Social Security Disability (SSDI) Benefits for Veterans

Updated: October 20, 2023
In this Article

    Qualifying veterans can receive both Social Security disability benefits and VA disability benefits. While they are eligible to receive both at the same time, they must apply for each benefit separately. They may qualify for other benefits as well, such as Medicare and Tricare, depending on circumstances.

    Many veterans depend on Social Security and disability benefits. More than eight million received Social Security benefits in 2022, according to the Social Security Administration.

    Social Security Disability Benefits

    The Social Security Administration offers two types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To be eligible for SSDI, you must have a disability and sufficient work history. For SSI, you must have a disability or blindness and have limited income. 

    You may qualify for both benefits.

    The definition of disability is the same for both programs. 

    “Social Security pays disability benefits to people who can’t work because they have a severe medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death,” according to the SSA. 

    There are no partial or scaled payments–it’s all or nothing. If your condition improves before the SSA makes a decision on your claim, you may be entitled to benefits for a closed period of disability, according to the SSA. You might receive up to 12 months of benefits if you were unable to work for at least 12 continuous months. 

    However, you must apply for closed-period benefits within 14 months of the end of your period of disability. A five-month waiting period may apply.

    Social Security Disability Benefits and Medicare

    If you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you are likely eligible for medical coverage, according to the SSA. If you receive SSDI benefits, you will receive Medicare after a 24-month qualifying period. SSI recipients in most states automatically qualify for Medicaid. In some states, you may need to apply for Medicaid.

    Medicare and Tricare

    Medicare recipients may be eligible for supplemental coverage under Tricare

    Tricare is the primary payer for active-duty service members and their families. Medicare acts as the primary payer for military retirees. Tricare acts as other health insurance (OHI). It can cover remaining, Tricare-eligible costs for medical services that apply to Medicare deductibles, copays or cost sharing.

    You must enroll in Medicare Part B to retain your Tricare benefits, although exceptions may apply in limited situations. Once eligible, you must convert your Tricare policy to Tricare for Life, according to the Tricare website. 

    If you become eligible for Medicare before age 65, you may choose between Tricare Prime or Tricare for Life

    Keep in mind, legislation and enrollment requirements may impact your eligibility for these policies. Speak with a Tricare or Medicare representative before committing to any coverage option.

    Comparing VA Disability Eligibility and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Eligibility

    VA DisabilitySocial Security Disability (SSDI)
    Injury/Illness (or aggravation of) must be due to military serviceX
    Impairment must prevent the ability to work at substantial gainful activity level at time of applicationX
    Disabling condition must last (or be expected to last) at least 12 months or end in deathX
    Age, education, and work history can affect eligibility X
    Monthly benefit amount and eligibility are not affected by the other program
    Offers partial payments based on scale of disabilityX
    All or nothing disability paymentsX
    source: Social Security Administration

    How Much SSDI Will I Get?

    The SSA bases monthly payments on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began, not on the severity of your disability. Other disability payments can reduce the amount of SSDI that you receive

    SSDI benefits may reduce your SSI benefits, if you qualify. However, VA disability benefits will not affect your SSDI benefits.

    How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

    You can apply for SSA benefits online, at the nearest Social Security office, by phone or by U.S. mail.

    Call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment. There is also a TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

    What Documentation Do I Need?

    Along with your application, you must provide the following documents to the SSA:

    • Original or certified copy of your birth certificate or proof of citizenship
    • Form DD 214 if you have been discharged
    • Previous year’s W-2 form or income tax return
    • Proof of military pay or worker’s compensation
    • Social Security numbers of your spouse and minor children
    • Banking information
    • Alternate contact person
    • Medical records from military and civilian sources

    The approval process can take some time, so file your application as soon as possible. You can submit any missing documentation later.

    When Can Military Members Apply for Social Security Benefits?

    Service members can apply for benefits at any time – while they are currently serving or after they retire or separate from the military.

    Can Veterans Receive Social Security Disability Benefits While Receiving Military Pay?

    You won’t be approved for SSDI if you perform substantial work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t receive military pay and Social Security disability payments at the same time, according to the SSA.

    If you are receiving treatment and working in a therapy program or on limited duty, you may be eligible for SSDI payments. The SSA will evaluate the work you are doing, not the pay you receive.

    What If a Social Security Applicant Stays on (or Returns to) Active Duty?

    You may be able to remain on active duty while receiving Social Security disability benefits, if you’re able to perform your work. 

    However, a permanent change of station move, changes in your military career field specialty or other factors may require a benefits review. Contact SSA immediately about any such changes.

