Social Security Disability For Veterans With PTSDUpdated: March 23, 2021
Can veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder get Social Security Disability (SSD)? The Social Security Administration does approve SSD benefits for veterans who qualify, but having PTSD is not enough to be awarded SSD. What does it take to qualify for these disability benefits?
Who Qualifies For SSD
SSD benefits are authorized for those with a total disability who have paid a minimum amount of Social Security taxes. SSD is also provided for people with “low or no vision”, plus widows or widowers with disabilities, children with disabilities, and, in the words of the SSA, “wounded military service members.”
Social Security Administration literature says you are considered totally disabled when:
- You cannot do the work you did before
- You cannot adjust to other work because of your disability
- Your disability will “probably last” for at least one year, or “cause you to die”
How Much Does A Veteran Get With SSD?
Several variables will determine how much compensation you get if you qualify for SSD as a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Generally, those who qualify, get SSD benefits based on age and the veteran’s average lifetime earnings. You can use the Social Security Administration online benefit calculator to estimate what your SSD may be paid at.
Drawing Other Benefits Alongside SSD
Some can receive SSD while drawing other benefits despite income caps. You may be eligible to receive some or all of your SSD benefits while also collecting:
- Private pensions
- Private insurance
- Veterans’ benefits
- State or local benefits (if Social Security taxes were deducted)
- Supplemental Security Income
Social Security Disability For Veterans With PTSD
To qualify for SSA disability benefits in this area, the veteran must be unable to perform “substantial gainful activity” because of a disability expected to last a year or expected to “end in death”. There are income limits in place that help determine whether the veteran meets SSA financial need requirements.
But before you can be evaluated for your ability to qualify based on financial need, veterans must submit a claim to the SSA that includes providing medical evidence from “an acceptable medical source” to assess the nature and severity of the condition.
This is true of both mental and physical issues. Your PTSD diagnosis alone will not be enough to qualify for SSD-evidence is required.
The Social Security Administration requires each case to be assessed, and much like submitting a claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation, the veteran must submit medical evidence, including:
- Information or evidence of the disorder from your physician
- Evidence provided by a psychologist
- Evidence from other health care providers, including but not limited to physician assistants, psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, etc.
What kind of documentation does the SSA need? As much detail as possible related to:
- Expected duration of the condition
- Medical, psychiatric, and psychological history
- The results of physical/mental exams, clinical interviews, psychiatric or psychological rating scales, etc.
- Psychological testing, imaging results, and lab results, where applicable
- The type, dosage, and beneficial effects of medications taken
- The type, frequency, duration, and beneficial effects of therapy you receive
- Any side effects of medication
- Your clinical course, including changes in your medication, therapy, or other treatment, and the time required for therapeutic effectiveness
- Descriptions of how you function during examinations or therapy
When submitting this evidence, treat the process the same exact way veterans apply for VA compensation for service-connected medical issues. Submit supporting evidence, including “buddy letters,” testimonials from friends and family about how the condition has affected the veteran, etc.
Also, submit evidence from school or work that indicates special consideration, reasonable accommodation, information about Individualized Education Programs or IEPs, etc. Any information about vocational programs or work-related programs is also quite helpful.
Remember, all this evidence and documentation is intended to establish that the veteran cannot maintain “substantial gainful activity”. It is crucial to establish how severe the PTSD is and whether it impairs the veteran’s ability to live and work in a substantive way.
Information Coordination Between VA and SSA
The Department of Veterans Affairs and SSA are required by law to share certain information relevant to making claims with both entities:
- Medical evidence
- Hospital records
- Disability determinations
- Benefit receipt and payment amounts
However, it’s not safe to assume that the medical evidence you are required to submit as part of an application for Social Security benefits will be handled by the VA–always submit all relevant documents and evidence as part of your original application package or with the timing required by the VA or SSA.
You never know if your medical information has gotten misplaced, and it may not be as complete as your own personal records–always take the initiative and submit all your evidence as though no other records were kept. It’s more efficient, and unless you are instructed to apply in a different way, it prevents bureaucratic delays, red tape, etc.
Five Questions Asked By The SSA
The Social Security Administration has a five-part questionnaire that helps determine or establish a veteran with PTSD’s ability to qualify for SSD benefits. The following questions are taken directly from SSA literature, and you should expect the same “discovery process” with your own case if you are submitting an application for SSD.
- Is the individual engaged in SGA? If yes, deny. If no, continue to step 2.
- Is there a medically determinable impairment (or combination of impairments), and is the impairment severe and expected to last 12 months or end in death? If no, deny. If yes, continue to step 3.
- Does the impairment meet, or equal in severity, a medical listing? If yes, allow. If no, continue to step 4.
- Can the individual do his/her past work? If yes, deny. If no, continue to step 5.
- Can the individual do any other work? If yes, deny. If no, allow.
What You Need To Know About Social Security Disability Benefits
The first and most important thing to understand about these benefits is that you can’t be in a hurry to be approved for them–the process can take five months or more, depending on various factors.
SSD benefits are paid with the understanding that the applicant may experience an improvement in their condition; SSD is paid until the recipient can work again in cases where there is an improvement. Those with conditions that do not improve will continue to get SSD benefits as long as that is true.
How To Apply For SSD
You can apply online, in person, or by phone:
- By phone: (800) 772-1213
- By TTY: (800) 325-0778
- Internet: ssa.gov/ssi
- In-person: Find your local Social Security office
When you apply, have the following ready to submit:
- Certified copy of the applicant’s birth certificate
- Proof of legal immigration status if not born in the U.S. or in a U.S. territory
- Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and minor children, where applicable
- W-2 / tax return from last year
- Medical records (military and civilian)
- Proof of all other benefits
- Form DD 214, if discharged from the military
- Savings or checking account number for direct deposit
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News