Getting Social Security Disability Benefits as a Wounded Warrior or 100% P&T

Service members disabled while on active duty can get expedited Social Security disability benefits.

By , J.D., University of Baltimore School of Law

Military service members and veterans who become disabled while on active duty can receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA)—even if they receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). And their claims move more quickly through the system than other Social Security disability applications.

Social Security will expedite your disability claim if:

  • you're a veteran or active duty service member, and
  • you became disabled while on active duty (on or after October 1, 2001).

The expedited claims process means you'll get a quicker decision on your disability application. As a service member with active duty status, you're entitled to faster claims processing no matter where or how you became disabled.

Can I Get a Decision Faster Because of Being in the Military?

Wounded warriors and veterans who've been given 100% permanent and total (P&T) VA disability ratings are entitled to expedited processing of their Social Security disability applications. (Keep in mind that expedited processing doesn't always translate to a quick approval—you aren't guaranteed to receive SSDI or SSI benefits.)

Expedited Processing for 100% P&T Disabled Veterans

Social Security provides expedited processing for veterans with 100% disability ratings, if their disability is permanent, meaning there is little likelihood that their condition will improve. Veterans with 100% unemployability can also qualify for expedited processing if their condition has been classified as permanent.

Again, a VA rating of 100% P&T (permanent and total) doesn't guarantee that you'll be approved by Social Security, just that you'll receive a decision faster.

In order to have your application fast-tracked by Social Security, you'll need to identify yourself as a "veteran rated 100% P&T" when you apply for benefits. You can do this by telling the Social Security representative over the phone or in person when you file, or you can add it in the "Remarks" section of the online or paper application. You should also submit a copy of your Veterans Affairs notification letter, which verifies your rating, to Social Security. Once the agency identifies you as a veteran rated 100% P&T, your application will receive high priority.

Expedited Processing for Wounded Warriors

Social Security also provides expedited processing for injuries or illnesses that happened during active duty. The SSA doesn't care where or how your disability happened. That means your injury or illness doesn't need to be related to your military duty to qualify you for expedited processing.

For instance, if you were disabled in a car accident on your way home from your duty station, the VA likely wouldn't consider your injuries "service-connected." But you'd still qualify for an expedited Social Security disability claim.

And you can get expedited processing with any percentage of VA rating (for example, 30% or 50%). When filing your disability application, you must let Social Security know that your medical condition began while you were on active duty. You also need to tell the SSA where your military records are kept.

Although the Department of Defense routinely sends reports with the names of ill or injured service members to Social Security, these reports can be incomplete. So, when you apply for Social Security disability, be sure to provide the SSA with proof that you're a service member (or that you were a service member).

Once you file your application for disability, Social Security will mark it as a Military Casualty/Wounded Warrior (MC/WW) file and expedite your claim through all stages of the disability decision process as a critical case.

Even if your claim is randomly selected for a quality assurance review, your file will be placed in a specially marked envelope that distinguishes it as an MC/WW file. The MC/WW designation ensures that the review process doesn't delay a decision in your case. (For more information, see our article on the quality review of disability decisions.)

What Service Branches Are Eligible for Expedited Claims?

Service members and veterans of all branches of the United States military are eligible for expedited processing of their disability applications through the Wounded Warrior program—as long as they were on active duty when their disability began. Social Security classifies the following people as being on active duty:

  • service members on full-time duty, or on active duty for training purposes, in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard
  • students at the U.S. military academies (such as the Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, West Point, Army War College, or Coast Guard Academy)
  • 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, and
  • reservists called to active duty, undergoing training, or attending a Military Service School.

What Kind of Disability Benefits Can I Get?

Social Security administers two disability benefit programs:

  • Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), and
  • Social Security Income (SSI).

If you have a long work history, you'll probably qualify for SSDI. If you have little or no work history, few assets, and not much income, you might qualify for SSI. In addition, if your injury or illness was service-connected, you might also be eligible for veterans disability compensation.

If I Get Veterans Benefits, Will I Automatically Get Disability?

No. Even if you're approved for VA disability compensation, Social Security won't automatically approve your application for SSDI or SSI disability benefits.

Social Security's definition of disability and disability process differs from that of the VA. Your SSDI or SSI application will be evaluated under Social Security's guidelines without regard to what disability rating the VA gave you.

Social Security was once required to give some weight to a VA determination of disability, but not anymore. For SSDI and SSI applications filed after March 27, 2017, Social Security will still review your VA medical records, but it doesn't have to give much weight to the VA's disability determination. (20 C.F.R. § 416.920c(a).)

So, the disability rating assigned to you by the VA will generally have little bearing on Social Security's decision in your case. Even if the VA has rated you 100% disabled, you can still be denied Social Security disability benefits. But, as a practical matter, if you have good medical records from the VA with objective evidence of a severe impairment, along with details on how your abilities are severely limited, they'll go a long way to helping you prove to Social Security that you have a disability.

(Learn more about how Social Security treats VA disability determinations.)

How Does Social Security Decide if I am Disabled?

Social Security 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're disabled. To be approved, Social Security must conclude that your medical condition:

  • prevents you from doing any substantial work, and
  • must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least a year or result in your death.

With Social Security benefits, you're either disabled or you aren't. There are no percentage disability ratings or partial disability awards.

Can I Get Benefits If I'm Still on Active Duty and Getting Paid?

Being on active duty won't necessarily prevent you from being eligible for Social Security disability benefits—even if you're still receiving military pay. Service members usually continue to receive full military pay even if they're too sick to work, so receiving this pay might not disqualify you for SSDI (but it would probably push you over the SSI income limit).

You're even more likely to remain eligible for SSDI while drawing military pay if you're enrolled in a therapy program in a military medical facility or are on limited duty. So, you should apply for Social Security disability benefits even if you're still getting your military pay.

In determining your eligibility for benefits, Social Security will look more closely at any work you're doing rather than the amount of military pay you're receiving. If the work you can still do demonstrates you aren't disabled, your claim will be denied.

If you're still working, you must provide Social Security with a detailed description of the kind of job you're doing. You'll also want to provide the SSA with a copy of your Company Alert Roster so Social Security can contact your commanding officer to get more information about the work you're doing, if necessary.

Working with an experienced disability attorney can improve your chances of getting SSDI, even if you're still performing some job duties.

What Information Do I Need To Provide When I Apply?

When you apply for Social Security disability benefits as a service member or veteran, you'll 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 the previous year
  • evidence of military pay or workers' compensation award
  • your Social Security number and those of your spouse and minor children
  • your bank account information (for direct deposit), and
  • all relevant medical records you have (from both civilian and military physicians and treatment facilities).

Even if you don't have all the necessary information, you should still file your application as soon as possible. Social Security will help you obtain anything you don't have. But remember, the longer it takes to gather all the necessary information and get it to Social Security, the longer the decision on your claim will take.

You'll also want to notify Social Security if your address changes after you apply for disability benefits. And you'll need to keep the SSA informed if your duty status or station changes.

Can I Get Benefits for My Family?

If Social determines that you're disabled and eligible for SSDI, your family might qualify for benefits also. Eligible family members include your:

  • spouse, if 62 or older, or caring for your child (if the child is under the age of 16 or disabled)
  • unmarried children under the age of 18 (19, if still in high school), including adopted children and, in some cases, step-children and grandchildren, and
  • unmarried children, 18 or older, who have a disability that started before the age of 22.

Learn more about getting Social Security benefits for your dependent benefits.

Updated November 21, 2023

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