Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Veterans Who Apply for Social Security Disabled-Worker Benefits after Receiving a Department of Veterans Affairs Rating of "Total Disability" for Service-Connected Impairments: Characteristics and Outcomes

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Veterans Who Apply for Social Security Disabled-Worker Benefits after Receiving a Department of Veterans Affairs Rating of "Total Disability" for Service-Connected Impairments: Characteristics and Outcomes

Article excerpt

This article examines the interactions between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation program and the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program for veterans rated "totally disabled" by VA. We find that one-half of the veterans rated totally disabled during fiscal years 2000-2006 had already applied for DI benefits and over one-third had received them. Some veterans with VA total-disability ratings did not meet the Social Security Administration's disability standards because of differences in the two programs' purposes and disability criteria. Both programs tend to serve an older population, with more than two-thirds of VA total-disability awards going to Vietnam-era veterans older than age 50. We examine differences in the primary medical diagnoses for veterans with exposure to both programs and pay special attention to the diagnoses of posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Selected Abbreviations

ALJ administrative law judge

DDS disability determination service

DI Disability Insurance

FRA full retirement age

IU individual unemployability

MC/WW military casualty/wounded warrior

PTSD posttraumatic stress disorder

SGA substantial gainful activity

SGE substantially gainful employment

SSA Social Security Administration

SSI Supplemental Security Income

VA Department of Veterans Affairs

Introduction

In recent years, policymakers have examined the interaction of two federal programs that provide benefits to military personnel with service-connected disabilities. In September 2009, the Government Accountability Office issued a report recommend- ing that the Social Security Administration (SSA) increase its outreach and collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve access to Social Security disability benefits for military personnel wounded since October 2001 in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (GAO 2009). Also in 2009, both houses of Congress introduced legisla- tion known as the BRAVE Act1 that would certify veterans judged by the VA to have total disability (that is, having a combined rating of 100%2 or a rat- ing of individual unemployability [IU]) as meeting the medical requirements of the disability programs administered by SSA. Essentially, a veteran with a rating of total disability would not have to undergo the medical portions of SSA's disability determina- tion to be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. The veteran would have to be insured for disability in order to qualify for Disability Insurance (DI) worker benefits and could not be engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA).

With a focus on DI, the research reported herein is part of SSA's work toward increasing coordination between the VA disability compensation program and SSA's disability programs. It is important to under- stand that DI and the VA disability program serve dif- ferent purposes, have different definitions of disability, and may not integrate well. This article highlights the intent and provisions of each program, and then presents data on the historical interactions between them using matched administrative records from the two programs. It also examines the probable outcomes had the BRAVE Act been enacted.

VA Disability Compensation

The VA disability compensation program pays benefits to veterans who incur an injury or contract a disease that is service-connected-that is, the result of disabil- ity incurred in, presumptively related to, or aggravated by their military service. VA evaluates and rates each service-connected disability (injury or disease) with a percentage value from 0 to 100 according to a schedule established by regulation.3 For veterans with more than one disabling condition, VA combines the individual ratings into a single combined rating and rounds it to the nearest 10%. Disabled veterans with a combined rating of 10% or greater are entitled to compensation in the form of a cash benefit. …

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