Social Security Column
November 2009
By Karyl Richson
Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Milwaukee, WI


Each and every day of the year, Americans in the armed forces serve our nation.  At Social Security, we honor our nation’s military personnel and
all of America’s veterans not only on Veterans Day, but every day of the year.
In fact, military service members receive expedited processing of their disability applications from Social Security.  Under an agreement initiated
by Social Security, the Department of Defense transmits information that allows us to quickly identify military personnel injured in Operations
Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
The expedited process is available for any military service member who becomes disabled during active duty on or after October 1, 2001,
regardless of where the disability occurs.  Depending on the situation, some family members of military personnel also may be able to receive
benefits, including dependent children and spouses.
If you, or someone you know, were wounded while on active duty in the military, find out more about what Social Security can do for you by
visiting our website designed specifically for our wounded veterans:  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).  
Please pay special attention to the fact sheets available on that website, Disability Benefits for Wounded Warriors and Expediting Disability
Applications for Wounded Warriors.
You’ll also find links to useful Veterans Affairs websites.  There are links to information about the “Operation Enduring Freedom / Operation Iraqi
Freedom Home,” information on Survivors Benefits, the Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes, a fact sheet on Veterans benefits,
and the Veterans On-Line Application, known as VONAPP.
Although the expedited service is relatively new, military personnel have been covered under Social Security since 1957.  Even people in the
service before 1957 may receive special credit for some of their service.  People in the military are covered for the same Social Security
survivors, disability and retirement benefits as everyone else.
A person’s Social Security benefit depends on earnings, averaged over a lifetime.  Generally, the higher your earnings, the higher your Social
Security benefit.  Under certain circumstances, special earnings can be credited from your military pay record for Social Security purposes.  The
extra earnings are for periods of active duty or active duty for training.  These extra earnings may help you qualify for Social Security or increase
the amount of your Social Security benefit and are added to your earnings record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
To learn more about Social Security for people who have served in the military, read a copy of our publication, Military Service and Social
Security.  You can find it online at, or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to ask us to mail a
free copy to you.
Each and every day, the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces serve us.  Social Security salutes everyone who serves.

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Social Security administers several programs that pay benefits to qualified individuals, including those who are homeless.  These programs
include retirement, disability and survivors insurance, as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a needs-based program for people
who are blind, disabled or age 65 or older.  If you know someone who is homeless, and you want to learn more about how Social Security might
help, a place to get information is at
For example, there is a link to our Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool, or BEST.  Based on answers to various questions, this tool helps determine
the benefits someone might be eligible for and gives information about how to qualify and apply.  Go directly to BEST at www.socialsecurity.
The Spotlight on Homelessness is a page designed to help the homeless apply for SSI.  It’s available at
There are links to information on health care for the homeless, institutionalization, advocacy groups, reports on homeless outreach, and even links
to other websites like the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness,,, and HUD.
You can help us help the homeless.  If you know someone who is homeless, take a look at our Service to the Homeless website and look through
the information.  Tell anyone you know who is homeless or threatened with homelessness to use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool, to visit our
Service to the Homeless page, and to check out the different types of benefits and assistance they may be eligible to receive.  Spread the word
about the help available to the homeless.
Every American should have a place to call home.  Visit to learn more.

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Hunting season is upon us; time to set your target for the Medicare prescription drug plan that’s best for you.
Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, and current beneficiaries who are considering changes to their Medicare Part D plan, should mark their
calendars for November 15.  The “open season” will run from November 15 to December 31.
The Medicare Part D prescription drug program is available to all Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications.  Joining a
Medicare prescription drug plan is voluntary, and participants pay an additional monthly premium for the coverage.
While all Medicare beneficiaries can participate in the prescription drug program, some people with limited income and resources also are eligible
for “extra help” to pay for monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.  The extra help is worth an average of $3,900 per
To figure out whether you are eligible for the extra help, Social Security needs to know your income and the value of any savings, investments,
and real estate (other than the home you live in).  To qualify, you must be receiving Medicare and also have:
•        Income limited to $16,245 for an individual or $21,855 for a married couple living together.  Even if your annual income is higher, you still
may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.  Some examples where your income may
be higher include if you or your spouse:
   —Support other family members who live with you;
   —Have earnings from work; or
   —Live in Alaska or Hawaii; and
•        Resources limited to $12,510 for an individual or $25,010 for a married couple living together.  Resources include such things as bank
accounts, stocks, and bonds.  We do not count your house or car as resources.

You can complete an easy-to-use online application for the extra help at  Click on Medicare on the top right side of the
page.  Then click on “Apply for help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs.”  To apply for the extra help by phone or have an application
mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Help with Medicare Prescription Drug
Plan Costs (SSA-1020).  Or go to your nearest Social Security office.
And if you would like more information about the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program itself, visit or call 1-800-
MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).
So this open season, hunt for something that could put $3,900 in your pocket — bag the best Medicare prescription drug plan for you and see if you
qualify for the extra help through Social Security.

