If you want to know if you lose your military and Veterans Affairs disability benefits when you file for Social Security Administration benefits, the answer is an unqualified “it depends.” While you will continue to have access to some benefits, the type of VA benefits you receive makes a difference. The only factor that you need to consider before filing for Social Security benefits is the type of Social Security benefits you’re filing for.
Whether you lose your VA disability or military benefits depends on the type of VA benefits you have and what type of Social Security benefits you are filing for.
VA Disability Payments
A veteran injured in military service or one who has a medical problem that was aggravated by military service receives a disability payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The size of the check depends on the extent of the disability as rated by the VA.
A 10-percent disability rating, for a veteran with no dependents, equals $140.05 per month. A 100-percent disability for a veteran who supports a spouse, a child and parents is the highest payment, $3,625.99 per month. There is no means test for these disability payments – other income has no effect on this benefit.
VA Pension Rates
The VA pension is paid to wartime veterans whose income is very limited or non-existent. The veteran must be totally and permanently disabled if under 65 years of age. If the veteran’s only income is from Social Security disability benefits, the veteran qualifies for this benefit but the level of income is a factor.
The pension amount equals the difference between the veterans total income, including Social Security benefits, and a dollar level set yearly by Congress. In 2019, this level was set at $13,535 per year – an average of $1,128 per month – for income from all sources, including the VA pension for a veteran without a spouse or child. If your Social Security benefit and income from all other sources, including any state-provided payments, exceeds that level, you'll lose the VA pension.
Military Retirement Payments
Military retirement payments are based on service only, and, like VA disability payments, there is no means test. Your military retirement pay – whether the result of 20 or 30 years of service, or a shorter period of service because of an injury, wound, or medical condition aggravated by your service – is independent of any other source of income.
Social Security Benefits
The Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income, called SSI, is the only Social Security benefit that requires a means test. As of 2019, the highest monthly SSI payment for an individual was $771. For a couple, the highest payment was $1,157.
All other Social Security benefits are based on age or physical condition rather than a veteran’s income. Therefore, if you apply for SSI, the amount of your VA disability check and your military retirement will affect your Social Security benefit, but your Social Security benefit will not affect your VA disability or military retirement. If you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, your VA Disability and military pension will remain unaffected.
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.