If I Receive Full Military Payments Despite a Severe Impairment, How Will the SSA Consider my SSDI Claim?

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Regardless of whether you worked a full career as a private sector civilian or if a call to duty motivated you to dedicate your life to military service, with time, our bodies wear and may not work as well as it once did. In other scenarios, a sudden injury at work, at home, or while engaged in recreational activities may severely limit the things that you are able to do. In still other situations, a slow-developing degenerative disease may eventually erode your skills and ability to work until you are forced to stop work.

Thankfully, workers pay into a federal insurance fund during the course of their employment. When a worker can no longer work due to illness, disability, or other impairment, he or she can apply for benefits from the program known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). However, differences relative to the private sector in how the branches of the U.S military handle compensation and work duties after the development of a serious impairment can create uncertainty for service members. They may believe that the SSA has failed to account for their employers’ practices and that they are therefore ineligible for benefits on substantial gainful activity grounds (SGA).

How Does Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Affect My SSDI Claim?

Substantial gainful activity or SGA is one of the non-medical program requirements a benefits applicant must satisfy to receive an SSDI benefits award. Limits on SGA are computed annually to keep pace with inflation. The purpose of a screen for individuals who are earning excessive amounts of SGA is two-fold. First, it encourages only those who are seriously disabled to apply for benefits. Secondly, absent some form of fraud, it ensures that only those individuals who truly need disability benefits receive them. However, when this screen is applied mechanically it can appear to frustrate the ability of a service member to receive SSDI benefits. This is because even after a severe injury, most servicemen and servicewomen continue to receive full pay which will result in the individual seemingly exceeding the limits on SGA.

How Will the SSA Consider My Military SGA?

In reality, it is not true that SGA operates as a bar to benefits for all service members. DI 10505.023 issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) accounts for this very situation. It directs a claims examiner to refrain from assessing SFGA on the basis of monetary income received. Rather, SGA should be assessed on non-monetary grounds based on the non-monetary grounds. Regardless of the location for work where the injured or disabled service member was assigned the claims examiner must, “compare the activity with similar work in the civilian workforce and determine its reasonable worth.”

That is, the mere fact that the applicant for benefits has been placed in a therapy program or on limited duty by the military suggests that a special condition or circumstances exist. However, the inquiry should be focused on an objective evaluation of the job’s work activities and their exertional requirements. That is, the claims examiner will look to determine whether the job requires activities such as sitting, standing, lifting, carrying, walking, speaking, manual dexterity in the fingers, and the other job requirements.

While the benefits applicant himself or herself is often the primary source of information regarding the job duties, additional sources of documentation can be useful in situations where it is difficult to define the job based on first-hand information alone. Additional documentation from different sources can help establish the actual value of the work performed by the serviceman or servicewoman. Military occupation manuals can be used to correlate a military job to a civilian job as listed in the Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).   However if the military member’s allegations regarding his or her duties and responsibilities are contradicted by outside sources, additional corroborating evidence is necessary. A commanding officer (CO), senior non-commissioned officer, or other military personnel with supervisory and administrative duties and knowledge can confirm the benefit applicant’s reports.

Rely On Our Disability Attorneys’ Experience

For more than 20 years Ken Kieklak has fought on behalf of hard-working people in north Arkansas who have had to stop work due to an injury or illness. This commitment extends to those who have dedicated their life to military service. To schedule a free and confidential SSDI consultation, call (479) 251-7767 today or contact us online.

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