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Social Security Disability Benefits vs Veterans Benefits: What You Need to Know

Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and Social Security disability (SSD) benefits often go hand in hand. A lot of veterans have a Veterans Disability claim and Social Security disability claim going on at the same time. Others may have received one of the benefits and are applying for the other. VA disability compensation (also known as service-connected disability) is not based on your income, so there is no problem receiving VA benefits and SSD at the same time.

Who Qualifies?

In order to qualify for VA benefits, the veteran must currently have a medically diagnosed disability or condition caused by an incident occurring during active duty. The VA will consider the evidence, and then determine the veteran’s degree of disability for each service-connected condition. The ratings are measured in 10% increments ranging from 0% to 100%. The benefit of being assigned a 0% rating means that the VA has recognized your condition or disability as a service-connected disability, which is an important hurdle to pass.

Social Security disability benefits are available to individuals who have worked the last 5 out of 10 years and have paid Social Security taxes. The individual must be found totally disabled and the disability must last or be expected to last for at least 12 months.

How Are the Programs Different?

The major difference between the two benefit programs is that, with the VA, you don’t need a total disability to be eligible for VA compensation. Veterans can receive a disability rating as low as 10% or even 0% and still receive compensation. Conversely, SSD considers only whether you are disabled or not. There are no ratings when it comes to determining disability with SSD, and therefore, you are either considered eligible or ineligible.

Another major difference is the way your treating physician’s opinion will be used. In SSD, Social Security is required to give deference to a treating provider’s medical opinion. A treating physician’s opinion is often the difference between winning and losing your case. This treating physician rule is in direct contrast to how opinion evidence is viewed in VA claims. In VA disability claims, it is often difficult to obtain an opinion statement from a doctor, especially if they work at the VA. Even if the doctor does weigh in on the veteran’s disability, the VA does not give the opinion deferential weight. In fact, the VA physician’s opinion may even be considered biased. The VA’s treating physician rule explains that a veteran’s disability rating should be based on the entire file so as not to give any particular evidence extra weight.

A VA rating is beneficial for your SSD claim; however, a decision of disability by Social Security has no bearing on your VA claim. In SSD claims, VA ratings are entitled to “great weight,” in determining the individual’s disability. If you have a high VA rating your chances of winning your SSD claim are greatly increased. This is because another federal agency has already made a decision about your ability to work.

Unfortunately, this does not work the other way around. If you have obtained SSD benefits, the VA may not give that decision as much weight since it may not be clear whether the decision was based on service-connected or other disabilities. SSD considers both service and non-service-connected disabilities, while the VA only considers disabilities acquired during service.

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