In addition to being eligible for veterans disability compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), disabled veterans can also qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
If you have worked at least half the time since turning 21, or five of the last ten years if you're over 30, you are probably eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If you haven’t worked in a long time (perhaps due to disability), you might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits if your income and assets fall within program limits.
Qualifying for Social Security Benefits as a Vet
If you have been awarded VA disability benefits, this doesn’t mean you will necessarily be approved for SSDI or SSI. It’s also true that being denied VA benefits doesn’t preclude you from getting benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). This is because the VA and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have different qualification requirements and application processes.
However, if you are receiving service-connected disability compensation and are rated at 70% or higher, this may help with your SSA claim. And if you are rated as 100% disabled by the VA, you will be likely to be found disabled by the Social Security Administration.
For more information, read our article on how VA disability affects Social Security's decision.
Common Disabilities for Gulf War Veterans
Common disabilities for Gulf War veterans include chronic undiagnosed illnesses (more on this below), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain Injury (TBI), digestive system disorders, and amputations.
The Social Security Administration will pay you benefits for your disabilities if your conditions make you unable to work. You do not have to show that these conditions are linked to your military service.
Chronic Undiagnosed Illnesses
Many Gulf War veterans suffer from medical conditions that are not easily diagnosed. This is because scientists are still studying the effect of wartime chemicals that were first used during the Gulf war. Many of the effects of these chemicals on long-term health remain uncertain.
Sometimes doctors diagnose these chronic illnesses as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. If you have one of these diagnoses, read our articles on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome for information on how to qualify for benefits.
You may suffer from a cluster of chronic symptoms that your doctor has been unable to diagnose. However, Social Security requires medical evidence of a "medically determinable" condition in order to find you disabled. For instance, if you suffer from persistent joint pain, your medical record will have to include evidence (such as a lab test, x-ray, or results of a doctor's exam) that proves you have a condition that could be producing your symptoms.
If your doctor has given you a diagnosis for any of the following conditions, you can try to qualify for benefits based on them. Click the relevant link(s) below for more information on qualifying for disability benefits for that medical condition.
- memory loss
- skin conditions
- joint and muscle pain
- heart problems,
- anxiety, and/or
- respiratory issues.
If you don’t have any specific diagnosis, you may want to contact a disability lawyer for help applying for Social Security disability for Gulf War syndrome. Your doctor may be able to work with your doctor to document your limitations and develop medical evidence showing you are unable to work.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The Social Security Administration evaluates PTSD under its listing for anxiety disorders. If you have near-extreme anxiety or severe emotional disturbances caused by regular flashbacks, nightmares, or memories of a traumatic event, you should be able to get Social Security disability benefits. Read more about how to get Social Security benefits for PTSD.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
If you suffered a traumatic brain injury, you can qualify for benefits on that basis if your symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your ability to work.
Digestive System Disorders
If you are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia, or other digestive symptom disorders, it will be more difficult to qualify for benefits, but you may be approved if you meet the medical requirements for one of the listed gastrointestinal disorders or you can show your condition prevents you from working.
Approvals for Social Security disability after having an arm or leg amputated are only automatic if you lose both hands, a leg up to the hip, or a pelvic amputation. Otherwise, you have to prove that your amputation(s) make it difficult to walk effectively. For instance, if you've lost one leg and one hand, and you need your other hand to use a cane or crutch, Social Security should consider you disabled. If you've lost one or both legs, and you have residual limb (stump) complications that make it difficult to use prosthetic devices effectively, Social Security may consider you disabled. Outside of these situations, it's tough to get disability. Social Security can consider even double amputees as able to work -- after they have completely healed -- if they have prosthetic legs that allow them to walk effectively. For more information, read our article on getting disability after an amputation.
Note that if you have had two limbs amputated and are applying for SSI, you can get immediate cash payments (called "presumptive payments") for six months while the SSA determines whether you should get long-term disability benefits.
If you have a drug or drinking problem stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression, you cannot receive disability benefits on that basis alone. You will have to provide medical evidence that even without the substance abuse, you would be unable to work because of a severe mental or physical condition. It is very difficult for a doctor to evaluate your underlying medical conditions while you are actively using drugs and alcohol, so it is advisable to get clean and sober so you can see a doctor and get medical evidence to qualify for benefits for your other symptoms.
Expediting Your Application
The SSA will expedite disability claims filed by veterans for injuries or illnesses that developed after September 2001. The disability must have begun while the veteran was on active duty. For more information, see our article on fast-tracking Social Security disability claims for veterans.
If You Are Denied Benefits
Most people, veterans included, are denied Social Security benefits after they first apply. If you receive a denial letter, you may want to ask a disability attorney to help you file an appeal.
You should also apply for disability compensation from the VA. For more information, see Nolo's article on VA disability compensation for gulf war vets.