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BenefitsLink > Q&A Columns >

Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Benefits For a Widow of a Rail Worker Killed in WWII

(Posted November 30, 2000)

Question 75: My father worked for a railroad in the early 1940's before he was drafted. He was killed in action. The Railroad Retirement Board paid benefits to my mother for me and their two other children until we reached 18.

My mother is now 81. Would she be eligible for any widow's benefits from Railroad Retirement? Where do I go for information?

Answer: From your question, I assume that your father only had a few years of rail service before he was drafted. The original Railroad Retirement program, which was in effect when your father died, did not have a vesting requirement. Benefits were paid with as little as one month of rail work. Very small amounts, i.e. less than $5 a month were paid in a lump-sum.

In your father's case, the months he was in military service would have been added to the months of actual rail work and the total would be counted for Railroad Retirement purposes.

In November 1951, the Railroad Retirement program was changed to require a minimum of 10 years of service, including military service. But any benefits which had started before the change continued even when the rail worker had less than 10 years. However, once those benefits ended, any future benefits could only be paid when the 10 vesting requirement was met.

In your mother's situation, she could continue receive Railroad Retirement until her youngest child became 18. But assuming your father did not have 10 years of service, any future widow's benefits would be paid by SSA based on your father's Social Security, Railroad Retirement, and military service.

First you should check with the Railroad Retirement Board to see how many railroad credit months he had. Be sure to give them the exact dates of his military service. You can find the nearest RRB office at

If he did not have 10 years of rail work including his military service, then contact Social Security and ask them about your mother's payments. If she worked and qualified for Social Security on her own, chances are that her benefits are higher than a widow's benefit based on your father's record. Remember, under Social Security, you can only get the highest of the two benefits.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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