How VA Disability Benefits Impact Social Security Payments

Updated: December 24, 2022
In this Article

    Veterans who receive or are eligible to receive VA compensation for service-connected medical issues may be qualified to receive Social Security Disability Insurance, also known as SSDI. A second Social Security benefit, Social Security Insurance, offers government funds to help those in need (with or without military service).

    These benefits are completely separate. The VA and the Social Security Administration have their own qualifying criteria, payment guidelines, and benefits. But your VA payments may affect your Social Security benefits.

    Do veterans need to worry about having one benefit or the other diminished, cancelled, or revoked because they qualify and apply for both? It’s crucial before filling out application paperwork that you know how VA disability benefits can affect your SSA payments and vice versa.

    What Are SSDI And SSI?

    SSDI, also known as Social Security Disability Insurance, is offered to those who have qualifying disabilities or conditions regardless of whether they have served in the United States military. SSDI is a federal-level benefit you earn after working long enough–after having earned 40 credits.

    How are the 40 credits calculated? According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) those credits are earned by your work and payments into the Social Security fund (via federal tax withholding) for a maximum of four credits per year. The credits are based on your total earnings during the year and the requirement to earn those credits is subject to review and change.

    Some may earn more credits than they can use in a lifetime, but this does not increase the level of benefit or payment amounts.

    Social Security benefits (including SSDI but not limited to it) have medical requirements and non-medical criteria. Those meeting the non-medical requirements are paid benefits when it is determined their medical issues are expected to last a minimum of one year or result in the death of the patient.

    Social Security Insurance, also known as SSI, is similar to SSDI in some ways, but is a need-based benefit and subject to income caps. Such caps mean that if you draw VA disability pay but not military retirement pay, you may qualify for SSI.

    However, the Social Security Administration official site advises veterans that those approved for a VA pension “will not qualify to receive SSI because the pension amount is higher than the SSI payment amount,” exceeding the income cap.

    Quick Breakdown Of SSA Benefits

    • Earned by working/paying into the SSA system
    • Four credits per year must be earned
    • SSI is a benefit that is reduced by other forms of income/compensation (such as VA disability benefits) that exceeds program guidelines
    • SSDI is a program that is not reduced by VA benefit payments

    Let’s compare that to VA medical benefits paid to those with VA-rated disabilities.

    VA Benefits For Service-Connected Medical Conditions

    VA compensation is awarded based on a medical review of qualifying conditions. Like the SSA program, there are criteria and guidelines for awarding disability ratings, payment, and treatment options. The veteran must provide medical documentation and other supporting evidence to show that the medical issues are related to or aggravated by military service.

    Compensation is awarded on a scale of percentages (round numbers from 0% to 100% disabled) and culminates in a maximum award of 100% disability. No VA disability award may exceed 100%.

    Quick Breakdown Of VA Disability Benefits

    • Veterans go through a VA-directed medical review
    • Veterans are rated on a percentage scale for disabilities and conditions that affect the ability to live and work
    • Compensation is subject to review
    • No income caps or asset caps to receive the benefit

    Drawing VA Benefits And SSA Benefits

    Veterans may be permitted to draw both VA and SSA benefits, but depending on the SSA program you enroll in, you may or may not have your Social Security benefit amount reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount of your VA disability pay (subject to a small exemption). Those drawing SSI may risk benefit reduction if they don’t meet income caps; those drawing SSDI are not.

    With or without the benefit reduction, it can be helpful to have a VA disability rating established when you apply for SSA benefits such as SSDI or Social Security Income payments. Not in every case, but in some very important circumstances this can be a big help. Why?

    Expedited Processing For Those With VA Disability Ratings At 100%

    Some veterans who possess a VA rating of 100% permanent and total disability may qualify for expedited Social Security claims. Be sure to ask about this when applying for SSA options and make sure you self-identify on all application paperwork as a 100%-VA rated disabled veteran.

    Other vets may qualify for help, too. Any veteran with “disabling mental or physical health injuries” on active duty on or after Oct. 1, 2001 are eligible for expedited SSI/SSDI application processing. This does not need to have occurred during combat but the issue must be noted on the SSI/SSDI application.

    Tips About VA Compensation And Social Security

    • SSDI and SSI are not intended to provide a full living wage; the Social Security official site itself advises that in 2019 alone, Social Security paid an average monthly disability benefit amount “barely enough to keep a beneficiary above the 2018 poverty level” and any additional assistance you can apply for is crucial.
    • If you have the ability to apply for VA benefits first, it can help to do so (when possible) if you already have a 100% disability rating from the VA. Some vets cannot do this, but those who can should take advantage of the option to have their SSDI or SSI benefit application expedited as described above.
    • VA compensation and military retirement pay combined may render some applicants ineligible for SSI, but SSDI compensation may still be possible.
    • Your financial need will determine which Social Security program you qualify for when claiming disability benefits.
    • VA rules for disability pay require the veteran to establish or provide proof that establishes that the medical issue occurred on active duty or was aggravated by it.
    • SSDI and SSI are federal programs, but not limited to the military.
    • VA disability compensation is limited to the service member, but some VA benefits are payable for spouses, caregivers, and other family members. Be sure to ask about these.

    VA disability ratings may be reviewed and adjusted if the condition(s) get better or worse. These adjustments can affect your eligibility for other disability benefits. Don’t hesitate to explore your options for expanded benefit payments from the Social Security Administration if you think your basic ability to qualify for SSDI or SSI has changed.

    This is very important in cases where a veteran’s condition improves and there is substantial reduction in VA benefits. For any need-based benefit subject to an income cap (that includes the amount of your VA compensation) a reduction or increase in VA payments can affect your ability to qualify for your current payment amount.

    What You Need To Apply For Benefits

    In both cases (VA and SSA) you will need medical documentation to support your claim. For SSA applications you may be required to provide copies of your medical records, discharge paperwork, tax records or other proof of income, and more. For VA disability benefits you will need to furnish military records, medical records, proof of discharge, and schedule appointments as directed by the VA in order to be screened for your claim. Your Social Security Number, birth certificate, and other important documentation may be required by both agencies.

    Written by Team