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:
1. Separation requirements: Must-dos before your retirement date
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Start with the Department of Defense 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: You need to complete an Individualized Initial Counseling session and Pre-Separation counseling 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 have the opportunity to attend mandatory briefings on transition preparation, employment preparation, and the benefits offered from 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 90 days before you separate.
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. Plan 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 Jul. 31, 1986, or for those with dates after Aug. 1, 1986 and before Jan. 1, 2018 who didn’t elect REDUX or opt in to the Blended Retirement System.
- CBS/REDUX – for service members with an entry date after Jul. 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.
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 to dental and/or vision insurance through the FEDVIP benefits 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 moving expense: 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.
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 webpage for more information.
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 person 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. Finally, prepare 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 a Transition Assistance Program employment workshop on your installation as early as two years before retirement.
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.