Many veterans return from serving our country with painful and debilitating disabilities that keep them from being able to sustain gainful employment. Fortunately, members of the military can receive benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program as well as through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, to receive these benefits, veterans must go through the process of filing their claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and awaiting a decision regarding their disability rating. Unfortunately, this can be a time-consuming and frustrating process, so if you are a member of the military and believe that you qualify for Social Security benefits in addition to VA benefits, it is critical to speak with an experienced SSDI attorney in Charlotte who can help you compile the necessary medical evidence and complete the filing process.
Although veterans are required to go through the same filing process as civilians, certain individuals can receive expedited processing of their applications. Known as the Permanent and Total Veterans Initiative, this program allows veterans who have received compensation from the VA for a disability rating of 100 percent permanent and total disability to have their SSDI applications processed much more quickly. Generally, the length of time it takes the SSA to make a decision regarding an applicant’s eligibility for benefits depends on a number of factors, including:
- The nature of the disability;
- How quickly they are provided with medical evidence of the disability; and
- Whether the applicant must undergo an additional medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support the claim.
Depending on the severity and complexity of the claim, this could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
The VA Rating System
Once the VA has determined that a disability is service-connected, it will evaluate the severity of the disability and how much the impairment will impact the veteran’s ability to work. In rating disabilities, the VA uses a Schedule of Rating Disabilities (VARSD), where the ratings are based on the average impact on earning capacity that a particular disability would have in a civilian occupation. Ratings range from zero percent to 100 percent in 10 percent increments. The VARSD categorizes disabilities based on the part of the body that was injured. Each of these categories also contains groups of medical issues with multiple diagnoses, each with its own code. Finally, each diagnostic code specifies symptoms and percentages of severity that are required for certain ratings.
To rate a disability, the VA attempts to locate a diagnosis and then matches the diagnostic code with the symptoms being suffered by the applicant. When an applicant has more than one disability, the VA uses a special combined ratings table to either round the rating up or down to the nearest whole number. If an applicant suffers from both service-connected and nonservice-connected disabilities and it is difficult to identify which injury belongs to which category, the VA is required to assume that the service-connected disability is the case of the symptoms, which can result in a higher rating. Throughout this process, the VA will carefully review the applicant’s medical records.
Finally, VA applicants have the right to request that the VA assign different ratings for different periods of time while their application is pending. This is referred to as staged ratings and they allow the VA to analyze the medical evidence and assign a higher rating for the time period when the symptoms were worse. However, if the disability improves, the VA can assign a lower rating for that period of time. Staged ratings are especially helpful for applicants who have complex claims that take many months or even years to conclude.
Applying for SSDI Benefits
Fortunately, a veteran’s receipt of VA benefits does not mean that his or her access to SSDI benefits will be affected. However, because the SSA and the VA use different rating systems, even veterans who receive a VA compensation rating of 100 percent disability are not guaranteed approval for Social Security benefits. To be approved for Social Security benefits, the applicant must still meet the SSA’s definition of disability, which means that:
- He or she is unable to do substantial work because of the medical condition or illness; and
- The medical condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least a year or to result in death.
Although a 100 percent VA rating means that a veteran will be guaranteed expedited processing of his or her claim, it does not mean that an applicant will automatically be granted benefits. The veteran will still need to go through the SSA’s process of rating disabilities, which requires matching an applicant’s symptoms with disabilities located on the SSA’s list of impairments. To help establish the existence of a particular disability, the applicant will need to submit extensive medical records, which could include:
- A medical history;
- Clinical findings;
- Laboratory findings;
- A diagnosis;
- The prescribed treatment and the patient’s prognosis; and
- A statement about what work-related activities the claimant can still perform despite his or her impairments, such as lifting, standing, hearing, and speaking, as well as the ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions.
If a veteran’s claim is approved, he or she may be able to receive both VA and SSDI benefits, which can be crucial to his or her ability to pay for living expenses and medical care.
Contact a Member of our Experienced Charlotte SSDI Legal Team Today
Many veterans return from active duty with severe physical or mental impairments. These individuals can and should be compensated for these disabilities, so if you are a member of the military and have questions or concerns about your own access to benefits, please contact the experienced legal team at Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. We pride ourselves on our ability to be available to our clients at all times and so can be reached via email and live chat or through the submission of a brief contact form. Please contact us today to speak with a dedicated Charlotte, NC SSDI attorney who can help you schedule a free initial consultation.