Veterans of the United States Armed Forces who have been found disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) due to a disability connected to active service may also be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. This article will consider whether or not the Social Security Administration (SSA) has to take the VA's determination of an applicant's disability into consideration when determining whether or not the applicant is eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
First let's look at some basic differences between the two programs.
In order to qualify for veterans disability compensation, the veteran must currently have a medically diagnosed disease or disability caused by an incident during active military, naval, or air service. After consideration of the evidence, the VA makes a determination regarding the applicant's degree of disability. The VA assigns the veteran a disability rating, which is measured in 10% increments ranging from 10% disabled to 100% (totally) disabled.
Social Security disability benefits are available only for individuals who have worked recently enough (usually five out of the last ten years), and for a long enough period of time (10 years for those 62 and older) in a job paying Social Security taxes. Younger disabled workers may qualify for disability with fewer credits and less recent work.
Additionally, applicants must be totally disabled; individuals with partial disabilities and short-term disabilities do not qualify for benefits. In order to determine if applicants are totally disabled, the SSA will consider whether applicants have a medical condition that fulfills the requirements of a condition listed on Social Security'slist of severe impairments or whether applicants' medical limitations make it impossible for them to do their prior work or any work in the U.S.
As of March 27, 2017, Social Security does not have to take into account decisions made by other governmental agencies regarding a Social Security applicant's disability. Social Security published a new rule on this date, saying that Social Security is no longer required to take a VA disability decision into account, due to the fact that different rules and standards for disability are applied by different agencies and ultimately, the SSA Commissioner must make the determination of disability based on Social Security law. In addition, the SSA will no longer explain in its Notice of Decisions and in case records whether it has taken a VA decision into account.
Before March 27, 2017, Social Security was not bound to follow the decision of other agencies, but it did generally give weight to VA approvals of compensation that gave a veteran a high disability rating. Federal circuit courts that addressed this issue in the past noted that some weight must be given to the VA disability rating, although the courts have differed as to how much weight should be placed on this decision. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, for example, held that an administrative law judge (ALJ) must give “great weight” to a VA determination of disability, due to the similarities between the two federal disability programs in both purpose and criteria for rating disability. The Fourth, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts also used this same “great weight” standard. Other U.S. Circuit Courts, including the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, and Tenth Circuits, held that the VA determinations must be given “some weight” in the SSA decision, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that “substantial weight” must be given to the VA decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit noted that that the evaluation of disability by the VA was “critically relevant and material” in a parallel Social Security disability case.
Note that wounded warriors and veterans who've been given 100% permanent and total disability ratings are still entitled to expedited processing of their disability applications from the SSA.
Social Security regulations state that the SSA may consider any evidence of disability from other government agencies, including the VA and DOD (Department of Defense). This can include medical records from VA hospitals or test results from DOD records, and so on.
Additionally, the SSA will consider a variety of other types of evidence, including objective medical evidence such as laboratory findings and your doctor's notes on your medical history and the treatment you've received. The SSA may also consider a statement from you about your disability, your daily activities, and your efforts to work, as well as statements from your family members, past employers, or welfare agency personnel.