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Monday, September 24, 2012

Disability Benefits Available Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Veterans Disability Compensation (VDC) Programs

Umar Moulta-Ali
Analyst in Disability Policy

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Veterans Disability Compensation (VDC)— administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) respectively—are two of the largest federal disability programs, but strongly differ along several dimensions, including the populations served, how each program defines a “disability,” as well as varying eligibility requirements.

First, SSDI is an insurance program that replaces a portion of earnings for an eligible worker whose illness or injury—while not necessarily caused by a work-related incident—results in an inability to work. SSDI is one of several federal programs funded through the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll tax and the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA) tax to which all workers and employers in covered occupations (including military personnel) and selfemployed individuals make contributions. On the other hand, VDC is not insurance, but is a compensation program in that payments are made to veterans who develop medical conditions that are related to their service in the military. VDC is non-contributory and neither veterans nor active military personnel pay into the program, which is funded through a mandatory appropriation as part of the VA annual budget.

Second, while the purpose of both SSDI and VDC is to provide income security, SSDI provides a financial “safety-net” to eligible civilian and military workers due to their inability to work as a result of long-term or terminal injury or illness. Conversely, VDC provides veterans with tax-free, cash benefits specifically for service-connected illnesses or injuries. The ability to work is not factored into VDC disability determinations, although additional compensation is available for veterans who are unemployable as the result of a service-connected condition(s).

Third, SSDI only compensates workers that are fully disabled, whereas VDC compensates veterans for both partial and fully disabling injuries and illnesses. The VA is further guided by a principle that views disability compensation as an obligation, owed to veterans, for injuries impacting employment that were incurred or aggravated by their service to the country. SSDI benefits are granted solely on medical and economic grounds and other noneconomic factors are not considered. Eligibility requirements generally tend to be more stringent for SSDI than VDC, and most veterans will not likely meet the criteria for both programs.

Both SSA and the VA have faced challenges in the administration of benefits and have been criticized for a lack of interagency coordination, processes that are “out-of-sync” with modern conceptions of disability, and extensive processing delays for claims and appeals. These are a few issues which led, in part, to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation and determination of federal disability programs as “high risk.” Both agencies have made efforts to address issues surrounding pending claims and appeals, but differ in their responses to other recommendations.

This report provides a description and comparative analysis of the SSDI and VDC programs. These issues will be of particular interest to Congress because of the expected increase in the numbers of SSDI and VDC claims. The recent economic decline and aging baby-boomers have continued to place a strain on SSA’s resources. The aging of the veteran population and expansion of presumptive conditions policies have contributed to the increase in VDC claims.

Date of Report: September 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R41289
Price: $29.95

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