5 Things Veterans Should Know When Filing for SSDI

Veterans Filing for SSDI

Are you a disabled U.S. Veteran? You may be eligible for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration in addition to disability benefits you may already receive through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Seeking Social Security Disability benefits for veterans is a complex web that makes even the military personally procured move and EFMP paperwork look like a walk in the park. You’ve worked hard and earned the respect of your fellow countrymen, now it’s time to get that same respect and opportunity from the federal government.

When a veteran applies for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), there are a lot of things to consider, some of which may seem hidden. No matter your situation, it’s likely that there are many special options open to you. Unfortunately, some of these are unclear when you are only used to working with the VA.

Let’s take a look at five things you may not know, especially about Social Security benefits for disabled veterans, whether you suffer from partial or complete disabilities, and how they can help you shape today’s benefits as well as your future.

1. Working Again and Social Security for Veterans

The Social Security Disability program offers a special set of rules and options – which it calls work incentives – to help you test your ability to return to work and still qualify for or receive your monthly Social Security disability benefits.

The Social Security Administration runs a program called Ticket to Work that helps many beneficiaries find some form of work you can apply at any point after you’ve been awarded your benefits.

If you already receive SSDI or SSI and are between the ages of 18 and 64, you’re already qualified to use the program. Ticket is completely free and voluntary.

The Ticket program is often paired with work incentives so that you can keep some benefits and options as you consider returning to the workforce.

The Ticket program is designed to help veterans and others on SSDI who have been able to strike a balance between their disability and the option to work. If you are among those veterans who can return to the workforce after a time, your SSDI will be there to help you work and have enough money to support yourself.

Earning a living in this fashion is not an option for every veteran, but you may find it an appealing option while on your road to recovery and control.

2. Past Disabilities Can Earn Social Security for Veterans

What if you were disabled in the past but have recovered and been able to return to work? Sometimes a person, including veterans, can receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits for a time period in the past, typically beginning with the date they became unable to work due to a disability and ending on the date they returned to the workforce full time.

If you previously met the criteria to be disabled under the SSA’s disability rules and your application was filed within a specific time frame, you may be eligible for a closed period of SSDI benefits. These benefits are paid for a closed period of time in the past and the benefits you will be paid generally consist only of backpay. Nevertheless these benefits are still significant as you could still receive enough to help you repay money you had to borrow, bills that have fallen behind, or other concerns that arose when you were unable to work.

Your application for a closed period of benefits will need to fit certain criteria to be considered:

  • Your medical information and records must prove that you were unable to work in a significant manner for at least a continuous 12-month period. They must also show that your condition has improved enough to where you are no longer disabled and this return-to-work date must be before the disability decision is made.
  • You must file your application within 14 months after the disability ended. This can be a little tricky because it is not necessarily the date you returned to full-time work. Alternatively, if you medically improved and returned to work while a current SSDI claim is pending, you can still receive a closed period of benefits for the time period you were unable to work.
  • Even if approved for a closed-period of benefits, there is always a five month waiting period before your SSDI benefit payments begin, starting with the date your disability began. The SSA follows that waiting period strictly and then provides you benefits at a monthly rate afterwards. Thus, the total amount of retroactive benefits you could receive for a closed period is equal to the monthly benefit rate you are owed times the number of months you have been out of work, less five months.

Let’s look at one quick example. Say you filed for Social Security for veterans in October of 2014, but when the SSA reviews your medical history they find and agree that you were disabled starting on February 17, 2013, and were better as of July, 2014. The time you’re deemed healthy again, July of 2014, is the end date that closes your period of disability. Your five-month waiting time will start on March 1, 2013, because March is the first full month in which you were disabled. The waiting period runs through July 2013, so you will first be eligible for benefits in August 2013. You can potentially receive compensation for August 2013 through July 2014 – when you were no longer considered disabled. So in this case it is likely that you would be paid for 10 months of retroactive benefits from October 2013 through July 2014.

3. You Have Multiple Options

Many veterans will have Social Security and Veterans Disability claims being processed at the same time because there are situations where veterans can receive both types of assistance.

Your Veterans Affairs disability benefits and your Social Security benefits for veterans use different standards and calculations to determine your eligibility. Social Security is largely based on your prior earned income for its calculations and you’ll often need to be classified as totally disabled to receive Social Security benefits for disabled veterans. The upside to applying for SSDI alongside your VA benefits is that SSDI will consider disabilities that occurred after you left the service. SSDI benefits are not income-based, so you can receive SSDI benefits and VA disability benefits simultaneously.

