6 Things Veterans Should Know About Social Security

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Pay and benefits in the U.S. military are highly regimented, and those with long-term service records are typically eligible for significant pensions. So, with Veteran’s Day around the corner, it’s an entirely worthwhile question if you’re wondering if those serving in the military are eligible for Social Security, and if so, if their benefits are any different than those in the civilian workforce.

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The good news for many veterans is that they are not only eligible for Social Security but in many instances, service members are entitled to additional earnings credits as well. Here is what veterans should know about Social Security and how their service record may increase their benefits.

How Service Members Earn Social Security

For the most part, military service members earn Social Security credits the same way that civilian workers do. Every year, both military and civilian workers can earn up to 4 quarters of coverage, and 40 total quarters are required to qualify for Social Security benefits.

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For 2022, you can earn one-quarter of coverage with $1,510 in earnings, but this amount is adjusted each year and was likely much lower for veterans when they were still in the military. You can check your qualification status with the Social Security Administration at any time by visiting ssa.gov.

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Special Credits for Service From 1940 Through 1956

Veterans who served from 1940 through 1956 did not pay any Social Security taxes. However, if you fall into this category, you may still be granted a special Social Security credit if any of the following are true:

  • You served for 90 or more days and were honorably discharged
  • You were discharged due to an injury or disability you received in the line of duty
  • You are still on active duty
  • You are applying for survivors benefits based on the record of a veteran who died on active duty during this time frame

Credits amount to $160 per month. Note that the $160 credit for service from 1940 through 1956 is not added to your monthly benefit, but simply to your earnings record. As your payout is based on your earnings history, this increase will translate to higher benefits, just not on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Special Credits for Service From 1957 Through 1977

Veterans in this era qualify for an additional $300 in earnings credits for each calendar quarter in which they received active duty pay. Thus, veterans who were on active duty for an entire year would receive $1,200 in earnings credits for the year.

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As with all additional veterans’ credits, this amount is added to your earnings record for the purpose of calculating your benefits and is not added to the actual benefit amount itself.

Special Credits for Service From 1978 Through 2001

Special credits for veterans are calculated a bit differently for those who served from 1978 through 2001. For these service men and women, Social Security grants an additional $100 in earnings credits for every $300 of active duty basic pay, with credits topping out at $1,200 per year.

Thus, veterans in these decades can still earn the same $1,200 in earnings credits as those who served from 1957 through 1977, but it would take $3,600 in actual active duty earnings to qualify for this maximum increase. Note that if you enlisted after September 7, 1980, and did not complete either your full tour or at least 24 months of active duty, you may not qualify for these additional earnings credits.

Service After 2001

After 2001, Congress discontinued additional credits for veterans. If your service record began in this era, your Social Security benefit is limited to your actual earnings record only.

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Why Are Veterans’ Benefits Adjusted?

Before 2002, military compensation in the form of food, shelter and medical care was not used in the computation of Social Security benefits for veterans. In an attempt to correct this oversight, special credits were applied to most veterans who served between 1940 and 2002.

However, after 2001, Congress determined that these funds should instead be reapplied to other military pay and retirement initiatives, so the extra credits were dropped. It is believed that this change had minimal impact on the ultimate Social Security benefits received by military veterans.

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.
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