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Thanksgiving is almost here.  Families across the nation will come together to share more than a meal — to share warm memories, and to make
them.  You may plan to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, toss a football on the leaf-covered yard, or simply sit together over coffee or wine to
While the family is together, it may be the perfect time to help Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa, or your favorite Aunt or Uncle.  Just ask them to
pass the mouse.
No, we’re not suggesting a new meal plan — ask them to pass the computer mouse.  Relax in front of the computer and show them how easy it is
to conduct their Social Security business online from the convenience and comfort of their own home or office.  Just visit
There are a number of the things you can help your loved ones do online.  Use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool, or BEST, 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
But perhaps the best thing you can do to help them this Thanksgiving is to go beyond just helping them prepare — help your loved ones apply
online for Social Security benefits.
That’s right!  You can help them apply for Social Security retirement benefits right from the comfort and convenience of the family computer.  What’
s more is that you can do it in as little as fifteen minutes.
It’s so easy to apply for retirement benefits online.  There’s no need to drive to a local Social Security office or wait for an appointment with a
Social Security representative.
Need to take a break or look for some records to answer the questions — or snack on leftovers?  That’s just fine with us.  You can leave and then
come back to complete your application.  
In most cases, once the application is submitted electronically, that’s it.  There are no forms to sign and usually no further documents required.  
Social Security will process the application and contact your loved one if any further information is needed.  After you have applied, you can check
back online for the status of your application as well.
So once you’ve stuffed yourself with turkey and pie, pass the mouse and visit Social Security’s online services at

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I worked for the last 10 years and I now have my 40 credits of coverage for Social Security. Does this mean that I get the maximum Social Security
retirement benefit?

No.  While eligibility for benefits is based on having 40 credits, the amount of your benefit is based on how much you earned over your lifetime.  We
determine your average earnings over your working years and use a special formula set by law to determine your benefit amount.  For most
people their benefit amount is an average of the highest 35 years of earnings.  To learn more, read our online publication, How You Earn Credits, at

I run a small business and I plan to hire a few employees.  How can I verify that the Social Security card is valid?

There are more than 50 different versions of the Social Security card, all of which are valid.  And, until 1976, original cards and replacement cards
were different.  Although there are many versions of the card in circulation, all prior versions of the card are valid.  In any case, it is the Social
Security number that is important.  The best way for employers to verify a name and Social Security number is to use the free Social Security
Number Verification Service (SSNVS).  Once an employer registers for Business Services Online (BSO) at the
employer can start using SSNVS.  SSNVS allows them to quickly verify whether a person's name and number match Social Security's records. You
can also use BSO’s new Telephone Number Employment Verification System (TNEV) to verify numbers at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a
week.  Learn more at


What percentage of a worker’s benefit may a spouse be entitled to?

A spouse receives one-half of the retired worker's benefit if the spouse retires at full retirement age.  If the spouse begins collecting benefits
before full retirement age, those benefits will be reduced by a percentage based on how much earlier the spouse retires.  However, if a spouse is
taking care of a child who is either under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits, a spouse gets full spouse benefit (one-half of
the worker’s benefit) regardless of age.  If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefit and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your
own benefit first.  If your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you'll receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher
spouse's benefit.  Learn more at

I am receiving Social Security benefits.  Can I change my address online?

Yes, if you receive Social Security benefits you can change your address online at  Once there, you will be asked a
series of questions and your answers must match our records to prove your identity.  Then, you can change your address quickly and easily.  If you
have a password, you can change your address without answering the identifying questions.  Get a password by going to
gov/password.  If you have further questions, call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit


How do I apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits?

The best first step is to start at  There, you can take a look at the Disability Starter Kits.  The kits answer
common questions about applying for benefits and worksheets will help you gather the information you need.  You also can check out the online
Adult Disability Report at  At the end of the report, we will ask you to sign a form that gives your
doctor permission to send us information about your disability.  We need this information so we can make a decision on your claim.  Finally,
complete your application for SSI disability benefits by calling our toll free number (1-800-772-1213) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through
Friday.  You may choose to apply for benefits either by phone or in person at a local Social Security office.  One of our representatives will help
you apply.  If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.  You also may visit an office without making an
appointment, but your wait to speak to a representative will be longer.

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

No.  SSI payments also are made to people with limited income and financial resources who are age 65 or older.  SSI benefits are available for
both adults and children who are blind or disabled.  You can learn more about SSI benefits and who can receive them by reading our online
publications about SSI.  To begin, refer to the online booklet, Supplemental Security Income, at


I'm thinking about getting disability protection from a private company.  If I become disabled and have a private policy, would it reduce my Social
Security disability benefit?

No.  Your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is not affected by any private insurance you may have.  But, you may be interested to
know that worker's compensation and certain other public disability payments may affect your Social Security benefit.  For more information go to or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Why is there a five-month waiting period for Social Security disability benefits?

By law, Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar
months.  Therefore, Social Security disability benefits will be paid beginning with the sixth full month after the date your disability began.  You are
not entitled to benefits for any month in the waiting period.  For more information go to or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-


When is the open season period for enrolling in Medicare’s prescription drug program?

Newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, and current beneficiaries who are considering changes to their Medicare Part D plan, should mark their
calendars for November 15.  The open season will run from November 15 to December 31.  Keep in mind that the Medicare Part D prescription
drug program is available to all Medicare beneficiaries to help with the costs of medications.  Joining is voluntary, and participants pay an
additional monthly premium for the coverage.  Some people with limited income and resources also are eligible for “extra help” to pay for monthly
premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.  The extra help is worth an average of $3,900 per year.  To learn more, visit
www. and click on Medicare at the top right side of the page.

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