Life is full of decisions — little ones, like what to order on your pizza, and deep thinkers, like whether to buy or rent a house. Retiring from the military is one of those deep-thinking decisions — it's a big step. You'll have many decisions to make for you and your family as you plan for civilian life.
1. Separation requirements
Before you can officially retire from the military, you have some boxes to check. In fact, there's a lot to do, so don't wait until the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time to complete all the tasks that are required before you separate:
- Get your pre-separation counseling. You need pre-separation counseling no fewer than 90 days before separation to cover the basics about medical insurance, relocation assistance, life insurance, Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and more. You can get a jumpstart on the process by taking the counseling up to 24 months before your retirement date.
- Attend a Transition Assistance Program employment workshop. This may not be mandatory in your service branch. But, with information on job-search strategies, resume writing, interview skills and salary negotiation, it couldn't hurt to attend - mandatory or not.
- Take your final exam. Don't worry, no studying required. You simply need to schedule your mandatory, final medical and dental exam with your installation's medical clinic 90 days before you separate.
- Get ready to move one more time. When you decide where you're going after you retire, schedule the move of your household goods. You will have one year after leaving active duty to complete your final move, but like any military move, the sooner you can schedule, the greater the chance of actually getting the dates you want.
2. Your retirement budget
Stay financially fit by reviewing your retirement pay and benefits to plan your post-retirement budget. A good start is to calculate what you'll bring home each month after you leave the military.
- You'll receive one of three types of non-disability retirement pay: final basic pay (service members with an entry date prior to Sept. 8, 1980), high-three (service members with an entry date between Sept. 8, 1980 and July 31, 1986 or those with dates after Aug. 1 1986 who didn't elect REDUX) or REDUX (service members with an entry date after July 31, 1986 who accepted a mid-career bonus at the 15-year mark and agreed to remain active duty for at least 20 years).
- You'll share your wealth. Federal and state taxes will be withheld from your retirement check. Don't forget to account for medical and dental premiums, and Survivor Benefit Plan premiums while you're budgeting.
- You'll go with the flow. Just like your active-duty pay, your retirement pay adjusts annually based on the cost of living to protect your income against inflation.
3. Your benefits
out the benefits you have earned through your service and sacrifice.
As a service member, you have access to many benefits, such as health, dental care and use of the commissary and exchange. Here's how those benefits will be affected by your retirement:
- TRICARE — You must sign up for TRICARE Prime when you retire or you will automatically be enrolled in TRICARE Standard. There are also overseas options and options for anyone covered by Medicare Part A and B.
- Dental — Retirees have access to dental insurance through Delta Dental and TRICARE for a monthly premium. Enroll any time after retirement on the Delta Dental website.
- Final moving expense — As a retiree, you have one calendar year from your retirement date to use your last government-paid move anywhere within the U.S. or to your home of record outside the country. Your installation's Relocation Assistance Program can walk you through the process.
- The Survivor Benefit Plan — As long as you have an eligible spouse or child, you'll automatically be enrolled in this service that provides a portion of your retirement pay to your spouse (or other eligible person) after your death. Unless you elect otherwise, you'll be enrolled in the Survivor Benefit Plan at the maximum level. Your Transition Assistance Program office or the Defense Finance and Accounting Service can answer any questions you have about the plan.
- Life insurance — Your Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance plan continues uninterrupted for 120 days after separation from active duty. During that time, you can convert your life insurance to Veterans' Group Life Insurance. You still have the option to convert beyond 120 days, but you have to prove that you're in good health. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can provide more details about coverage.
- Commissary and exchange privileges — You and your family have the same access to both facilities after retirement. The only exception is overseas - privileges may be subject to Status of Forces Agreements.
- GI Bill — You have up to 10 or 15 years after separation to use your GI Bill (depending on the program). Get the details at your installation's education office or the Department of Veterans Affairs Education and Training page.
- Home loans — Even after leaving the military, you can still use a Department of Veterans Affairs loan to purchase or build your dream retirement home. To qualify, you must have served at least 24 months and have an honorable or general discharge. Call 800-827-1000 or check out the Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loans page.
4. Unexpected challenges
For many service members, leaving the military has unexpected emotional side effects. Don't stress; it's a natural reaction. Prepare yourself now by learning about what to expect and the strategies that can help:
- You'll say goodbye to friends who feel more like family, but don't worry, social media makes it easy to keep in touch.
- You'll job search (maybe for the first time since your summer job in high school). To get ahead of those interview jitters (and much more), attend a Transition Assistance Program employment workshop on your installation as early as two years before retirement.
- You may miss that military camaraderie in the civilian workforce — is it so much to ask for a "Hoorah" at the end of the weekly meeting? Get your fill of the good old days by joining a military organization. You can stay connected to other military retirees and stay in the loop on retirement issues.