Not a week goes by when I don’t get emails, such as the one here, from veterans who have been led to believe that they are missing out on extra Social Security benefits allegedly payable to people who served in the military:
“Tom: I’ve been told that as a veteran, I should be getting an extra $120 per month added to my Social Security check. They said all I have to do is take my DD-214 (military discharge papers) down to my local Social Security office and they will start paying me the extra money. What can you tell me about this?”
As is so often the case with these rumors, there is a tiny kernel of truth to the story. But then false information takes over and things get blown way out of proportion.
Here are the facts: If you were in the military anytime up until 2001, the government may add a small amount of additional earnings to your Social Security record. And note that I am NOT talking about extra money added to your Social Security check. These are simply extra earnings incorporated into your Social Security earnings record — the earnings record upon which your Social Security monthly benefit is based.
So the good news is you get these extra earnings put on your Social Security account.
But the bad news is these extra credits are relatively minimal and usually will have little or no effect on the eventual amount of your Social Security check.
And you also need to know that these extra earnings are automatically added to your Social Security account. There is nothing you need to do to get the extra credits.
Now let’s back up and give a little more information about military service and Social Security. If you served on active duty or active duty training in the military service any time after 1956, you paid Social Security taxes on your earnings just like anyone else working at a job covered by Social Security. And since 1988, inactive duty in the armed forces reserves, such as weekend drills, has also been covered by Social Security. That’s the simple part.
What leads to all the confusion is that Congress decided to add extra earnings credits to the Social Security records of military personnel. And the amount of those credits varies depending on the time served.
If you were in the military between 1957 and 1977, the government adds $300 to your Social Security records for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay.
From 1978 through 2001, the government adds an extra $100 to your Social Security account for each $300 you earned in basic pay, up to a maximum of $1,200 per year. There are times when these extra credits aren’t granted. For example, if you enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980, and didn’t complete your full tour of duty, you won’t get the extra credits. Check with the Social Security Administration for more exceptions.
Beginning in 2002, the government stopped adding extra credits to Social Security records for military service.
As I said above, if you are due extra credits, you usually don’t need to do anything to get them added to your record. If you served from 1968 through 2001, those credits are automatically added to your Social Security account. If you served from 1957 through 1967, the credits will be added at the time you file for benefits. In some cases, you may be asked to provide your DD-214 (discharge papers) to verify your military service.
The story is a little different for older vets. If you served in the armed forces between 1940 and 1956, Social Security taxes were not deducted from your military paychecks. But in most cases, the government did add $160 per month in earnings to your Social Security account for the time you served. These credits were automatically added at the time you applied for Social Security benefits.
So that’s the story. There are no big Social Security bonuses for vets. You don’t need to go to your Social Security office waving your DD-214 and expect to get a big pile of cash. (Although, as I pointed out above, folks who served between 1957 and 1967 may need to show their discharge papers at the time they file for benefits to get those extra earnings added to their Social Security account.)
And it’s important that I repeat this message: Those extra earnings you get for your military service aren’t going to make you rich. Because Social Security retirement benefits are figured using a 35-year base of earnings, a few hundred dollars sprinkled here and there into your Social Security account will have little if any impact on your eventual Social Security benefit.
I will use the little space I have left to cover another topic related to veterans and Social Security. And that has to do with their possible eligibility for disability benefits.
Many former members of the military who have a physical or mental impairment get some form of disability compensation from Veterans Affairs. And sometimes they think that automatically qualifies them for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. It does not.
Why? Because the VA and SSA have different eligibility rules concerning what constitutes a disabling condition. For example, you can get a VA disability benefit for a relatively minor impairment. This is usually expressed in terms of percentages, as in: “I have a 30% VA disability.”
But with SSA, it’s essentially all or nothing. In other words, you have to be 100% disabled to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
And even if you have a 100% VA disability, that doesn’t mean you will automatically get benefits from SSA. I don’t really know VA rules. But SSA rules say that your 100% disability must be so severe that it prevents you from doing ANY kind of work. Or it must be a terminal illness. That’s a fairly strict definition. So vets should just realize that even though the VA says you are disabled, that doesn’t necessarily mean SSA will agree.