There is a common stigma in society about the disabled. There are well-protected pieces of statute (Americans with Disabilities Act) and countless court decisions protecting disabilities from bias. The stigma is still there.
Many people do not understand the differences between VA disability and Social Security Administration disability (SSA). Despite the VA and SSA being totally different aspects of government, with wildly different mandates and spheres of influence (sometimes they do overlap).
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Many veterans see their disabilities as weaknesses with zero rationales and are often hesitant to admit disabilities that aren’t obvious. It’s your business if you disclose your medical status, but the stigma exists.
Before I supported my nephew joining the military, I took him past the local VA to show him the parking lot. A major VA facility, indeed a third, approaching half of the parking lot, is marked handicap parking. It’s a stark reminder of what Americans are willing to sacrifice for our country.
I digress, but the fact that the two are confused is a problem.
To be eligible for VA care, you must be a veteran, have served in a military branch, and have been eligible for discharge, but any American is eligible for SSA.
You may actually be eligible for both, but they have very different standards.
Veterans are eligible for a number of compensation avenues, through the VA for disabilities through the DoD and retirement. Still, non-veterans can generally only qualify for SSA benefits (Unless their parent or spouse is a veteran).
The VA determines the compensation based on the percentage of disability they award a veteran for conditions caused by or aggravated by their service. SSA determines benefits based on the earning potential lost due to a disability. SSA benefits also limit the ability of the person to work after the award. In 2017, nobody could qualify for SSA disability and earn $1170 a month or more.
The SSA has a separate disability program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which has a very low monthly income limit, and most won’t qualify for VA benefits and SSI concurrently.
Leaving SSA behind, some veterans qualify for retirement pay and disability compensation from the VA concurrently. A law change in 2004 allowed both to apply, whereas prior, they had to choose one or the other.
Concurrent Retirement Disability Pay (CRDP) applies to retired veterans with greater than 50% combined disability rating.
Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) applies to veterans with a minimum 10% combat-related disability rating.
Veterans can qualify for both.
Military retirement pay, and VA disability compensation are entirely separate. Military retirement pay is taxable like most other pensions, while VA disability compensation is tax-free. The latter is because it’s not a retirement package; it’s the compensation a veteran is entitled to for sacrificing their health and abilities to our government.
Suppose you qualify for military retirement and VA disability compensation simultaneously, and you have a 50% or higher. In that case, you should qualify for CRDP and should see no reduction in your military retirement.
If your rating is 40% and below from the VA, you won’t qualify for CRDP. You may see a reduction from your retirement unless your disability was combat-related, where you qualify for CRSC. Like those with CRDP, you shouldn’t have a reduction to your military retirement pay.
I find it unfortunate that disabilities in general are stigmatized, but appalling when that stigma applies to a disabled veteran. As a disabled veteran, your compensation was fully earned by trading your health and youth for the freedom of everyone in America. Veterans should be fully compensated for the parts of their lives they sacrifice, and your monthly compensation is hardly enough.
While you shouldn’t have to explain the difference to anyone, I urge veterans to educate those unfamiliar with the difference between a VA-rated disability and an SSA disability if the question arises. Removing the stigma around your service-connected disability and disability in general helps all who deal with their disability issues daily.
Check on your buddies and share your story to educate others.