Social Security column/Karyl Richson
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI


Each year, on November 11, America observes Veterans Day and honors the men and women who have served in our nation’s
Armed Forces. Many of our Vietnam era veterans are now nearing retirement age, or already there. It is important that they — and
other American service personnel — know just what retirement benefits they can count on from Social Security as they make
their future financial plans.

Like most of the civilian workforce, all current military personnel pay Social Security taxes and earn Social Security coverage.
Earnings for active duty military service or active duty training have been covered under Social Security since 1957. Also,
earnings for inactive duty service in the reserves (such as weekend drills) have had Social Security coverage since 1988.

In addition to regular military pay, Social Security adds special earnings credits to an individual’s Social Security record when he
or she serves in the military. The extra earnings are for periods of active duty or active duty training. If, for example, a person
served in the military between 1957 and 1977, he or she has been credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar
quarter in which active duty basic pay was earned. These extra earnings may help someone qualify for Social Security or
increase the amount of the Social Security benefit.

The number of credits an individual needs to qualify for Social Security depends on his or her age and the type of benefit. Any
future Social Security benefit payment depends on a person’s earnings, averaged over a working lifetime. Generally, the higher a
person’s earnings, the higher his or her Social Security benefit will be.

And remember that Social Security is more than retirement. If a worker becomes disabled before reaching retirement age, he or
she may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. A disabled worker’s spouse and dependent children also may be
eligible for benefits. If a worker dies, the widow or widower and dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors

If you, or someone you know, were wounded while on active duty in the military, find out more about what Social Security can do
by visiting our website designed specifically for wounded warriors: There, you will find
answers to a number of commonly asked questions, as well as other useful information about disability benefits and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Veterans and others who are within 10 years of retirement age should begin planning for retirement. A good place to start is with
Social Security’s Retirement Estimator at

For more information, you can read our fact sheet, Military Service and Social Security, which is available on our website at

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As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, families everywhere will be traveling to reunite with one another. Generations will
gather around dinner tables across the nation.  And certainly some people are already coming up with conversation topics to
season the festivities.

If some of the folks in your family like to talk about Social Security, make sure you’re ready with a visit to  
After table time, sit down for some online time with anyone in your family who needs information. In fact, right on your tablet or
laptop, you can even help a loved one apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes, or Medicare in as little as 10.

There are a number of other things you can help your loved ones do online. Use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to see
whether they qualify for benefits. Or use the Retirement Estimator for an instant and personalized estimate of their retirement
benefits. You can learn about these and many other online services available by visiting

If you’re in a conversation about Social Security, use your smart phone or mobile device to visit our mobile-friendly frequently
asked questions at

If you end up talking about Social Security between turkey and pumpkin pie, rest assured that the authority on the subject is as
close as your laptop, tablet, or smart phone.  Feast on the food at the table, and then take advantage of the feast of information
and services available online at  
In autumn, animals know winter is coming and take the steps to prepare. Bears grow thicker fur and settle in for peaceful
hibernation. Squirrels collect and store acorns and other nuts. Birds, favoring warmer weather and having the means to make it
possible, fly south for the winter.

When it comes to preparing for retirement, we can learn from the animals -- making sure the transition into the later years of our
lives is as smooth and comfortable as possible.  The best place to start is a visit to

You can get an instant, personalized estimate of your future Social Security benefits at         

To prepare for a comfortable retirement, you should start saving as early as possible. Social Security is the foundation for a
secure retirement, but was never meant to be the sole-source of income for retirees.  In addition to Social Security, you also will
need savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you
retire.  Learn about retirement planning and how to save at  But wait, there’s more.

If you decide you’re going to be a “snowbird” when retirement comes, and go to warmer climates during winter weather, make
sure that your Social Security payment goes with you. The best way to do that is to use direct deposit. You never have to worry
about where your monthly payment will be delivered — it will show up in your bank account whether you’re in the Dakotas or the
Florida Keys.  Learn all about electronic payments at .

Whether you’re in the spring, summer, or entering the autumn of your life, the best time to start preparing for retirement is always
the present. A good place to start is at Even the animals know they can’t wait until the last minute to
prepare for a comfortable winter. Take a lesson from our furry and feathered friends and prepare for your own comfortable
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Some of the strongest and most youthful superheroes to jump from the pages of comic books to the silver screen in recent
years are old enough to be receiving full Social Security retirement benefits. Whether standing before the bat-computer or going
online at the fortress of solitude, these guys were certainly wise enough to apply for retirement benefits at

Superman may be America’s most popular superhero, and also the oldest to hit the screen in recent years. The man of steel
was created in 1932. The guy’s 79 years old and he has a new movie coming out in 2012. Superman does mostly volunteer
work, but even if he earns wages as Clark Kent, his benefits won’t be offset since he reached his full retirement age.

