Military Members Eligible for Social Security Disability

We can’t say it too often: a disabled member of the military may be eligible for Social Security disability payments as well as military benefits. While both systems are very challenging to work through to receiving payments, Social Security may morve a little faster, particularly with the new emphasis on streamlining cases for wounded warriors.  A military lawyer wrote this piece.

From: Sharon Cordello, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Fort. Campbell KY

Service members who are injured while on active duty on or after Oct. 1, 2001, may be entitled to disability benefits through the Social Security disability insurance program.  More than 5 million disabled workers and over 1.6 million dependants of disabled workers currently receive monthly benefits through this program.

To be entitled to benefits through Social Security, an applicant must be totally disabled.  Social Security defines “disabled” as: (1) unable to perform any substantial gainful activity (2) because of a physical or mental condition which is medically determinable and, (3) the medical condition must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or be expected to result in death.  Social Security does not give benefits to people with only partial or short-term disabilities.  An applicant must also be insured, meaning he or she has worked a minimum amount of time and paid Social Security taxes.  An applicant who meets the criteria must complete a five-month waiting period before benefits begin. Payment amounts are based on the applicant’s earnings history.

A disabled service member may be entitled to benefits while on active duty status and receiving military pay.  Entitlement to benefits depends on what kind of work activities the service member is able to perform, not on the amount of pay he or she actually receives.  The Disability Determination Services office reviews the service member’s application and will apply a fair market value to the work the service member is currently performing.  If that value is over a certain threshold, the service member will not be entitled to benefits.

A service member may apply online at, by phone, or in person at the local Social Security office. The processing time is accelerated for applications of service  members, so an applicant should make sure to give notice that he or she was injured while on active duty.  Processing time will vary depending on how long it takes to obtain medical evidence, the nature of the disability, and whether it is necessary to obtain any further medical examination.  Applications will be routed first to the applicant’s local Social Security office. If there are any problems with the application, applicants will receive a call from that office, typically within a week of submission.

The initial application process is relatively simple and may not require the assistance of an attorney.  Applicants need information and documentation about their age, employment, proof of citizenship, Social Security coverage and information regarding all impairments and related treatment. A denied application may be appealed up to four times:  a resubmission and reconsideration of the same application by the same office, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, an Appeals Council Review, and then Federal Court. See article here: