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Last year there was a string of messages on the Class of 1958 net concerning our Social Security entitlement. The discussion centered on whether we were due some special credits for our cadet years and for our first few years of active service. It was during this period (1954 to 1962) that our annual military earnings were not equal to the then Maximum Taxable Earnings.
Since I began drawing SS at age 62, I decided to pursue the possibility of increased credit and SS income due me. I have 30 years of active duty plus 3 years of earnings in a second career. Since each of us has a different work history (military and civilian careers), individual results will vary.
First, I went to the Social Security web site http://www.ssa.gov and found several interesting items. One was a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) site that discussed credits due for attendance at a service academy. Another was a link to a do-it-yourself Benefits Calculator at http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/ANYPIA/anypia.html (Benefits Calculator Site) which you can download. It takes a little patience to figure out how to use it but when you do, you will see what your benefits should be based on credits for both your cadet years and up through 1962. When you plug in all your Reported Earnings EXACTLY as printed on your Social Security Earnings Record, it automatically adds in the $160 per month (1940-1956 credit) and $300 per quarter (1957-1977 credit). These are the amounts that we are supposed to be credited with for our service until we started reaching the Max Taxable Earnings years (1963 & beyond).
Second, armed with my own calculations and my DD 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty), I wrote to the Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD 21235-0001. I sent along copies of my W-2's from as far back as 1957. (I save everything!) They never responded to the first or a second follow-up letter and I wrote that effort off as useless.
Third, I made an appointment at the local Social Security office using the national ‘1-800’ number found on the web site (1-800-772-1213). I needed to find out if these additional credits had been applied to my Social Security earnings for the period 1954-1962 as those credits do not appear on the document, “Your Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement” that all of us have received. While waiting in the local (Rockville, MD) SS Office, I found a flyer in the publications rack entitled "Military Service and Social Security" (SSA Pub. No. 05-10017 dated January 2001). The flyer completely explains why our Service Academy years should be credited with $160 per month ('54-55-56) and $300 per quarter ('57-77) for all four of our cadet years. It is the same information found earlier on the web site.
*(NOTE: An extract from that flyer is appended below.)
During the interview, however, the manager had a problem with how to handle the four years at West Point despite my showing him his own flyer. They seem to have little experience with crediting Service Academy attendance in their Benefit Calculations. While he acknowledged my DD214 for 30 years of active service, he kept asking me to provide a second DD214 for the cadet years. I explained that there is 'no such animal' and I kept asking him just what proof did he want to see to prove my Service Academy years. Did he see my class ring? Should I bring in my framed diploma? He had no answer but refused to do a recalculation. I was more than a little frustrated.
Fourth, I called the 1-800 number again and got a staff member on the line. She conferred with her manager and agreed that I am eligible for increased benefits due to the cadet years plus the first 4 years of active duty (when our pay was less than the then Maximum Taxable Earnings of $4800). Since they index those early years, they greatly help to increase your benefits and add more 'max' or 'near max' years toward the 35 required years. The main point that was settled was that only a Transcript of Cadet Academic Grades would satisfy the attendance requirement.
Fifth, I wrote a letter to West Point (Office of the Dean, Graduate Records, USMA, West Point, NY 10996; $3.50 for 1st copy of transcript & 35 cents for each additional copy). With my transcript in hand, I made another appointment and returned to the Rockville SS office. This time they accepted everything for recalculation & submission to SS HQ. About two months later my wife and I both received increased monthly benefits and also a 'back pay' adjustment for the years since 1996 when I first applied for the benefits. (My wife’s SS benefits are based on my work history, not hers.)
Finally, if you do not have 35 Max Taxable Earnings years for Social Security Benefits, you may be receiving less than the amount due you and your spouse (if her benefits are based on your earnings)… Bill Serchak
Social Security Benefits-Additional Information
I have received about a dozen notes from you about my earlier message concerning claiming additional Social Security credit for our Service Academy years. For some reason, the local SS offices are playing dumb about this although their own website and pubs clearly outline the additional credits due to Service Academy grads, if they need them. I needed them. My intent was to inform the class that there is a solution to this problem. As I stated, individual results will vary dependent upon your work history (military and/or second career earnings). For me, it was a challenge to work through another bureaucracy and realize some immediate financial benefits.
I realize that some of us had a full 35 years of max earnings and will not gain anything more based on their cadet years. I didn't write this for them. It was for those whose military career was shorter than 30 years and/or did not have a full second career.
I also intend to pass along this information (through the Exec Committee) to all the other grads from 1940 onward who may not be aware of this congressionally mandated benefit and how to claim it. I suspect that this information may turn out to be helpful to many more people than just our class.
Note: You don't have to use the Benefits Calculator at the SS website to claim your credits. The SS Admin will do the final benefits calculations when your transcript & DD214 are submitted through your local SS Office. If you have submitted a DD 214 at the time you first applied for SS benefits, the SSA has already added in the special credits for your years of commissioned service covered by the DD 214. For your years as a cadet, however, it is the transcript of your Service Academy Academic Record that serves as a substitute for a DD 214. One anomaly: If you resigned from West Point before graduation and commissioning, you received a DD 214 for your years as a cadet. In this case, either your academic transcript or your DD 214 for your years as a cadet will suffice as proof of attendance. It is only if you completed all four years and was graduated and commissioned without a break in service, that your DD 214 does not include your service academy years… Bill Serchak
*Extract: "Military Service and Social Security" (SSA Pub. No. 05-10017).
Q . How do I get Social Security credit for my military service?
A. Since 1957, if you had military service earnings for active duty (including active for training), you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings and they are on your record. Inactive duty service in the Armed Forces reserves (such as weekend drills) has been covered by Social Security since 1988.
People who served in the military before 1957 did not pay into Social Security directly, but when they apply for benefits, their records are credited with special earnings for Social Security purposes that count toward any benefits that might be payable.
Under certain circumstances, special earnings for periods of active duty can be credited to your military pay record for Social Security purposes. These extra earnings may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefits. For military earnings from 1968 to 2001 these extra credits were included when we prepared the benefit estimates for your Statement. However, they are not displayed in the year-by-year list of earnings in your Social Security Earnings Record. Extra credits for military service from 1941 - 1967 will be added when you actually apply for benefits and provide proof of that service.
How Special Military Service Credits Are Granted
Note: There has been a recent change in military service credits. In January 2002, Public Law 107-117, the Defense Appropriations Act, stopped the special extra earnings that have been credited to military service personnel. Your military service in calendar year 2002 and future years no longer qualifies for these special extra earnings. The information that follows applies only to your military service earnings from 1940 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 the Social Security office nearest you for details.
You are credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay.
Service from 1940 to 1956
If you were in the military during this period, including attendance at a service academy, you did not pay Social Security taxes. However, under the following circumstances, your Social Security record may be credited with $160 a month in earnings for military service from September 16, 1940, through December 31, 1956:
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 these special earnings credits if you're already receiving a federal benefit based on the same years of service. But there is one exception to this rule: 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.
You can get both Social Security benefits and military retirement. Generally, there is no offset of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement. You'll get your full Social Security benefit based on your earnings. However, 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 advisor for more information.
Footnote #1 to obtain or replace a DD 214, send your request to National Personnel Records Center, ATTN: Army Reference Branch (NCPMA), 9700 Page Ave., St Louis, MO 63132-5200. (In addition to requesting a DD 214, use this address to obtain copies of retirement orders and of your medical files.) Remember to include your complete name, Social Security number and return address with requests.
Footnote #2 to obtain a Voluntary Withholding Request, W-4V, used to have Federal Taxes withheld from your Social Security benefit payments, go to http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4v.pdf and download the form. According to instructions on the form, for withholding on Social Security benefits give or send the completed Form W-4V to your local Social Security office, not to the IRS.