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SSDI for Disabled Veterans

Gordon, Wolf & Carney June 27, 2024

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that provides financial support to individuals unable to work due to a disability. For veterans, SSDI can be a lifeline, offering monthly payments to help cover living expenses. 

SSDI helps individuals who have an employment history and have contributed to Social Security through payroll taxes but are now unable to work due to a serious medical condition. This program considers both physical and mental impairment if the disability is expected to last at least one year or result in death.  

This means that if a work-connected injury or illness prevents you from working, SSDI can provide the financial stability you need while you focus on your health and recovery. 

Why SSDI Matters for Veterans 

Many veterans return home with disabilities that prevent them from working. SSDI offers a financial safety net, particularly for those who are too young to qualify for retirement benefits but need income to survive. 

With SSDI, veterans get medical treatments, rehabilitation services, and other critical resources without financial strain. This support system ensures that those who have selflessly served their country receive the care and assistance they deserve during difficult times. 

How SSDI Differs from VA Benefits 

While both SSDI and VA benefits offer financial support, they're not the same. VA benefits are specifically for veterans, while SSDI is for anyone who meets the criteria. You can receive both, but they have different eligibility requirements and application processes. 

The two programs use different methods of determining disability. SSA (Social Security Administration) requires a total disability assessment. This means you must be completely unable to perform any substantial gainful activity due to your condition.  

In contrast, the VA (Veterans Affairs) rates disabilities on a percentage scale, allowing veterans to receive partial benefits if they have a service-connected disability that is not entirely disabling.  

This distinction means that some veterans might be deemed partially disabled by the VA and receive benefits but may not qualify for SSDI if they can engage in substantial gainful activity.  

Eligibility Criteria for SSDI 

Understanding eligibility is the first step in applying for SSDI. Here are the main requirements. 

Work Credits 

To qualify for SSDI, you must have earned enough work credits. These credits are accumulated based on your earnings and how long you have worked. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years. 

Disability Definition 

Your disability must meet the Social Security Administration's (SSA) definition. This means it should be severe, long-term, and prevent you from doing substantial gainful activity (SGA). For veterans, conditions like PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and loss of limbs often qualify. 

Medical Evidence 

You will need medical evidence such as medical records, test results, and doctors' notes to support your claim. The more comprehensive your documentation, the better your chances of approval. 

Exceptions for Younger Workers 

While the standard work credit requirement is 40 credits, with 20 earned in the last 10 years, there are exceptions for younger workers who haven’t had enough time to accumulate these credits. For example, individuals under 24 may qualify with as few as 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when their disability started. The specific amount of work credits needed varies by age, allowing younger veterans to access SSDI benefits without meeting the stringent credit requirements of older workers. 

Survivor Benefits 

Surviving family members of veterans who had worked enough to earn SSDI may also be eligible for benefits. This can include a spouse, children, or even dependent parents. Survivor benefits can provide continued financial assistance, ensuring that the families of disabled or deceased veterans are supported during financially challenging times. 

Fast-Track Applications 

The SSA offers expedited processing for veterans with certain conditions to make it quicker and easier to receive benefits. The “Wounded Warrior” program offers fast-tracking for veterans who became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001.  

In addition, SSA's Compassionate Allowances (CAL) initiative identifies diseases and other medical conditions that invariably meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits, thereby enabling faster approval of applications for those conditions. 

Presumptive Disability 

In some cases, veterans may qualify for presumptive disability, which allows them to receive benefits while their application is being reviewed. This typically applies to severe conditions that are apparent and likely to qualify under SSA's criteria. This provides immediate financial relief without waiting for the full review process to be completed. 

Importance of a Detailed Application 

It is important to provide a detailed and accurate SSDI application. This includes thoroughly documenting your work history, medical conditions, and how your disability impacts your daily life and ability to work. Incomplete or inconsistent information can delay the approval process or even result in denial of benefits. Veterans should also consider consulting with a disability attorney or advocate to ensure their application is as strong as possible. 

How to Apply for SSDI 

Here's how to get started with applying for SSDI: 

Initial Application 

You can apply online, by phone, or in person at a Social Security office. You must provide personal information, work history, and medical evidence. The process can be time-consuming and requires thoroughness and attention to detail. 

Wait Time for Approval 

The approval process can take several months. During this time, the SSA reviews your application and medical records. If approved, you will receive payment back from the date of your application. 

Appeals Process 

If your application is denied, you can appeal. The appeals process involves multiple stages, including reconsideration, a hearing, and possibly a federal court review. Having a lawyer can significantly improve your chances of success. 

Tips for a Successful Application 

To improve your chances of a successful application, consider these tips: 

  • Gather medical records: This includes diagnosis reports, treatment histories, and statements from your healthcare providers. Detailed records that clearly outline your disability and its impact can strengthen your application. 

  • Be consistent and thorough: Double-check for discrepancies in dates, job titles, or medical history, which could raise red flags and cause delays or denial. 

  • Detailed work history: Clearly document your past employment, focusing on the tasks you performed and how your disability now prevents you from doing these jobs. Provide an in-depth look at your role and responsibilities for a complete picture. 

  • Explain impact on daily life: Evidence that shows how your disability affects daily activities and personal care can prove invaluable in demonstrating the severity of your condition. 

  • Consider professional help: A disability attorney or advocate can guide you through the application process, gather necessary evidence, and craft a persuasive narrative to present to the SSA. 

After Approval 

Once your SSDI is approved, you will start receiving monthly benefits. Here’s what to expect: 

  • Duration of benefits: SSDI benefits continue for as long as your disability prevents you from performing substantial gainful activity. The SSA will periodically review your case to determine if you still meet the disability criteria. 

  • Trial Work Period (TWP): SSDI offers a TWP to test your ability to work without losing your benefits. During this period, you can work for nine months (not necessarily consecutive) with full benefits while earning above the substantial gainful activity level. 

  • Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA): Your SSDI benefits may increase over time due to annual cost-of-living adjustments to help you keep up with inflation. 

Social Security Disability Attorneys in Townsend, Maryland, and Nationwide 

At Gordon, Wolf & Carney, we are passionate about helping veterans secure the benefits they deserve. Our team possesses over 100 years of combined legal experience, making us uniquely qualified to handle complex disability cases.  

If you need help with your SSDI application or appeal, call us for a free consultation.