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Transitioning to civilian life is just like everything else in military life. Doing it successfully takes preparation. Give yourself plenty of time to complete all the required tasks before you officially retire. There are four basic steps to take:
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1. Retirement requirements: Must-dos before your retirement date
Start with the Defense Department Transition Assistance Program website. You’ll find detailed information about transition assistance and how to connect with your service branch’s program. You can also contact your installation’s TAP office.
Initial Counseling and Pre-Separation Counseling Brief: You need to complete an Individualized Initial Counseling session and the Pre-Separation Counseling Brief at least 365 days prior to your separation or retirement date, but you can schedule it up to 24 months before your retirement date.
Core Transition Curriculum: As part of the Transition Assistance Program, you will attend mandatory briefings on transition preparation, employment preparation and the benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more about the core requirements on the DOD TAP website.
Final medical exam: Schedule your mandatory, final medical and dental exam with your installation’s medical clinic no later than 90 days before you separate. However, earlier is better to account for all possible appointments and allow time to have them scheduled.
Scheduling final move: You will have one year after leaving active duty to complete your final move. But the sooner you can schedule, the greater the chance of getting the dates you want. Learn more under the benefits section in number 3 below.
2. Planning your post-retirement budget: Know what you’ll have to work with
Review your military retirement pay, benefits and expenses to plan your budget and calculate what you’ll have each month.
Income: You’ll receive one of three types of non-disability retirement pay:
- Final basic pay — for service members with an entry date prior to Sept. 8, 1980.
- High 36 — for service members with an entry date between Sept. 8, 1980, and July 31, 1986, or for those with dates after Aug. 1, 1986, and before Jan. 1, 2018, who didn’t elect REDUX or opt into the Blended Retirement System.
- Career Status Bonus/REDUX — for 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.
Note: Service members enrolled in the new Blended Retirement System will have slightly different retirement payments than the three outlined above, including a different monthly retired pay formula, a possible lump sum payment taken at time of departure and a Thrift Savings Plan. Learn more in these frequently asked questions regarding the Blended Retirement System.
Payouts: Federal and state taxes will be withheld from your retirement check. Also, remember medical and dental premiums and Survivor Benefit Plan premiums.
Annual adjustments: Just like your active-duty pay, your retirement pay adjusts annually based on the cost of living to protect your income against inflation.
Social Security benefits: You or a dependent may be eligible for social security benefits. Visit the Social Security Administration website to explore benefits you may be due and for more information on how to qualify and apply.
3. Benefits you’ve earned as a retiring service member
As an active-duty service member, you receive a number of benefits. What happens to them when you retire?
TRICARE: Retiring service members must enroll themselves and eligible family members or risk losing TRICARE benefits. This includes family members with Medicare Part A and B. For more information on health care plan options for retiring service members and families, visit the TRICARE website.
Dental and/or Vision: You may choose to enroll in dental and/or vision insurance through the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program. You can enroll during the annual open season each fall or whenever you have a qualifying life event. Dental and vision plans have a monthly premium based on the plan you choose. Find more details at the Benefeds website.
Final move: 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. Check with your installation’s Personnel Support Office for information.
Life insurance: Your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance plan continues uninterrupted for 120 days after separation. During that time, you can convert your life insurance to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance. You can still convert after 120 days, but you will have to prove that you’re in good health. Visit the VA life insurance webpage for more information. You can also choose to use a private insurance company to provide life insurance. Be sure to research the best options that fit the needs of you and your family.
Commissary and exchange privileges: You and your family have the same access to both facilities after retirement. The only exception — overseas privileges may be subject to a Status of Forces Agreement.
GI Bill/Education and Training: Depending on which GI Bill you have and when you leave the service, your GI Bill may be good for 10 years, 15 years or indefinitely. Get the details at your installation’s education office or visit the VA education and training benefits webpage for more information. If you chose to transfer your GI Bill benefits to your dependents, be sure to check that you have completed the obligation incurred with the transfer. Check milConnect for your obligation end date.
Home loans: Find out about a VA 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 visit the VA housing assistance webpage.
The Survivor Benefit Plan: The plan provides a portion of your retirement pay to your spouse or other eligible people after your death. As long as you have an eligible spouse or child, you’ll automatically be enrolled and at the maximum level unless you elect otherwise. Contact your installation TAP office or the Defense Finance and Accounting Service with any questions.
4. Preparation for civilian life
You’ve got military life down cold. What’s it like being a civilian? Time will tell. The best way to prepare is to know what to expect and have some strategies for success.
Saying goodbye: You’ve been through enough moves to know what it’s like to leave friends who feel more like family. But these days, social media makes it easy to keep in touch.
Job searching: Ace that interview. Get a head start. You can attend the two-day track for employment in TAP, the Department of Labor Employment Workshop on your installation or through the TAP Online Learning Portal as early as two years before retirement. You can retake the workshop as many times as you like.
Miss the lifestyle? It’s not as farfetched as it sounds. You’ve been in a tight, exclusive community with its own unique lifestyle. Look into joining a military organization that can keep you connected and in the loop on retirement issues.
Retirement is the first step to your next successful life and career. Know what’s ahead, be prepared and enjoy.,