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Does military retirement pay affect my Social Security benefits?

No. You can get both a military pension and Social Security retirement, survivor or family benefits. The same is true for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The amount of your military retirement pay doesn’t affect how much you receive from Social Security, and vice versa.

That may not be the case if you get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal safety-net benefit for low-income people who are disabled, blind or age 65 or older. SSI is not a traditional Social Security benefit, but the program is managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Among other eligibility criteria, you can’t collect SSI if your overall income exceeds a limit set annually by the SSA. Pension income counts toward that cap, so if your military pension, by itself or in addition to other income, puts you over the cap, you won’t qualify for SSI.

There is also an income limit for SSDI eligibility, but in that case only earnings from work count; pensions and other benefit income are exempt. Similarly, military pensions do not count toward Social Security’s earnings limit, which can reduce payments for people who claim benefits early and continue to work. Only income from employment or self-employment comes into play.

‘Windfall’ provision does not apply

Unlike some government pensions, military retirement pay is not subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). This rule can reduce Social Security benefits for people who have pensions from “noncovered” jobs in which they did not have Social Security taxes withheld from their income but who also draw retirement benefits for other, “covered” employment.

The WEP applies to federal employees hired before 1984 (when the U.S. civil service was brought into the Social Security system) and to about a quarter of state and local government employees, who are covered only by workplace pension plans. (The provision may also apply to people who worked for nonprofit organizations or were employed abroad.)

Under Social Security law, however, the WEP does not apply to pensions from noncovered work before 1957, and active-duty military personnel have been covered — paying Social Security taxes on their service pay — since 1957, so the WEP is not a factor. Nor does it apply to reservists, who didn’t start paying into Social Security from their service income until 1988 but are exempt by law from the WEP for service after 1956.

Similarly, military retirement pay does not trigger the Government Pension Offset, another SSA rule that can reduce Social Security spousal or survivor benefits for people who also get a pension from noncovered government employment.

You can learn more about military retirement benefits in the military pay and pensions section on the federal government’s USA.gov website.

Keep in mind

  • As with military retirement pay, receiving VA disability benefits does not have an impact on Social Security benefits but can affect SSI eligibility and payments.
  • In some circumstances, past military service could boost your Social Security payment. From 1940 to 2001 the SSA supplemented service members’ pay records with special earnings credits. These increased qualifying veterans’ lifetime earnings records, from which Social Security calculates benefit amounts.

Updated May 3, 2022