without substantial accommodations).  Eligibility for SSDI requires insured status obtained by past work and payment of the social security taxes through payroll withholding. Eligibility for SSI is established from means tests for income and assets. Income and assets must be below a certain level in order to qualify for SSI benefits, in addition to establishing disability.   More information about SSDI and SSI can be found at www.ssa.gov.

Similarly, the VA has two disability-related benefits programs:  VA disability benefits (also known as “service-connected disability”), and the VA pension program.  Eligibility for VA service-connected disability is based on a finding of disability arising from one or more medical conditions that are related to a wound, injury, or illness acquired while on active duty in the Armed Forces.  Eligibility for service-connected disability does not take into consideration any income or assets the veteran may have. Unlike service-connected disability, the VA pension program is needs-based, similar to Supplemental Security Income (SSI)- a VA pension is paid to a veteran who has very little or no income and is disabled based on non-service disabilities.  More information about Veterans benefits can be found at www.va.gov.

A veteran who applies for disability benefits at the SSA, the VA, or both, should remember that he or she may be entitled to benefits under more than one program.