The VA’s disability benefits are also typically not based on your income, so you can often receive these benefits alongside SSDI. Unlike the SSDI program, the VA disability benefit doesn’t require total disability; the Department even notes that the majority of its recipients are not considered totally disabled. Thus, it is sometimes easier to get VA disability benefits than SSDI benefits.

SSI benefits are income based. So many veterans who already receive VA disability benefits before filing for Social Security benefits are not eligible for SSI due to their existing VA disability benefit income.

Even if your disability is slight and does not impact your daily life or ability to work, it’s worth applying for both SSDI and Veterans’ disability benefits. Even if you establish a disability with the VA but get a low compensation rating, you’ve still done a great thing for yourself. By applying for and getting the VA to recognize that you have a disability, you’ve made it much easier to get further VA disability compensation if your disability deteriorates over time and eventually starts to prevent you from working.

If the VA gives you a high rating, typically above 65 to 70 percent, then your chances of receiving Social Security benefits for disabled veterans increases. Since one part of the government has determined that you have a disability that prevents you from working, it may be more likely that another area of the government will do the same. However, the SSA will still have to make their own determination about your disability, based on Social Security rules and regulations.

It’s best to talk with an attorney partner when assessing these considerations and learning what benefits to seek because your options don’t disappear with the first filing. Attorneys are available to help you with your SSDI claims.

4. Social Security for Veterans Requires Medical Records

You must keep a detailed, accurate record of doctor’s appointments, therapy schedules or routines, health issues, and as many health records as possible when you apply for your Social Security benefits for veterans. Failure to keep track of medical events, records, and treatments can cause a big headache when it comes to getting approved for SSDI. This should include information about every doctor you’ve visited since your disability began, even if the treatment or checkup doesn’t seem important to you.

For example, you may see a delay in acceptance if the medical records from your primary care doctor say you were referred to a specialist for an issue, but you don’t provide the Social Security Administration with details about that specialist visit.

In extreme cases, you may risk a denial of SSDI if you fail to provide adequate information. What often happens is that you’ll have to go through a longer process where specific information is requested. If you don’t have enough detail for the SSA to feel it has an understanding of your medical history, it may send you to a doctor that it chooses.

Going to an SSA-designated doctor may have negative consequences since they have likely seen previous referrals who were trying to cheat the system. These doctors also won’t have a history of working with you, so they won’t be able to make as good a consideration as your primary-care doctors. The doctors that SSA chooses haven’t worked with you or seen the changes in your health and abilities, so you’re facing a much bigger hill to climb in presenting your case.

When it comes to your medical history, you should be following your doctor’s orders for medication and therapies. Claims can be denied when veterans stop taking their medication or don’t see their doctor as often as needed. The SSA will assume that any medication you’re not taking is because you do not need it.

The SSA is required to consider your reasons for not following treatments or therapies, so you’ll want to explain this in your paperwork, if possible. For example, if a temporary illness requires you to stop taking some long-term care medicine, request that this be included in writing in your medical records. That will provide the SSA with a doctor-approved reason for not taking some medication. If you cannot afford your medication because of an illness or disability that prevents you from working, write a letter of explanation and show it to your attorney.

A smart attorney partner will help you work with your doctors to get your medical reasoning verified but avoid traps that can slow you down. You don’t want to be so preoccupied with getting your SSDI that it interferes with other things in your life.

5. You Have the Right to an Attorney for VA Disability and Social Security

You have a specified right to hiring an attorney to help you file for Social Security and VA Disability benefits. You also have the right for them to represent you in case of an appeal.

Best of all, you do not have to pay an attorney for representation in a Social Security Disability claim unless you receive benefits at the end of your application or appeal – no matter how long the process goes on for. Typically, attorney fees are paid out of the backpay you receive and the fee is limited to 25 percent of your back pay. If you’re receiving a large award, the attorney’s payment will be capped at $6,000.

It’s recommended to have an attorney partner, especially if your initial claim is denied because you have the option to make an appeal. Appeals happen before a judge, making a lawyer’s experience a great help. Your attorney partner can help you to focus on the most important facts of your case, provide assistance with how best to answer questions, and to help make sure the court is treating you fairly. Your appeal must be filed within 60 days of the date of your denial letter, so it’s best to find an attorney sooner rather than later.

These benefits related to your service will be a big help to your future well-being and it’s worth hiring a smart and capable attorney to ensure that you get everything you’ve worked so hard for. Contact the law office of Lisa M. Ritacco to see if she can help you get the most from your VA Disability and Social Security today.