Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Is the Difference Between Social Security Disability Benefits and VA Disability Benefits?

Many of the individuals who receive VA disability benefits assume that they will also be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. When these applicants go on to apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), some are surprised to find out that their application for disability has been denied by the agency. Why is it that some people are eligible for VA benefits but not for disability from the SSA? To understand the answer to that question you must understand the differences between the two programs and how the regulating agencies determine whether or not an individual is disabled according to their guidelines.

The Determination Process

When an individual applies for VA disability benefits, he/she must prove that he/she is a military veteran who has not received a dishonorable discharge and that the injuries that caused his/her disability is related to his/her service in the military. The VA's two-step process qualification process is much less stringent than the SS Disability application process, which often makes it easier for applicants to qualify for VA benefits. Individuals who are applying for benefits from the SSA must go through a five-step qualification process, proving that they are unable to earn more than $1,000 per month, that their medical condition prevents them from performing gainful work activity, that the disability falls under the published SSA impairment listings (or that it is equal to one of the listed conditions) and that the specific condition results in a residual functional impairment, which prevents the applicant from performing any type of work in the national economy.

Since it is often harder to qualify for Social Security benefits than it is to qualify for VA benefits, it is not uncommon for individuals who are receiving VA disability to be denied disability payments from the SSA. On the other hand, veterans who do not qualify for VA benefits may be able to qualify for disability payments from the SSA in some situations. For example, if the disability that a person is suffering from did not occur as a result of service-related activities, but falls under the Social Security impairment guidelines, that veteran may indeed be able to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if the extent of their disability can be proven, even though they can not qualify for VA benefits due to the nature of the disability.

The Ability to Work

Another distinct difference between VA disability benefits and Social Security Disability benefits is that individuals cannot qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if they are able to perform any type of work activity. If the individual is able to work, they will not be awarded disability benefits from the SSA. VA benefits work differently. The ability to work does not prevent an individual from being able to receive VA disability benefits. A VA disability beneficiary can maintain their benefits even if they are able to perform work and earn an income, although individuals who are not able to work are eligible for additional compensation under the VA disability program.

Benefit Amounts

In addition to distinct differences in how the VA and the SSA determine a disability, there is also a significant difference in the amount of benefits paid to the individuals who are eligible for benefits under these programs. VA disability benefits tend to provide more financial assistance than Social Security Disability benefits. The average VA disability benefit payment is approximately $2,700 per month while the average SSA disability payment is only about $1,100 per month.

Qualifying for Both

There is nothing preventing an individual who qualifies for VA disability from receiving Social Security Disability. If you have earned enough work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability payments and you meet the disability guidelines set forth by the SSA you could technically receive both VA disability benefits and Social Security Disability payments. Participation in one program does not prevent you from receiving benefits from the other.

Appealing a Denied Application

If you are receiving VA disability benefits and feel that you are entitled to Social Security Disability payments as well, you need to apply for disability through the SSA. If your initial application for benefits is denied, you will need to go on to file an appeal. Nearly 70 percent of applications are denied at the initial stage of the application process so it is not uncommon for an applicant to have to go through the appeal process.

If you need help applying for or appealing Social Security Disability you should consider retaining the services of a qualified attorney. Hiring a qualified attorney can help increase your chances of receiving a favorable decision during the disability appeal process.
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