Getting Social Security Disability Benefits as a Wounded Warrior
Service members who were on active duty while injured can get expedited Social Security disability benefits.
If you are a veteran or active duty service member and you become disabled while on active duty (anytime after September 2001), you are eligible to get an expedited decision in your Social Security disability case. It does not matter where or how you became disabled.
Can I Get a Decision Faster Because of Being in the Military?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will expedite the decision process for service members who became disabled on or after October 1, 2001, if the disability occurred while on active duty. The SSA does not consider where or how the disability happened, so your disability does not need to be related to your military duty, just while you were on active duty.
When you first apply for disability, you must let the SSA know that your medical condition began while you were on active duty. You must also tell the SSA the location where your military records are kept. Although the Department of Defense routinely sends reports the names of ill or injured service members to the SSA, these reports can be incomplete. Therefore, when you file for disability with the SSA, you must make sure that you provide the SSA with proof that you are, or were, a service member.
Once the SSA gets your application, it will be marked as a Military Casualty/Wounded Warrior (MC/WW) file and expedited through all stages of the disability decision process as a critical case. (Even if your file is selected at random for a quality assurance review, your file will be placed in a specially marked envelope that distinguishes it as a MC/WW file. This will ensure that the review process does not delay a decision in your case. For more information, see our article on quality review of disability decisions.)
What Branches Are Eligible for Expedited Claims?
Service members of all branches of the military are eligible for expedited claims, as long as the claimant was on active duty when the disability began. The SSA classifies the following people as being on active duty:
- service members on full-time duty in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard
- service members on active duty for training purposes in the above branches
- students at U.S. Military academies (that is, the Naval Academy, West Point, or U.S. War College)
- students at pre-deployment training facilities
- Army or Air Force National Guard that have been ordered to active full-time duty pursuant to an order from the President during a time or war or other national emergency
- reservists called to active duty
- reservists undergoing full-time training, annual training, and
- reservists attending a school designated as a Military Service School.
What Kind of Disability Benefits Can I Get?
There are two types of disability benefits available: Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), and Social Security Income (SSI). If you have a long work history, you will probably qualify for SSDI. If you have little or no work history and few assets, you may qualify for SSI. For more information, see our sections on SSI and SSDI.
In addition, if your injury was service-connected, you may be eligible for veterans disability compensation.
If I Get Veterans Benefits, Will I Automatically Get Disability?
No. Even if you have been approved for disability through the Veterans Administration (VA), you will not be automatically approved for Social Security disability.
The SSA's disability process, and its definition of disability, is different than that of the VA's. Your application for Social Security disability is filed with the SSA and is evaluated under its guidelines (discussed below.) The SSA will review any medical records from the VA, but the percentage the VA has determined you are disabled may have little bearing on the SSA’s decision. Even if the VA has determined you are 100% disabled, you can still be denied Social Security benefits. However, the SSA is required to give some weight to a determination of disability by the VA.
How Does the SSA Decide if I am Disabled?
The SSA will use the objective medical evidence in your records and the opinions of your medical providers and its own examining doctors to determine whether you are disabled. To be approved, the SSA must conclude that
- your medical condition prevents you from doing any substantial work, and
- your medical condition must have lasted, or is expected to last, at least a year or result in your death.
Can I Get Benefits if I Am Still on Active Duty and Getting Paid?
Being on active duty will not necessarily prevent you from being eligible for benefits, even if you are still receiving military pay. This is because service members usually continue to receive full military pay even if they are too sick to work. This is particularly true if you are enrolled in a therapy program in a military medical facility or are on limited duty. Therefore, you should apply for disability even if you are still getting your military pay.
The SSA will look more closely at the type of work you are doing more than the amount of the military pay you are receiving. If the work you can still do demonstrates you are not disabled, you will be denied.
If you are still working, you must provide the SSA with a detailed description of the kind of job you are doing. You should also provide the SSA with a copy of your Company Alert Roster so that the SSA can contact your commanding officer if it needs more information about the work you are doing. An experienced disability attorney will be especially helpful to getting you approved for benefits if you are still performing job duties when you apply.
What Information Do I Need To Provide When I Apply?
When you apply for disability benefits, you will need to have the following information:
- proof of age
- employment history
- proof of citizenship or immigration status
- Form DD-214 (if discharged)
- tax returns or W-2 from previous year
- evidence of military pay or workers' comp award
- Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and any minor children
- banking account information, and
- all relevant medical documentation from both civilian and military physicians and treatment facilities.
Even if you don’t have all the necessary information together, you should still file your application as soon as possible. Remember, the longer it takes you to provide all the necessary information to the SSA, the longer a decision will take in your case. Also make sure that you notify the SSA whenever your address changes.
Can I Get Benefits for My Family?
If the SSA determines that you are disabled and eligible for SSDI, your family may be eligible for benefits also. Eligible family members include:
- your spouse, if aged 62 or older
- your spouse, if he or she cares for your child who is under the age of 16 or is disabled
- your unmarried child under the age of 18 (including adopted children and, in some cases, step-children and grandchildren)
- your unmarried child under the age of 19 if he or she attends high school full-time, and
- your unmarried child, 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before the age of 22.
For more information, see our series of articles on Social Security dependent benefits.