Military Service and Social Security: Fact Sheet

Social Security card

Content from socialsecurity.gov

Earnings for active duty military service or active duty training have been covered under Social Security since 1957. 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 you are given special credit for some of your service.

You can get both Social Security benefits and military retirement. Generally, there is no reduction of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement benefits. You'll get your full Social Security benefit based on your earnings.

Social Security and Medicare taxes

While you are in military service, you pay Social Security taxes just as civilian employees do. In 2011, the tax rate is 5.65 percent, up to a maximum of $106,800. If you earn more, you continue to pay the Medicare portion of the tax (1.45 percent) on the rest of your earnings.

How your work qualifies you for Social Security

To qualify for benefits, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain length of time. In 2011, you will receive four credits if you earn at least $4,480. 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.

Extra earnings

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 for benefit purposes.

  • From 1957 through 1967, extra credits will be added to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
  • From 1968 through 2001, you do not 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.

  • From 1957 through 1977, you are 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 are 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 did not 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 the following circumstances:

  • You were honorably discharged after 90 or more days of service, or you were released because of a disability or injury received in the line of duty; or
  • You are still on active duty; or
  • You are applying for survivors benefits and the veteran died while on active duty.

You cannot receive credit for these special earnings if you are already receiving a federal benefit based on the same years of service. There is one exception: If you were on active duty after 1956, you can still get the special earnings for 1951 through 1956, even if you're receiving a military retirement based on service during that period.

These extra earnings credits are added to your earnings record when you apply for Social Security benefits.

NOTE: In all cases, the additional earnings are credited to the earnings that we average over your working lifetime, not directly to your monthly benefit amount.

Your 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. For more information about these benefits, see the Social Security document Understanding The Benefits (Publication No. 05-10024).

If you became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors to find out how you can receive expedited processing of your disability claim.

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.

When you are eligible for Medicare

If you have health care insurance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or under the TRICARE or CHAMPVA program, your health benefits may change or end when you become eligible for Medicare. You should contact the VA, the Department of Defense or a military health benefits advisor for more information.

You can work and get retirement benefits

You can retire as early as age 62. But, if you do, your Social Security benefits will be reduced permanently. If you decide to apply for benefits before your full retirement age, you can work and still get some Social Security benefits. There are limits on how much you can earn without losing some or all of your retirement benefits. These limits change each year. When you apply for benefits, we will tell you what the limits are at that time and whether work will affect your monthly benefits.

When you reach your full retirement age, you can earn as much as you are able and still get all of your Social Security benefits.

The full retirement age is 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954, and it will gradually increase to age 67 for those born in 1960 and later. To help you decide the best time to retire, see the Social Security Retirement Benefits page.

Contacting Social Security

For more information about Social Security programs, visit the Social Security Online Services section. In addition to using the Social Security website, you can call the Social Security office toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. All calls are treated confidentially. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

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