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SSDI Benefits 101 Blog Post

This article was written by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org or by contacting them at [email protected]


Veterans suffering from post-service disabilities in the United States are often provided compensation by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Compensation is provided based on the severity for a veteran’s disability, and is often a welcome benefit for help pay for medical bills and treatment. However, those with severe disabilities may also qualify for additional assistance through Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI).

If you are caring for a disabled veteran or are a disabled veteran looking to apply for further disability benefits through the government, continue below to see how Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) may be for you.

Qualifying for SSDI

Because SSDI is a program available to all Americans, qualifications are a bit different than those of VA benefits. In contrast to VA’s sliding scale of disability percentages, SSDI applicants must prove that they are “totally and permanently disabled” to qualify. This means that applicants must:

  1. have a severe mental or physical disability that is expected to last at least one year or end in death, and
  2. have contributed enough money to Social Security in their working years that they qualify for the program (this equals out to about 5 full years of full-time employment in the 10 years prior to applying.)

Depending on their situation, veteran applicants receive certain benefits when applying for SSDI that non-military citizens do not. For example, normal SSDI applicants experience a rather lengthy claims process, taking anywhere from 6 months to a year to receive a decision on their case. In contrast, all military service members who became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001 receive an expedited claims process. In addition, for veterans with a VA disability rating of 100% Permanent and Total (P&T) would be eligible for an expedited claims process, regardless of when they served. This means that Social Security workers will review a case more quickly than usual and will begin making payments to eligible applicants as soon as possible.

Another potential benefit is a veteran’s VA rating. Veterans applying for SSDI with a disability rating of 70% or higher are much more likely to qualify for benefits. This is because rankings of this nature, provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs (another government institution), certify that an applicant is too disabled to work full-time, which is a great benefit on the SSDI application.

Differences Between VA Disability and SSDI Benefits

Thankfully, receiving both VA disability and SSDI benefits brings nothing but extra help and positive changes. However, it is important to know how these programs differ and what those precise changes will be if you begin receiving SSDI.

  1. SSDI award amounts are based on a veteran’s lifetime earnings. While the actual formulas are too complex to delve into, the basic idea is simple: to calculate what your monthly benefits will be, the Social Security Administration (SSA) takes up to 35 years of prior work experience, calculates how much you’ve contributed to Social Security, then averages the amounts of your highest-grossing years to conclude what your monthly benefits will be. The average benefit amount for 2017 is around $1,200, but some SSDI members receive upwards of $2,500/month.
  2. Military payments do not affect eligibility. Because SSDI recipients are ruled as completely disabled and unable to work, there is a limit to how much money recipients can earn each month before disqualifying themselves from getting benefits. However, income through non-work activity, such as VA benefits, stocks, bonds, or profits from a business, are not counted towards that limit.
  3. Medicare and TRICARE benefits are awarded simultaneously. Those who receive both VA benefits and SSDI are not forced to pick between insurances. Veterans who receive SSDI are provided Medicare insurance in addition to TRICARE benefits. This means that all medical-related bills are first covered by Medicare, while any uncovered carry-over costs are sent to TRICARE as secondary insurance coverages.

Starting the Application Process

SSDI applications require a great deal of specific paperwork in order to be reviewed. Luckily, the application process is simple for those who prepare what they need ahead of time. According to the SSA’s main website, veterans and their should have the following documents on hand before beginning the application:

  • Form DD 214 (if you or your veteran were discharged from military service)
  • An original or certified copy of your birth certificate
  • W-2’s and income tax returns from recent years (previous year being most important)
  • Proof of military pay or workers’ compensation
  • Social Security numbers of yourself, your spouse, and/or any of your children under 18 (who may also qualify for benefits through you)
  • Checking or savings account number
  • Name, address, and phone number of one additional contact, in case you are unavailable
  • Any military or civilian medical records that explain/support your disability (VA notification letters, medical tests, physician’s notes, therapy documentation, hospital records, etc.)

Applications can be filed at anytime on the SSA’s main website, even if you or your veteran are currently hospitalized, in rehabilitation, or are currently in military status. Applications can be filled out by a caregiver if you experience difficulty completing it on your own. If you have any questions regarding the application or SSDI benefits, a Social Security worker can be reached through your local Social Security office.