For veterans who have been approved for Social Security Disability Benefits and who are also seeking VA Disability benefits, it is very important to have some basic knowledge regarding the Social Security side of things, while navigating through the VA disability process.
Here are the basics, in a nutshell:
- Notify the VA Right Away: The VA should be notified right away if a veteran has been approved for Social Security Disability Benefits. Notifying the VA in writing is very important, because once the VA has knowledge that the veteran is on Social Security, then that triggers their duty to assist, which requires the VA to attempt to obtain the Social Security file. Veterans should never assume that the VA already knows that they have been approved for Social Security Disability. It is always better to notify them up front, so that way, the bases are covered.
- Obtain Your Social Security Earnings Record: Social Security keeps track of your annual earnings for each year that you have worked and paid Social Security taxes. If you are pursuing individual unemployability benefits through the VA, then it is critical that you obtain a copy of your SSA Earnings Record. The main reason you should get this document, is because the Earnings Record may show a pattern of decreased, unstable, and/or inconsistent earnings, which could help to support your VA claim that you are unemployable and unable to work on a gainful basis. In my experience, the VA never requests a copy of the Earnings Record on its own accord. Therefore, because this document could be invaluable to winning your VA claim, you should work on getting a copy of this document early on in the process. In most cases, the Earnings Record can be downloaded online, directly from the Social Security Administration’s website.
- Get a Copy of Your Complete Social Security Disability File: There is normally a treasure trove of information contained in the Social Security Disability file. Here is a list of the types of evidence that you should pay particular attention to:
- Disability Worksheets/Reports – Social Security always requests that claimants fill out forms regarding the extent of their disabilities. The questions that are asked in these forms are very comprehensive and cover many different topics that may be of relevance to the VA disability case. For example, Social Security will always have claimants fill out a worksheet called a “Function Report” regarding their activities of daily living. The Function Report asks the claimant to describe what they are like on a day-to-day basis, and asks the claimant to describe their limitations, both physical and mental, in their own words.
It is also very common for Social Security to have a third party, such as a spouse, close friend, or adult child, to also fill out a Function Report in order to give statements regarding any limitations that their loved one may have. In my experience, loved ones are often much more forthcoming about the full extent of limitations. This type of lay evidence, from both claimants and third parties, could later turn out to be key evidence when trying to win the VA case, because VA law requires the VA to consider lay evidence as a part of the decision-making process.
- Consultative Examinations – Most veterans know that when they file for VA disability benefits, the VA will normally send them to a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination to evaluate their disabilities. Social Security also has a similar process. In the Social Security world, this type of exam is known as a “Consultative Examination.” If a claimant is sent to a consultative exam, then there will be a report from that examination which will discuss the doctor’s opinions regarding the claimant’s limitations. If the Social Security doctor gave restrictions that would prevent or limit the claimant from being able to work, and if those limitations are relevant to the VA case, then that is favorable evidence that you should make sure the VA receives.
- Favorable Decision/Disability Determination and Transmittal Form – Once Social Security Disability Benefits have been approved, SSA will issue a written decision which explains the medical basis for the approval, and they will also make a decision regarding the date that they find you disabled. The date that you are found disabled is known as the “onset date of disability.”
If the Social Security claim is approved at the initial or reconsideration level, the rationale for the approval will be found in the “Disability Determination and Transmittal Form.” If the claim is approved by a Social Security Judge, then the Judge will issue a decision, also known as a “Fully Favorable” or “Partially Favorable” Decision, which will explain the medical and vocational basis for the approval. Make sure to obtain a copy of the Social Security decision and submit that to the VA for consideration.
Although the criteria for obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits is very different than the criteria for obtaining VA Disability Benefits, evidence from the Social Security case can still be very useful in a VA Disability case. For more information on this topic, please feel free to check out our video blog.