Q & A

Ask Rusty – I’m a Veteran. How Do I Get My Extra Social Security?

Dear Rusty: As a military veteran, I was told that the final amount of my Social Security should be a little higher as a reward for military service. If so, I have two questions: 1. How much is the boost? 2. How can I know that amount has been applied? Signed: Unsure 

Dear Unsure: We receive questions about this fairly often from our military veterans. I want to first thank you for your service to our country and then assure you that, as a military veteran myself, I have thoroughly investigated this subject – the so-called “Special Extra Credit for Military Service,” which is widely misunderstood. Although someone suggested that your Social Security benefit “is supposed to be a little higher” because you are a military veteran, allow me to share how this somewhat obscure rule actually works. 

Any extra money for military veterans does not come in the form of a special “boost” to their Social Security benefit because of their military service; instead, certain older veterans receive extra credit to their earnings for the years they served. Those extra earnings are applied only to those who served in specific years, as additional dollars added to their actual earnings record for their service-years. The amount added to the veteran’s true service-year earnings varies a bit depending on which years you served. For example, if you served between 1957 – 1977, your actual earnings for each service-year would be increased by $300 for each full quarter you had active duty pay, to a maximum of $1200 additional earnings per service-year. The credit is computed a bit differently for those who served between 1978 – 2001, but the maximum annual earnings credit for those service years is the same – $1,200. And, for clarity, those who served before 1957 get extra earnings credit under an entirely different formula, and those who served after 2001 receive no extra credits for their military service years. 

So how might this affect your Social Security benefit? Well, when your benefit is claimed, Social Security reviews your lifetime earnings record, inflates each actual annual amount to equal today’s dollar equivalent, and selects the highest earning 35 years from your lifetime record to calculate your “Primary Insurance Amount” or “PIA” (your PIA is the amount you are entitled to at full retirement age). If your military service-years are among the 35 years used to compute your PIA when you claim, then the “Special Extra Credit for Military Service” will result in a somewhat higher PIA (a slightly higher monthly SS benefit). If the highest earning 35 years in your lifetime record do not include your military-service-years, then those extra credits added to your earnings for your military-service-years will have no effect on your Social Security benefit (because using those service-years would result in a lower benefit). How Social Security applies those special extra credits to your service-year earnings also varies depending on when you served. Those who served before 1968 needed to show their DD-214 to get the extra credits, but those who served in between 1968 – 2001 were automatically given the extra credits based on their military service records. 

So, if your military service was between 1968 and 2001, your earnings during the years you served were automatically increased by SS to reflect your “special extra” earnings and – if those years are among the highest of the 35 years used to compute your SS benefit – you are now receiving the extra benefit amount you’re entitled to from those credits. If you have at least 35 years over your lifetime where you earned more than your pay while serving in the military, your current benefit is more than it would be if your military service years were included. If you have questions about your earnings during your military service years, you may wish to obtain a copy of your lifetime earnings history from Social Security to review those amounts (easiest way to get your lifetime earnings history is via your personal “my Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.  

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at [email protected].

Comments On This Topic

  1. Okay, I served in the Air Force “before 1968”. I joined the Air Force in 1966, and I served until January of 1970. So since I was in the Air Force in 1968 and 1969, would the “extra credit” earnings be applied to all of those years, including 1966 and 1967? Thanks.

    • Hi Bill,
      Yes, you would get extra earnings credit for your military service for the years between 1966 and 1970 – your actual earnings for each service-year would be increased by $300 for each full quarter you had active duty pay, to a maximum of $1200 additional earnings per service-year. Since you were on active duty after 1968, those special extra earnings credits were automatically applied if your service years were included in the 35 years used to calculate your Social Security benefit when you claimed. When your SS benefit is calculated, they use the 35 highest earning years over your lifetime to compute your average indexed (inflation adjusted) monthly earnings, which is what your SS benefit is calculated from. If you had a long working career after your military service, it’s likely that your service years weren’t included in calculating your SS benefit (because your work career earnings would be higher). However if you had a short post-military work record, your military service years may have been included, and they would have used your enhance military earnings (enhanced with those extra credits) to calculate your Social Security benefit.
      Russell Gloor
      National Social Security Advisor
      The AMAC Foundation

  2. I read that if I receive veteran’s benefit with social security I would pay dollar for dollar up to 20.00 depending on amount I receive for the military, I don’t understand that rule. I already receive SSD and want to file for VA benefits, will it effect the amount from Social Security?

    • First, I want to thank you for your military service.
      Social Security disability benefits and VA benefits are entirely separate from each other (one does not affect the other). So if you are currently collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and separately apply for and receive a veteran’s disability benefit, you can rest assured that your SSDI benefit will not be affected.
      Russell Gloor
      National Social Security Advisor
      The AMAC Foundation.

  3. I served in the Air Force for 8 years two terms, from 1980 to 1988. Do i qualify for extra money in my Social Security check?

    • Terry:

      First, let me offer a sincere thank you for your service.

      I believe you are referring to legislation enacted several years ago that added an extra amount to the actual active-duty military earnings record Social Security had on file for those who served. This benefit is widely misunderstood to mean an extra amount of money will be added to the veteran’s monthly Social Security benefit, which it is not. The special extra earnings for military service enhance a qualifying veteran’s active-duty earnings of record during the years served, which may, or may not, influence the veteran’s actual Social Security monthly benefit. Those serving between 1968 and 2001 needn’t do anything to receive the special extra earnings for military service, since the extra earnings were automatically added to the beneficiary’s lifetime earnings record used to calculate Social Security retirement benefits.

      In your case, since you served in the 1980-1988 period, you do not need to take any action to receive this benefit, since it’s already been factored into your Social Security benefit calculation.

      Please contact us at 888-750-2622 or via email at [email protected] if we can provide any further assistance.

      Gerry Hafer
      AMAC Foundation Social Security Advisory Service

      CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: The opinions and interpretations expressed in this message are the viewpoints of the message’s author, a trained advisor accredited under the National Social Security Advisors program of the National Social Security Association, LLC (NSSA). The author, the NSSA, and the AMAC Foundation are not affiliated with or endorsed by the United States Government, the Social Security Administration, or any other state government.

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