Social Security disability (SSDI) and TDIU for veterans
Published January 18, 2019
We know that veterans joined the military because they wanted to serve their country, not because they wanted to navigate bureaucratic mazes to claim benefits to which they are entitled. Trying to figure out both Social Security and VA benefits at the same time can be particularly daunting.
Let’s simplify things a bit. Yes, a veteran can receive both VA service-connected disability benefits and Social Security benefits. However, it is important to note that receipt of one does not guarantee receipt of the other and a veteran generally cannot receive both a VA pension (different from disability benefits) and Social Security at the same time. VA pension differs from VA service connected disability by whether the disability was caused or aggravated by military service. VA pension was designed to help veterans that have a non-service connected disability and are struggling financially because of the disability.
It’s important to understand that sometimes a veteran may have received a Social Security disability award that lists multiple grounds, for example, PTSD and a back injury. When Social Security makes those awards, they are not factoring any service-connected factors that the VA would look at to determine TDIU. In this situation, sometimes the VA will deny TDIU to a veteran in this example because the VA shows that only the PTSD is service-connected, but the back injury is not. That doesn’t necessarily end the issue, however. If you can present evidence to the VA that the veteran is unemployable solely because of service-connected reasons (for example, maybe the veteran was having violent outbursts at work as a result of their PTSD, but could have worked through the back injury issue), the VA may then approve TDIU.
If you have been denied TDIU because of an apparent conflict between a Social Security award and a VA TDIU claim, you owe it to yourself to get another opinion on whether you may be eligible.
How to get Social Security Earnings records for a TDIU Claim
After veterans are discharged from active duty, it sometimes takes a while to reintegrate into civilian life and a suitable civilian job. Bumps in the road are expected, of course, but sometimes it seems impossible to maintain steady work, sometimes because of symptoms from service-connected disabilities interfering with expected work responsibilities. One example is individuals that suffer from PTSD, who miss too many days of work because of anxiety attacks or depression.
At a certain point, it may be necessary to look into whether a veteran is eligible for TDIU (total disability individual unemployability) benefits. This is not to say that the veteran will give up trying to work, but acknowledging that perhaps they aren’t able to maintain substantially gainful employment through no fault of their own and needs to look into accessing disability benefits that were part of the deal when they signed up for the military.
One of the eligibility requirements for TDIU is a showing that the veteran cannot sustain substantially gainful employment. One of the most direct means of showing this to the VA is by producing income records for the past several years showing the veteran’s income during relevant years.
Getting a printout of Social Security earnings records is a straightforward process. The form that you need to file with the Social Security Administration office is the SS-3288 Consent to Release Information form. This can be accessed at www.ssa.gov or by visiting a Social Security office. Request and review these records to see the real picture of the veteran’s income over the years since discharge (you might be surprised) and then compare them against the annual poverty level numbers (available from the U.S. Department of the Census).
Get this earning record before you complete the VA Form 21-8940 which is the TDIU application.
Do you need help determining whether you or your veteran spouse might be eligible for TDIU benefits? Veterans Law Group is ready to help you, just as it has for thousands of other veteran families. Fill out this questionnaire and submit to our office for evaluation. We will review your request for a consultation and contact you as soon as possible. Our consultations are free of charge.