Disability benefits are available through the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans who have suffered a service-related illness or injury. In addition, the Social Security Administration administers a disability insurance program that benefits workers who have sufficient work credits and who are unable to work. Veterans who qualify may apply for both programs.
Veterans with a service-related injury or illness, or with a condition worsened by active military service, may be eligible for VA disability benefits. The amount of benefits depends on the degree of disability, which is determined by the VA according to medical reports and the testimony of the treating physicians. Benefits rise if the veteran has a spouse and/or children. To qualify for VA disability, the applicant must not have been dishonorably discharged.
Social Security Disability
Social Security disability benefits are available to disabled workers who have a sufficient number of work credits, or quarters, in which they paid Social Security taxes. The disabling condition must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 months, or to result in the worker's death. The SSA will not pay benefits to anyone making more than a Substantial Gainful Activity amount, also known as SGA. In 2017, that amount was $1,170 per month before taxes or $1,950 for blinded veterans.
Social Security Offsets
Anyone earning Social Security disability must report income, both from employment and income from nonwage sources such as workers' compensation, private disability insurance, pensions and other disability benefits. If a public agency is paying workers' compensation, for example, Social Security limits the combined total of disability and worker's comp benefits to 80 percent of the worker's average earnings. This can result in an offset, in which Social Security subtracts the excess amount from the monthly benefits.
In the case of VA disability benefits, however, Social Security does not take the offset, and allows the worker to earn the full benefits to which he is entitled from both agencies. Social Security also provides for expedited processing of disability claims for military veterans. Applicants to the Social Security disability program are also evaluated on the basis of their medical records, but are not paid according to a schedule of disability percentages, as with the VA. Social Security disability is all-or-nothing; either you are approved for a full benefit, with a monthly benefit amount calculated from your work history, or your claim is denied.
Supplemental Security Income
The Supplemental Security Income program is another disability program administered by the Social Security Administration. SSI is also based on medical disability, but is means-tested; you may not earn more than a limited amount from all sources to qualify. The amount varies with your marital status and the source, either wage or nonwage income. If your VA compensation combined with other income exceeds that amount, your SSI application will be denied.