Most military members are aware that if they are wounded and become disabled while on active duty, they qualify for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA). However, they might not be aware that they may also qualify for Social Security disability benefits, as well, if the injuries they receive leave them unable to work. It is important for military service members to be aware of all of the VA disability benefits for which they may be eligible.
Veterans' Affairs Disability Benefits
Veterans wounded while on active duty qualify for disability benefits from the VA. They may receive monthly payments from $123 to $3,100, depending on the severity of the disability and how many dependents the veteran has. Disabled veterans also may qualify for TRICARE, the military's health insurance plan, as well as vocational rehabilitation services, job training or education. If a disabled veteran is totally unable to work, then he or she may receive total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) compensation.
The military tried to streamline its discharge and disability determination process for disabled veterans, but there are still many flaws in the program that cause vets to endure long delays. A military medial board decides a wounded veteran's disability rating for purposes of compensation and then issues the discharge. The VA then duplicates the process by issuing a disability rating for the purposes of receiving VA disability benefits.
One veteran's file goes back and forth between the VA and Department of Defense nine times during this process. The process is taking up to 400 days to complete currently, leaving veterans waiting for their discharges without any ability to move on with their lives.
Lawmakers are currently looking for ways to make the process go more quickly, including one proposal that would eliminate the medical board's disability rating and just use the VA's disability rating for the purposes of discharge and compensation.
Social Security Disability Benefits
Disabled military service members may also be eligible for Social Security disability benefits in addition to the VA benefits. Veterans may apply for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on a person's work history, or Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), which is based on financial need. These benefits require a separate application process than VA benefits.
A veteran may apply at any time after he or she is injured, whether still in the military or discharged. Receiving military pay does not preclude eligibility for Social Security disability benefits, particularly if the applicant is on restricted duty or in a military hospital. If a veteran is still working for the military, the SSA will examine the applicant's work activity to see if he or she is able to engage in Substantial Gainful Employment (SGA).
The SSA will also put a veteran's application on "fast track" status if the veteran indicates on the application that the disability occurred while he or she was on active military duty.
Transitioning back to civilian life for members of the military is difficult enough even if a person is not disabled. When a veteran leaves active duty because of a disability, it is even more challenging. If you are a veteran who can no longer work because of an injury you sustained while on active duty, contact an attorney who can help you obtain the benefits that you have earned through your service.