If the Veterans Administration determines that I am disabled, will the Social Security Administration also find that I am disabled?      

The Veterans Administration (“VA”) and the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) have their own, independent rules for determining whether someone is disabled for purposes of receiving disability benefits. Under the VA’s guidelines, someone who is not completely disabled can qualify for disability benefits. In other words, the VA recognizes partial disabilities (in terms of percentages) as well as total disabilities.

The SSA, however, generally recognizes only total disabilities. Under the SSA’s guidelines, a disability is a serious medical condition (mental or physical) that has lasted (or will last) for at least one year and prevents a person from engaging in any substantial, gainful activity. This definition incorporates not only the type of disability (for example, post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic heart failure) but also the extent or severity of the disability. As a result, someone could have a type of disability recognized by the SSA, but nevertheless not be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if the severity of the disability were found to be insufficient. A mental or physical condition severe enough to qualify as a disability under the SSA’s rules would likely be considered at least a 90% disability under the VA’s rules.

At the same time, a determination by the VA that someone is disabled does not necessarily mean that the SSA will also make the same determination. For example, even if the VA determines that someone is 90% or 100% disabled, the SSA does not automatically reach the same conclusion. The SSA requires that everyone who applies for disability benefits must submit medical documentation to prove the type and severity of their medical condition. Under the SSA’s regulations, only documentation provided by certain physicians is sufficient to establish that someone has a qualifying disability. The SSA does consider other evidence, such as a person’s own statements or disability evaluations by other government agencies, but the SSA only considers the other evidence for purposes of judging the extent or severity of a disability.

A disability determination from the VA can be useful for purposes of applying for Social Security disability benefits, but it will not be binding on the SSA. In many cases, a 90% or a 100% disability finding by the VA will go a long way towards proving a disability to the SSA, but it will probably not—by itself—be enough to establish a disability under the SSA’s rules. If the VA has determined that you are disabled and you have questions about how that could help you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, then you should consult an attorney familiar with Social Security law.