Military Service and Social Security
Below are answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Social Security benefits and Military service. For more information or should you have questions not answered below, please feel free to ask Jim at Jim's Mailbag, or go to the Social Security Administration's fact sheet.
Can you get both Social Security benefits and military retirement?
Yes. In most cases, you can get both Social Security benefits and military retirement and there is usually not a reduction of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement benefits.
- You'll get your full Social Security benefits based on your earnings.
- Social Security Survivors Benefits may affect benefits payable under the optional Department of Defense Survivors Benefit Plan.
- Check with the Department of Defense or your military retirement adviser for more information.
- If you have health care protection from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or under the TRICARE (formerly CHAMPUS) or CHAMPVA program, your health benefits may change or end when you become eligible for Medicare.
Do I receive Social Security for my time in the military?
Yes. Earning for active duty military service or active duty training have been covered under Social Security since 1957. While you are in military service, you pay Social Security taxes just like civilians.
In 2020, the tax rate was 6.2 percent. This means that your income, up to a maximum of $137,700, is taxed at a rate of 6.2% for social security. If you earn more than $137,700, you continue to pay the Medicare portion of the tax (1.45 percent) on the rest of your earnings.
Social Security has covered inactive duty service in the armed forces reserves (such as weekend drills) since 1988. If you served in the military before 1957, you did not pay Social Security taxes, but the Social Security Administration gave you special credit for some of your service.
How Does Your Work Qualify You for Social Security?
To qualify for benefits, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain length of time. You can earn one credit for each $1,410 that you earn up to a maximum of 4 credits each year. In other words, in 2020, you would earn 4 credits as long as your income is over $5640. ($1410 x 4 = $5640).
The Social Security Administration says that "the amount needed to get credit for your work goes up each year. The number of credits you need to qualify for Social Security benefits depends on your age and the type of benefit for which you are eligible.
No one needs more than 10 years of work in total (military or civilian work).
What are Social Security Extra Earnings and Can I Get Them?
According to the Social Security Administration, "your Social Security benefit depends on your earnings, averaged over your working lifetime. Generally, the higher your earnings, the higher your Social Security benefit. Under certain circumstances, special earnings can be credited to your military pay record for Social Security purposes.
The extra earnings are for periods of active duty or active duty for training. These extra earnings may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefit. If you served in the military after 1956, you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Since 1988, inactive duty service in the armed forces reserves (such as weekend drills) has also been covered by Social Security. Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for periods of active duty from 1957 through 2001 can also be credited to your Social Security earnings record.
- From 1957 through 1967, they will add the extra credits to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
- From 1968 through 2001, you don’t need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.
- After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service. The information that follows explains how you can get credit for special extra earnings and applies only to active duty military service earnings from 1957 through 2001.
The information below explains how you can get credit for special extra earnings and applies only to active duty military service earnings from 1957 through 2001.
- From 1957 through 1977, you’re credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay.
- From 1978 through 2001, for every $300 in active duty basic pay, you’re credited with an additional $100 in earnings up to a maximum of $1,200 a year.
- If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, and didn’t complete at least 24 months of active duty or your full tour, you may not be able to receive the additional earnings."
Check with Social Security for details
If you served in the military from 1940 through 1956, including attendance at a service academy, you didn’t pay Social Security taxes. However, your Social Security record may be credited with $160 a month in earnings for military service from September 16, 1940, through December 31, 1956, under certain circumstances
Social Security Family Benefits
In addition to retirement benefits, Social Security pays survivors benefits to your family when you die. You also can get Social Security benefits for you and your family if you become disabled.
Social Security Disability
If you became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.
When you apply for Social Security benefits, you will be asked for proof of your military service (DD Form 214) or information about your reserve or National Guard service.
DISCLAIMER: The Stateside Legal Information Series is produced by the Pine Tree Legal Assistance of Maine®, Arkansas Legal Services Partnership®, and the Legal Services Corporation®. These organizations promote or provide free legal services to eligible low- income people. Additional information can be found at www.lsc.gov.
This information is given to you as a guide to help you generally understand the way legal matters are handled. Local courts interpret things differently. The information and statements of law contained in this information are not intended to be used as legal advice. Before you take any action, talk to an attorney and follow their advice. Always do what the court tells you to do. Content provided by: U.S. Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov