Washington, DC -  Ask Rusty – Social Security, Military Pension and Disability

Dear Rusty: I am 61 years old. I have a disability rating from the VA and I draw a military pension for my years of service. How might my disability rating and my military pension affect my Social Security? ~ Disabled Vet

Dear Disabled Vet: First of all, thank you for your service to our country. Your military pension will not affect your future Social Security benefit in any way, since military pay for service after 1957 contributed to and participated in the Social Security program. In other words, you paid Social Security “FICA” taxes from your military earnings during your years of service, and your earnings during those years contributed toward the 35 years which will be used to determine your Social Security benefit amount. So when you finally decide to apply for Social Security (you must be at least 62 to apply for retirement benefits) you need not worry about any reductions as a result of receiving your military service pension.

Similarly, your Veterans Administration disability rating will not affect your Social Security retirement benefit. But, for your awareness, depending upon the extent of your disability you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in addition to your military pension and in lieu of regular Social Security benefits. You can get SSDI benefits before your normal eligibility age of 62, and they are paid instead of regular Social Security retirement benefits up to your full retirement age, which for you is 66 years and 6 months. Then, at your full retirement age, SSDI benefits will automatically convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits. Note that, if awarded, your SSDI benefit may be more than your early retirement benefit if, for example, you claimed your retirement benefit as soon as you became eligible at age 62.

Even though you have a VA disability rating, to get SSDI benefits you would still need to satisfy Social Security’s own definition of “disability” and meet their other eligibility requirements. But if your disability prevents you from working and is expected to last for more than a year, it is surely worth investigating. While it is possible to apply for SSDI benefits online, we recommend you contact your local Social Security office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator), make an appointment and apply in person. If you’d like to read up on this before contacting them go to www.ssa.gov/people/veterans/. Note too that while it doesn’t guarantee approval, if your VA disability rating is “100% Permanent & Total”, Social Security may provide you with expedited processing of your SSDI application. And you don't have to wait until you are 62 to apply for and collect Social Security disability benefits. Once again, thank you for your military service.