Batman made his debut in 1939, and he’s about to star in another feature film, running around like a 30-year-old. Also in his
70s, Mr. Wayne is getting full retirement benefits — and Robin too. The same can’t be said for the Joker or Penguin; you can’t
collect benefits while you’re in prison.

The Green Lantern and Captain America made their silver screen debuts this year. They were “born” in 1940 and 1941, and also
are of retirement age. One would expect Captain America to look a little more like Uncle Sam these days, but as is true with
many Social Security retirees today, staying active keeps him young.

For the “silver age” of comic book heroes, retirement isn’t quite here yet. Spider-Man slung his first web in 1962, the same year
the incredible Hulk burst into being. Iron Man and the X-Men first appeared in 1963. They may not be ready to retire just yet, but it’
s a good time for them to take a look at the online Retirement Estimator, where they can get an instant, personalized estimate of
future retirement benefits. Come to think of it, if the Hulk or any of the X-Men ever get severely injured, they may qualify for
disability benefits through Social Security. The place to go for more information is

Ask any of these superheroes about retirement plans, and you’re likely to get an earful. They won’t be sitting around — they’ll be
staying active even as they collect retirement benefits. You don’t have to have a bat-computer or be a superhero to harness the
power of the Retirement Estimator at, or to apply online for benefits at
Up, up, and away into an active retirement!

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I live in a hurricane zone and there’s always a good chance I’ll have to evacuate. What should I do if I’m expecting my check and
a hurricane disrupts the mail?

To avoid this situation altogether, get your payments sent electronically. Direct Deposit and Direct Express are the fast, easy and
secure ways to receive your benefit payment.  For more information, see


How long does a person need to work to become eligible for retirement benefits?

We base Social Security benefits on work credits. Anyone born in 1929 or later needs 40 Social Security credits to be eligible for
retirement benefits. You can earn up to four credits a year, so you will need to work at least 10 years to become eligible for
retirement benefits. Learn more by reading the publication How You Earn Credits at

Will my son be eligible to receive benefits on his retired father’s record while going to college?

No. At one time, Social Security did pay benefits to eligible college students. But the law changed in 1981. We now pay benefits
only to students taking courses at grade 12 or below. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are
disabled. However, if children are still full-time students at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits generally can
continue until they graduate or until two months after they reach age 19, whichever is first. If your child is still going to be in
school at age 19, you’ll want to visit


My brother had an accident at work last year and is now receiving Social Security disability benefits. His wife and son also
receive benefits. Before his accident, he helped support another daughter by a woman he never married. Is the second child
entitled to benefits?

The child may qualify for Social Security benefits even though your brother wasn't married to the second child's mother. The child’
s caretaker should file an application on her behalf.  For more information, visit us online at

What is the “definition of disability” for children filing for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

A child is disabled if he or she:
•        Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in “marked and severe functional
limitations.” This means that the condition very seriously limits the child’s activities; and
•        The condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or is expected to result in death; and
•        Is not working at a job that we consider to be substantial work.
To determine whether your child meets the definition of disability, we look at medical and other information (such as information
from schools and from you) about the child’s condition. We also consider how the condition affects the child’s daily activities.  
We consider: what activities is your child not able to do, or is limited in doing; the type of extra help and how much extra help your
child needs to perform age-appropriate activities  for example, special classes at school, medical equipment; and whether the
treatment interferes with your child’s day-to-day activities.
Remember that SSI is a needs-based program where family income and resources also play a role in determining eligibility for
benefits.   For more information, read Benefits For Children With Disabilities at


I'm going to visit relatives outside the country for two weeks during the holidays. Can I still get Supplemental Security Insurance
(SSI) payments while I'm there?

Your SSI usually will stop if you leave the United States for 30 consecutive days or more. Since you are going to be away for only
two weeks, your SSI should not be affected. However, it's important that you tell Social Security the date you plan to leave and the
date you plan to come back. Then we can let you know whether your SSI will be affected. For more information, visit
or call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments paid only to disabled or blind people?

No. In addition to people with disabilities or blindness, SSI payments can be made to people who are age 65 or older and have
limited income and financial resources. For more information, read our publication, Supplemental Security Income, at


How do I obtain a copy of the form, Application for Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs?

If you wish to apply for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs, we recommend you use our online application at Meanwhile, you can view a sample at There, you also
can find instruction sheets in 15 different languages to help you understand the English application. Soon, the online application
also will be available in Spanish.

If you prefer not to fill out this application on the Internet, you can call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to ask for a paper
application. Also, you can make an appointment at your local Social Security office to apply for Extra Help with Medicare
prescription drug plan costs. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call our toll-free TTY number, 1-800-325-0778. Representatives
are available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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