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

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. A single- or combined-impairment rating of 100% constitutes total-disability status. As the accompanying tabulation shows, higher disability ratings entitle recipients to greater benefit amounts.

Cash benefits are intended to compensate for the average wage loss for someone with a specific impair- ment, although benefits are paid regardless of whether the impairment actually causes earnings losses for the individual. Additional cash benefits may be paid to dependents (spouse and children). Special monthly compensation may be paid for disabilities creating a need for regular aid and attendance or rendering the veteran bedridden or housebound, or disabilities requiring adapted housing or grants for housing modifications and/or automobile or adaptive vehicle modifications. Special monthly compensation can also be paid for amputations and loss of use of extremities and other specific combinations of disabilities.

Generally, veterans who receive disability com- pensation cash benefits are free to work and are not limited in the amount of earnings they may receive, even when their single- or combined-impairment ratings are 100%. The one exception is for those veterans who are determined to be totally disabled because of IU. Generally, those individuals must have a combined rating of 60% or greater for a single impairment or, in the case of multiple impairments, a combined rating of 70% or greater (with at least one impairment rated 40% or higher), and they must be determined to be unemployable because of their service-connected disabilities. …

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