Members of the military pay Social Security taxes on their income in the same way civilian employees do. Because of this, they can qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) without affecting their retirement or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability benefits. If you suffer from an injury or illness that prevents you from working, you may qualify for SSDI regardless of how much you receive from the VA or the military for your disability or retirement.
What income counts against me when it comes to SSDI?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) only looks at how much you earn from working a job or through self-employment when determining if you qualify for SSDI. This program is not income-based. Instead, the SSA uses an income threshold to help them understand if you truly suffer from an impairment that prevents you from working and earning a gainful wage.
This means you can earn money from many other sources and it will not count against your SSDI income. This may include military retirement, VA disability benefits, a private pension or other retirement plan, investing in stocks and bonds, or even owning real estate. You can continue to collect your other benefits without worrying about an offset or losing your SSDI pay.
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Are there any income requirements to qualify for SSDI?
From the outside, it may seem as if SSDI is an income-based program with an earnings limit of $1,170 per month for 2017. This substantial gainful activity limit, however, is the maximum amount of earned income you can bring home each month and still qualify for SSDI benefits. This looks only at how much money you brought home from working a job or self-employment project, minus your work-related disability expenses and any costs of accommodations you require to work despite your disability. Most people who suffer from a serious impairment cannot work enough to hit this limit.
While your military benefits do not count against you when applying for SSDI, the substantial gainful activity limit is far from the only criteria you must meet to qualify for these government benefits. There is also a work credit requirement and you must prove you suffer from a well-documented disability or impairment that prevents you from working in your field, at any job you previously held, or as an unskilled worker.
It is also important to note that Supplemental Security Income (SSI), another disability program, is income-based. It includes unearned income when calculating qualifications and has an extremely low limit. While it is possible, it is unlikely you would qualify for military retirement and VA benefits as well as SSI.
Can I receive benefits for the same disability from the VA and Social Security?
Yes, you can receive benefits from service-connected VA disability and the SSA based on the same disability. However, do not expect to receive an automatic approval from the SSA just because the VA has determined you suffer from a disability.
The two agencies use different definitions of disabled. To qualify for SSDI, you must suffer from a total disability. The VA relies on a much looser definition and includes those who suffer from a partial disability.
To learn whether or not your disability will receive approval for SSA benefits, you can find your condition in their official book of impairment listings. This book, sometimes called the Blue Book, outlines the categories of medical conditions that often lead to total disability. They also bullet point the criteria you need to meet in order to receive benefits.
In some cases, you can see that your disability meets the criteria right away. In other cases, your condition may not be as severe as those in the impairment listings. However, you can still qualify for benefits based on your residual functional capacity. Your residual functional capacity is a measure of your ability to work and function in your daily life. The SSA determines this by analyzing your medical records and other documentation. They may also request a consultative examination with a doctor to confirm the limitations imposed by your impairment.
After they complete this overview of your condition, abilities, and limitations, they have a good idea of what you are capable of doing, for how long, and how often. This allows them to determine if you can return to work, return to work with reasonable accommodations, or cannot work at all.
How can I talk to a disability lawyer for free?
If you have questions about your benefits or qualifications—or if the SSA denied your SSDI claim—call us today. We can help you understand your options for government benefits above and beyond your military retirement or VA disability. Let us help you prepare and file your claim and get the money you deserve.
If the SSA has already denied your claim, you need us more than ever. Call us at 412-661-1400 today and let us go to work fighting for the benefits you deserve in the appeals process. We offer complimentary consultations and you never pay until we get you the money you deserve.