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I’m a Disabled Veteran. Can I Get Both Social Security and Veterans’ Administration Benefits?

Absolutely, yes. The Social Security Administration and VA might be part of the same federal government. But they are different agencies with different rules. In fact, in most cases, one has little or nothing to do with the other. Many disabled veterans qualify for SSDI benefits but not VA benefits, or vice versa.

There are some exceptions, and these situations get quite complex. Assume Ben grew up around smokers and even took a few puffs himself from time to time. After high school, Ben joined the Army, which sent him to Iraq. His duty assignments kept him dangerously close to the base’s burn pit. These huge waste disposal pits were filled with every kind of garbage imaginable, including many hazardous substances, doused with jet fuel, and set ablaze. Scientists have linked burn pit smoke to breathing problems.

If Ben develops Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or another lung problem, the smoking, the burn pit, or a combination of both could have been responsible. So, Ben could be eligible for SSDI benefits, VA benefits, or neither one, depending on the additional facts.

The bottom line is that the issue is quite complex. But it is possible to receive government benefits from multiple agencies. You could be eligible for both CHIPS health insurance and the Earned Income Tax credit. Likewise, you could receive both VA and SSA benefits. It can be very beneficial to have an experienced lawyer (SSI lawyer near me) from the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm to help you.

SSI Benefits

Typically, Social Security Insurance benefits are age- and income-related benefits. So, there is often little interaction with VA benefits.

Blindness is probably the biggest exception. Frequently, genetic conditions cause blindness. Some people are blind from birth. Others may have unusual sensitivities to things like light and solar radiation which do not affect most other people to the same degree. 

Alternatively, blindness could be a service-related condition. Exposure to certain chemicals causes blindness, as do certain other events. That service-related connection is what separates SSDI benefits from VA benefits.

SSDI Benefits

These benefits are both medically and income-based. Applicants must have paid enough money into the system to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. 

Mostly, however, the SSA awards these benefits to applicants who are completely disabled and completely unable to work. Additionally, their disability and inability to work must either be long term or permanent.

One way to obtain ssdi benefits is if the disability must be a Blue Book condition. In other words, the SSA must recognize the disease or injury as one which could cause complete disability. In some cases, an attorney from Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm (SSA law firm) will show that the applicant suffers from a condition which is substantially similar to a Blue Book condition.

The key in this area is that the disability must be complete. You are disabled or you are not. The VA, as outlined below, uses a sliding scale rating system to determine the extent of disability. This system is not always straightforward.

Additionally, SSDI applicants must be unable to find and hold SGA (Substantial Gainful Employment) employment. Substantial Gainful Employment is work which pays enough to elevate the applicant and any dependents above the poverty line.

A disability could interfere with SGA in several ways. Some disabled applicants can only perform light-duty minimum wage work, like Walmart greeter or crossing guard. These jobs do not pay enough to qualify as SGA. Other disabled applicants must limit their hours, which means their incomes are limited as well. Still other disabled applicants can find SGA jobs, but because of their conditions, they do not hold them very long.

SGA is not just a medical issue. There are other dimensions as well. Well-educated people can usually find better jobs than poorly-educated people. Furthermore, it’s much harder to find SGA jobs in the COVID-19 era than it was before. In many cases, these job losses are permanent.

For the most part, the ability to work is ancillary to a VA disability claim. This inability could bolster the claim, but it is not make-or-break. The big exception is the TDIU (Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability) loophole, an extremely complex matter which is too much to cover in this post.

VA Benefits

Disabled veterans qualify for VA benefits if they have a service-related qualifying condition. Let’s look at these requirements individually.

Establishing a service-related connection is frequently the most challenging aspect of a VA disability claim. Agent Orange exposure cancer is a good example. Symptoms of this illness often do not appear for years or even decades. Congress recently changed the law in this area, so benefits are easier to obtain.

A pre-existing condition also complicates matters. Let’s look at Ben again and alter the facts a bit. 

COPD, like cancer, often surfaces years after the fact. Assume Ben applied for and received SSDI benefits on the basis of his childhood exposure to tobacco smoke. That award would undercut a later claim that his COPD was service-related. These agencies are legally separate, but they still communicate with each other.

However, if Ben’s SSDI file simply said he had COPD from an undetermined source, his VA application may not be compromised.

Unlike the SSA, the VA uses a disability rating system. Disability ratings begin at 10 percent and go up to 100 percent. So, if Ben’s COPD prevented him from climbing stairs and playing with his kids, he might have a 50 percent disability rating.

So, even if you are only a partially disabled veteran, you are still entitled to benefits. Additionally, because of the aforementioned TDIU (Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability) loophole, you might be eligible for full benefits.

One of the frustrating things about this system is that the VA uses VA math. In other words, the VA has its own way of calculating a percentage of disability that is different from one used for  Social Security Disability. One plus one does not always equal two. If Ben’s COPD disability is 50 percent and he also has a 50 percent brain injury disability, Ben is not 100 percent disabled, as far as the VA is concerned. He is only 75 percent disabled. His 50 percent brain injury disability is actually 25 percent (50 percent of 50 percent). VA math is another extremely complex area which is beyond the scope of this post but we simply have touched upon it in support of helping you understand that indeed it is possible for a person to receive both VA and SSA disability benefits, but it is a complex cocktail. 

Fortunately, there is assistance from a legal professional available to you to get the benefits you deserve, simply contact an SSI disability lawyer that serves Memphis and the Greater Mid-South area from the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm and take advantage of our FREE Evaluation. We are available during COVID-19 via phone, Video Chat and email. Call us today at (901) 244-0057

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