    Processing Times

    Processing times for SSA claims vary and may be affected by a variety of factors, according to the SSA::

    • The nature of the disability.
    • The responsiveness of doctors or other caregivers in supplying medical evidence to support the claim
    • Whether a medical examination is required as supporting evidence for the claim

    Expedited Processing of Disability Claims

    You may be eligible to receive expedited processing of disability claims for Social Security benefits if:

    The SSA system should automatically identify your military veteran status. If not, you may need to provide a VA disability award letter or other documentation as proof.

    What If My Social Security Disability Application Is Denied?

    If the SSA denies your Social Security disability application, you may be able to appeal the decision. 

    You have 60 days from when you receive your Notice of Denial to apply for an appeal. The SSA assumes you receive your notice five days after mailing.

    Social Security Disability Appeals

    There are four levels of appeals, according to the SSA:

    • Reconsideration: Someone who did not participate in the initial decision will do a complete review of your claim. You can submit new evidence.
    • Hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ):  If you are unsatisfied with the results of the reconsideration, you can ask for a hearing by an ALJ who did not participate in either the initial decision or the reconsideration.
    • Review by the Appeals Council: The Appeals Council may deny or dismiss your request for a review, or it may issue a new decision or return your claim to an ALJ.
    • Federal court review: If the Appeals Council denies your claim or denies your request for review, you can file a civil action in a Federal district court.

    The SSA may deny your application for medical or nonmedical reasons. Check your Notice of Denial to see which category you fall into. The process for both is the same, but you’ll need to complete extra forms for a medical reconsideration.

    The simplest way to file an appeal is online. The online application includes all the information you’ll need to submit.

    If you prefer, you can download the forms from the SSA’s forms page and mail them in. You will need Form SSA-561, “Reconsideration.” 

    For a medical reconsideration, you must also complete Form SSA-3441, “Disability Report – Appeal,” which allows you to update your medical information, and Form SSA-827, “Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration.”

    You can also call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and request a paper copy of the forms you need.

    Once you’ve completed all the forms, mail them to the nearest Social Security office.

    Social Security Disability Benefit FAQs

    Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about Social Security Disability Benefits, according to the SSA.

    Are Social Security Disability Benefits Available for Partial Disability or Short-Term Disability?

    No. Other programs may provide benefits for partial disability or short-term disability. But the SSA does not pay benefits for such conditions.

    How Does SSA Determine Whether a Military Member Is Disabled or Not?

    The SSA uses a step-by-step process to determine your eligibility for benefits, which includes the following five questions:

    • Are you currently working? If you earn more than the current Social Security income threshold, you may not qualify for disability benefits. See the current social security income thresholds here.
    • Is your condition severe? It must interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities for at least 12 months.
    • Is the condition found in the SSA list of qualifying disabling medical issues? If it is not, the SSA will determine the severity on a case-by-case basis.
    • Can you do the same job you did before? The SSA will assess your remaining ability to do work activities and compare that with the demands of your recent jobs.
    • Can you do another type of work? The SSA  will base this decision on your age, education, previous work experience and your medical conditions.

    Are Family Members Eligible to Receive a Veteran’s Social Security Benefits?

    In some cases, members of your family may qualify for Social Security benefits based on your work, according to the SSA. These family members include:

    • Your spouse aged 62 years or older
    • Your spouse of any age caring for a child who has a disability or is younger than 16 years old
    • Your unmarried child, adopted child, or – in some cases – a stepchild or grandchild younger than age 18 (or younger than age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full-time)
    • Your unmarried child 18 or older who has a disability that began before they turned 22.
    • Your former spouse – in some cases – if they are at least 62 years old and you were married for at least 10 years.

    Are SSDI Benefits Taxable?

    You may need to pay federal and state taxes on your Social Security disability benefits, depending on your income and the state you live in. 

    At the federal level, you’ll add all your income plus one-half of your benefits to determine your combined income, according to the IRS. If you are married and filing jointly, you will need to include your spouse’s combined income. If this total is greater than the base amount for your filing status, you’ll pay federal taxes:

    • Filing as an individual: $25,000
    • Married, filing separately and living apart from your spouse: $25,000
    • Married, filing jointly: $32,000
    • Married, filing separately and live with your spouse at any time: $0

    Most states do not tax Social Security benefits, but 12 states do, according to AARP.

    SSI is not taxable.

    What Is the Difference Between SSDI and SSI?

    SSDI pays benefits to disabled individuals who are unable to work, regardless of their income and resources.

    SSI pays disabled individuals who are unable to work and have limited income and resources.

    About The Author

    Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

    Written by Team