Social Security for Veterans
I built my career in the U.S. Navy and am looking toward retirement. How does my veteran status impact my Social Security? Does it affect the amount of my benefits? Is there a different process for me to follow than for civilians? Thanks for your advice.
First, thank you for your service. We say that so much now it’s becoming a cliche, but I want you to know how grateful I am that you chose a career of service that no doubt took a lot of personal sacrifice. I hope your well-earned retirement will be a time when you can put yourself first for a while and build on the experiences of the first part of your life.
You’ve asked a great set of questions that will be relevant to many of our readers. Even readers who are not veterans themselves likely know someone who is, so I hope they will forward this post to anyone whom it could help.
Military Pension Plans
Before talking about Social Security, let’s go over your military retirement benefits. Your military pension is completely separate from Social Security. Active military who retire after at least 20 years of service may be in one of two pension plans. Both of these pay benefits that are based on your highest 36 months of basic pay and allow you to make your own additional contributions.
The main difference is whether the government will match your contributions:
● In the Legacy or High 36 Retirement System, the government does not match your contributions.
● In the Blended Retirement System, the government will match your contributions up to 4% of your salary.
The one you’re in depends on when you enlisted. People who enlisted before January 1, 2006 are in the Legacy plan. Those who enlisted between January 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2017 got to choose between the two plans. Those who signed up after Dec. 31, 2017 are in the Blended plan.
There are also benefits available to veterans with disabilities, survivors of veterans, and veterans who served in a war but did not build a career and retire from the service. You can explore military retirement benefits in greater detail at https://www.usa.gov/military-pensions .
What Veterans Should Know About Social Security
So how does this affect your Social Security as a veteran?
You’ve paid into Social Security and Medicare taxes over your years of working for the military, so you will be eligible to draw Social Security and Medicare benefits in addition to your military pension. Just like civilians, your benefits will be based on an average of what you earned in your 35 highest-earning years.
However, for veterans who were on active duty before 2002, the Social Security Administration may add some additional earnings to your total before figuring out your monthly benefit amount.
Here’s how that works, depending on when you were on active duty:
● From 1940 through 1956, service members did not pay Social Security taxes, but the SSA still gives some earnings credits for veterans of these years.
● Service members on active duty from 1957 through 1977 are credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter they were paid for active duty.
● For active duty from 1978 through 2001, for every $300 in active duty basic pay, veterans get credited with another $100 in earnings up to no more than $1,200 a year.
Note that these benefits may not be available to service members who enlisted after September 7, 1980 and didn’t complete at least 24 months of active duty or a full tour.
Applying for Benefits
You can start drawing benefits anytime between the ages of 62 and 70. However, if it is possible in your situation, it is usually best to wait until you reach full retirement age (66 or 67 depending on the year you were born). You’ll get reduced benefits if you apply earlier than that, and bonus benefits if you wait until after full retirement age.
The application process for veterans is just the same as for civilians, with one exception: you will need to provide DD Form 214 to prove your military service or provide other information about your Reserve or National Guard service.
Social Security pays additional benefits to people with disabilities. You can get expedited processing for your claim If you developed a disability while on active duty military service on or after October 1, 2001. This is explained in more detail at www.ssa.gov/woundedwarriors .
I recommend that you visit www.ssa.gov to learn more about your Social Security benefits and to begin the application process when you’re ready. Here’s a link that has additional details for veterans than what I’ve shared here: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10017.pdf
Thank you again for your service and for the great questions. What I’ve shared here should get you started in receiving all the benefits you’ve earned.
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