How VA Disability Differs from Social Security Disability

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While a veteran can receive VA disability and Social Security benefits at the same time, the two programs differ widely. This is true in how individuals are determined to be disabled–and thus qualified for benefits–as well as how benefits are applied to their case.

A veteran and their family can qualify for VA benefits if the veteran has been rated for a service-connected disability. They can also receive Social Security benefits in some instances.

A disabled civilian can receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but cannot receive VA disability.

Social Security is a federal program that covers those too severely disabled to work.

VA disabilities are not determined by your ability to work. Instead, you must only prove a disability is connected to your military service or is a secondary VA disability connected to a service-related disability.

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between VA disability and Social Security, and how these programs affect you.

What Is VA Disability?

The Veterans Administration provides monthly, tax-free compensation to former service members who were injured or suffer from a chronic disability related to their time in service, or who had an existing condition made worse by their military duties.

Typically, you must file for VA disability benefits up to 180 days prior to leaving the service, and a doctor must prove a “nexus” connection between your medical condition and your military service.

You will potentially undergo a C&P exam and receive a disability rating from 0 to 100 percent disabled, and this will help determine the level of benefits you and your family receive. This rating will combine all primary and secondary service-connected disabilities.

There are some disabilities that the VA presumes are connected to your service, thus it’s easier to win benefits if you are found to have such disabilities. Some presumptive connections include having been a prisoner of war, witnessed nuclear testing, or having served in the presence of carcinogenic chemicals in Vietnam or the Gulf War Theater.

A primary VA disability is defined as one of the following:

  •       Pre-service disability—an illness or injury sustained before you joined the military, the condition of which was worsened by military service.
  •       In-service disability—illness or injury sustained while serving which is linked to your current condition.
  •       Post-service disability—a disability that didn’t appear until after separation from active-duty service, but can be medically proven to be connected to active-duty service.

A secondary disability must be proven to be caused or worsened by a primary disability.

If you disagree with a disability rating or determination on your case, you can appeal the VA’s decision in the following ways:

  •       Supplemental Claim (provide new medical evidence)
  •       Higher-Level Review (appeal to a more senior reviewer)
  •       Board Appeal (appeal to a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals)

How Are SSDI and SSI Different from VA Disability?

SSDI and SSI are federal benefits programs for both veterans and civilians. These programs also have a more stringent burden of proof for determining disability. For instance, a 100 percent disability rating from the VA will not necessarily mean the SSA will consider you 100 percent disabled.


SSI is a needs-based benefits program for those who are 65 or older or are blind or disabled at any age, and have limited income and resources.

You would apply for SSI when you haven’t paid Social Security taxes through your employer to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Those who qualify for SSI typically also qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as Medicaid.

You can apply for SSI benefits online or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) Monday through Friday 7am to 7pm, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website.


SSDI is a program that pays benefits to people suffering from disabilities based on how much they’ve paid into Social Security over their working lifetime.

SSDI covers total disabilities that prevent you from working.

The SSA considers someone unable to work if they meet the following criteria:

  •       Inability to do the work you were able to do before your disability worsened.
  •       It’s determined that you can’t do other work because of your medical condition.
  •       In addition to your past work history, you must also provide documentation that you cannot do any work in the economy, now or in the future.
  •       Your disability has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least one year, or is expected to result in your death.

Filing for SSDI benefits can help you offset your loss of income.

Can You Apply for VA Disability and Social Security Benefits?

Veterans can potentially receive both VA disability and Social Security benefits.

However, as mentioned above, having a high disability rating for VA disability benefits will not necessarily impact whether you are approved for Social Security benefits. Likewise, winning Social Security benefits will not entitle you to VA benefits. They are separate programs and you must prove your disability to each depending on their unique guidelines.

Yet, both programs will require you to have detailed medical records that reflect:

1.) the current nature and severity of your disability and

2.) the entire history of your disability.

Both programs require written opinions by doctors and specialists defining your disability’s severity and, in the VA’s case, its connection to your service.

Thus, one of the most important things you can do for VA disability and Social Security claims is keep detailed, accurate, thorough, and current medical records.

When Should You Call a Disability Attorney?

An attorney experienced in Veterans’ disability law can advise you, help you file appeals, assist you with proper and complete documentation, and can fight for you and with you as you navigate your next steps.

An attorney can also:

  •       Identify strategies to maximize your chances of winning your claim
  •       Help navigate multiple claims or appeals
  •       Appeal for a higher disability rating

The law protects veterans specifically regarding legal fees and cases. Additionally, an initial consultation with attorneys at Affleck & Gordon is completely free.


If your VA Disability or Social Security claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for decades. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 990-3945.

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