Can't the Social Security Administration get the veteran's service record to confirm their disability?

Someone wrote recently (and I am paraphrasing) "Can't the social security administration get the veteran's service record to confirm that he was in combat and had injuries? It should be their job to research this and the person should not have to prove they were in combat".

The individual who wrote this, unfortunately, does not have a proper understanding of how the Social Security Disability process works, and especially how very different it is from the way disability benefits are granted by the VA.

First of all, combat has nothing to do with eligibility for social security benefits, nor does military service. And the two systems make claims decisions unlike each other at all.

How are the systems different? Tremendously. The social security system (and this applies to SSI and SSD) does not use partial or percentage disability ratings. When it comes to SSD or SSI, you are either disabled and unable to work at your past employment or at any other form of employment for which you might be thought capable of switching to...or you are not.

It's that simple. For social security, it is all or nothing. And that means that getting disability benefits truly means being disabled in the sense that you cannot work and earn what SSA considers to be a livable wage.

In other words: your ability to work is severely impaired and if you could work a full time job you would not be considered disabled by the social security administration.

VA disability, of course, is very different. You can be rated at percentages. And you can be given 100 percent disability and still be allowed to work. Not so in the social security system.

At the risk of being repetitive: In the social security system, if you can work and earn what is considered a substantial and gainful income, you are not considered disabled. And this would seem logical to most since most people would mentally draw a connection between receiving disability benefits and an inability to work and earn a livable income.

Is the social security system harder than the VA system? Yes, mostly because for SSD and SSI, being disabled and receiving disability benefits means being disabled and not being able to work at a substantial and gainful level; whereas for VA disability there are many individuals who are rated disabled yet still work full time jobs, sometimes making as much as seventy to eighty thousand dollars per year (I know at least two individuals who fit this category).

Will the social security administration ever adopt the VA way of deciding claims? Despite the occasional rhetoric about this, it will never happen. For one thing, it would mean that the social security administration's budget would have to be 50 times larger to accommodate the fact that, in that very hypothetical and unlikely scenario, nearly every single applicant for Social Security Disability would be approved for some percentage of disability benefits. That, of course, would be a far cry from the current environment in which 70 percent of applicants for SSD or SSI are denied on an initial claim and an even higher percentage are denied on their first appeal.

It is understandable that some individuals find the differences between the two disability systems confusing. The most basic thing to keep in mind however is this: to get Social Security Disability or SSI, your condition must be severe enough that you are incapable of working and earning a substantial and gainful income for a period of not less than one full year. In fact, your condition must be this longstanding or be severe enough that it may potentially result in death.

In the social security system, if you apply for disability you will be considered either disabled and unable to work and earn a livable wage, or not. For social security, there are no partials or in-betweens.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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