Even if you're not retiring, leaving the military at your end of active service can be a complicated task. As you separate, you'll want to know what benefits are available to you and how to take advantage of them. Depending on the type of discharge you receive, you could be eligible for education assistance, medical insurance or a final move. You may also have a continuing obligation to the National Guard or Reserve Components. Understanding the details of your separation will help ease your transition.
As you begin the separation process, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to take care of all the required tasks:
- Preseparation counseling — Required by law, preseparation counseling must be completed no fewer than 90 days before separation. However, you're authorized to begin preseparation counseling up to 12 months before your separation date. You'll learn about continuing your medical insurance, relocation assistance, separation pay, reserve affiliation, life insurance, Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and unemployment insurance. For information, contact your installation's Transition Assistance Program office or Army Career and Alumni Program office.
- Transition Assistance Program — The Transition Assistance Program provides information, tools and training to ensure service members and their spouses are prepared for the next step in civilian life whether that’s pursuing additional education, finding a job in the public or private sector, or starting their own business. For more information about TAP, visit DoDTAP where you can do the following:
- Learn about the new Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) curriculum
- Determine how and where to start preparing for transition to civilian life
- Discover a host of online resources regarding Veteran Affairs benefits and financial planning assistance, and assessing and documenting skills for transition to civilian life
- Final medical and dental exams — Schedule your mandatory final medical and dental exams with your installation medical clinic or hospital 90 days prior to your separation.
- Visit the transportation management office — As soon as you know where you're going, schedule your move or storage of your household goods. Although you may have six months to a year after separation to complete your move (depending on the type of discharge), scheduling your move early will help ensure that you're able to move on your chosen date.
GI Bill® benefits
The GI Bill® helps veterans and service members pay for college, technical school or vocational programs. Depending on which GI Bill® program you qualify for, your benefits can be used for a period of 10 or 15 years after separation or until your entitlement is exhausted.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill® — The Post-9/11 GI Bill® is the newest chapter of the GI Bill® for service members serving on active duty at least 90 days since September 10, 2001. The full benefit amount is available to those who served at least 36 months on active duty. This program covers the cost of tuition up to the highest rate at an in-state public educational institution. The program includes 36 months of entitlements that are available for up to 15 years.
- Montgomery GI Bill® — Active Duty — The Montgomery GI Bill® is available to service members serving since the mid-1980s. To qualify, you must have enrolled in the program at the beginning of your military service. This program covers tuition at a designated monthly rate, which changes annually. Up to 36 months of entitlements are available for 10 years. If you are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill® along with MGIB-AD (or the reserve version of the MGIB), you'll want to choose the program that best suits your needs. You may make a one-time, irrevocable election to use benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill®.
The GI Bill® also offers several other programs that may fit your specific educational needs. For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill® website or the lifelong learning center or education office on your installation.
Continuing medical benefits
Depending on the circumstances of your discharge, medical insurance for you and your family may be available through the Transition Assistance Program:
- Involuntarily separating service members with an honorable or general (under honorable conditions) discharge, including medically discharged service members, may receive extended medical insurance
- Voluntarily separating service members who were subject to a "stop loss" or who stayed beyond their service limit in support of a contingency operation may receive extended medical insurance
- National Guard and Reserve Component service members who were called to active duty may receive continuing medical insurance for up to six months after they leave active duty.
For specific information on medical benefits for you and your family, call the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System at 800-538-9552 or visit the DEERS website. Your installation transition office can also provide more information on your eligibility for extended medical benefits.
- Life insurance — Your Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance will continue for 120 days after separation. You can convert your life insurance from SGLI to Veterans' Group Life Insurance within the 120 days and after 120 days if you provide proof of good health). More information on SGLI and VGLI is available on the Department of Veterans Affairs Life Insurance website or by telephone at 800-827-1000.
- Relocation assistance — You may be allowed one final move at government expense from your last duty station. If you live in installation housing, you may be allowed one move out of housing into the local community and another final move within certain time and geographic limits based on your discharge.
- Commissary and exchange privileges — In most cases, your commissary and exchange privileges end when you leave the military. Some involuntarily separating service members may receive commissary and exchange privileges for two years as part of their transition assistance benefits. If you transfer to the National Guard or Reserve Component, you'll retain both your commissary and exchange privileges.
- Department of Veterans Affairs home loans — Home loans are available through the Department of Veterans Affairs to service members even after separation from the military. To be eligible, you must have served at least 24 months and have an honorable or general discharge. Other discharges may be reviewed for eligibility. More information is available on the Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loans website or by telephone at 800-827-1000.
- Unemployment compensation - Depending on your state and the terms of your discharge, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation. Each state has its own rules for eligibility, so visit your state's employment office for details. A state-by-state listing, as well as specific information on unemployment compensation for former service members, is available from the Department of Labor.
Your Reserve obligation
When you entered active duty, you incurred a military obligation that may extend beyond your term of active service. If you are separating before fulfilling that obligation, you may be required to remain in the military in either the National Guard or Reserve Component. Even if you don't have an obligation to the Reserve Component, you may choose to join to continue your skills training or earn a part-time paycheck. The following types of service will fulfill your obligation:
- Selected Reserve — Members of the Selected Reserve serve part time with a reserve unit. They participate in their unit's drill and annual training periods, usually one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. Reserve members are paid based on their rank and service time and earn points toward retirement. The Selected Reserve includes both active members of the service reserve forces such as the Army Reserve, as well as active members of the Army National Guard or Air National Guard.
- Individual Ready Reserve or Inactive National Guard — Members of the IRR or ING are not required to participate in drills or training exercises but they may choose to drill or train with a nearby unit. Members of the IRR or ING may be required to muster once a year and must be ready to mobilize.
Visit your installation transitional recruiter or career retention counselor for more information on the National Guard and Reserve Components.