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Many veterans pursuing a claim for VA benefits have already been granted Social Security Benefits or are pursuing Social Security benefits for the same disability. A common belief among veterans is that VA should make the same conclusions and/or decision as the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). For instance, many veterans believe that because SSA found them totally disabled, that decision should be binding on the VA, and therefore VA should also find them totally disabled. This is a common misconception. VA is a separate administrative agency form SSA, and therefore is bound by different regulations. Simply put, SSA regulations do not apply to VA claims. See Beaty v. Brown, 6 Vet.App. 532 (1994) (noting that there is not statutory or regulatory authority for the determinative application of SSA regulations to the adjudication of VA claims.) In addition, there are significant differences between SSA regulations and VA regulations. For example, SSA and VA define disabilities differently. Under SSA law 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) and 20 C.F.R. §404.1509, a disability need not be reasonably likely to last a lifetime. VA regulations on the other hand, do require that it be reasonably certain that a disability will continue throughout the life of a person. 38 U.S.C. §1502(a)(1) and 38 C.F.R. § 3.340(b).
While VA is not legally bound to follow SSA decisions, however, it is obligated to take the SSA decisions into consideration when rendering a decision on a claim and provide adequate reasons or bases for why the SSA conclusions are not accepted. Brown v. Derwinski, 2 Vet.App. 444 (1991). Moreover, once VA has been put on notice that SSA documents exist, and those documents are pertinent to the VA claim, VA has a duty to assist the veteran in obtaining the SSA records prior to adjudicating the claim. See Murincsak v. Derwinski, 2 Vet.App. 363 (1992).