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Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – About special extra earnings for military service

Dear Rusty: How do I find out if I get any extra earnings for my military service of 28 years (Navy, 1982-2011), when I begin collecting my full Social Security retirement benefit next year (in July 2021)? Signed: Retired Veteran

Dear Retired Veteran: First, as a fellow veteran, I want to thank you for your 28 years of military service, but I need to clarify what those “special extra earnings” are. That’s not an additional amount which will be added to your monthly Social Security benefit as a bonus for serving. Rather it is an additional dollar amount which has already been added to your earnings record for the years you served in the military.

Those receiving active duty military pay have contributed to Social Security since 1957, and that record of your military pay is already on file with Social Security. But a long time ago Congress decided to bump up the recorded earnings of those with earlier military service to make it easier for them to qualify for Social Security, and to possibly provide a slightly higher benefit when the earnings from those years in the military are included in the computation of SS benefits.

To compute your benefit, Social Security uses the 35 highest earning years from your lifetime earnings record (adjusted for inflation). So, if your earnings during the years you were in the military are among the 35 years used to calculate your SS benefit, those military earnings were supplemented with an additional amount to make them up to $1200 per year higher than you were actually paid. And that higher earnings amount possibly means a higher Social Security benefit because it could make your lifetime Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) higher (a higher AIME translates to a higher benefit amount).

In your case, an extra $100 for every $300 in your actual military pay should have been added to your earnings record for each year you served between 1982 and 2001 (maximum of $1200 for each year).

For service years after 2001, no additional “special credits” are awarded. To verify this, you may wish to obtain a copy of your lifetime Earnings Statement from Social Security and verify that your recorded earnings for 1982 – 2001 are $1200 more than you were actually paid while serving. And if not, you should supply a copy of your DD-214 when applying for your Social Security benefits. You can obtain a copy of your lifetime Earnings Statement online if you have a personal “my Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount; otherwise you’ll need to request a copy directly from Social Security.

For general information applicable to those who served prior to 1978, computation of their “special extra earnings” were computed a little differently. For those veterans, the maximum annual “special extra earnings” supplement was still $1,200, but the method for computing their extra earnings was to give an extra $300 for each calendar quarter of active duty military service. But in any case, the special extra earnings are an addition to your military pay record on file with Social Security, not an additional dollar amount added to your Social Security benefit.

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