Military retirement means a lot of different things–changes in income, lifestyle, and spending. But what does it take to qualify for military retirement?
This article focuses on the requirements for retirement eligibility rather than individual military retirement plans such as High 36, Redux, or the Blended Retirement program–keep reading if you don’t know what the rules are for applying for military retirement at the end of your career.
There are some basic military retirement qualification rules–these are published by the Defense Finance And Accounting Service (DFAS) and include time-in-service requirements and nature-of-service rules. There are also rules and regulations for mandatory retirement ages found in Title 10 of the United States Code, Chapter 63, “Retirement For Age”. We’ll explore the rules below.
General Military Retirement Rules: Qualifying
There is more than one type of military retirement categorization. You can voluntarily retire as soon as you hit the time-in-service minimum, or you can stay in uniform as long as your branch of military service will allow you to once you “hit 20” or hit the minimum time-in-service requirement (see below).
There are also involuntary retirements, and medical retirements which are sometimes referred to as disability retirement. It is very important to note the difference between a military retirement and a separation from the military.
Retirement means you served enough time in uniform to receive or be declared eligible to receive military retirement pay. Separation simply means the service member did not re-enlist or continue with a military career. In the case of separations, no retirement pay or retirement benefits are offered.
Eligibility For Military Retirement Pay
20 years is the basic length of a military career for those who want to qualify for military retirement pay. DFAS lists the following eligibility rules for qualifying. You may be entitled to draw U.S. military retirement pay if one of the following applies:
- You served on active duty in the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps for a period of 20 years or more.
- You retired medically from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.
- You serve in a Reserve Component (U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard) after having accrued 20 qualifying years of service time AND are age 60 or older.
- Reserve Officers also may use service “as a contract surgeon or acting dental surgeon to qualify for retirement through the Qualified Reserve Component” where applicable.
Not all military service counts toward retirement. DFAS states the following service DOES count:
- Active service
- Active duty for training
- Active duty for special work
- Temporary active duty
- Full-time National Guard duty
- Active Guard/Reserve time
Mandatory Retirement Ages
Each branch of military service has its own cutoff ages for mandatory retirement and Title 10, USC lists a maximum age for certain positions such as Warrant Officers. In general age 64 is the oldest retirement age for certain officers in general or flag officer grades.
Age 62 is the maximum age listed in Title 10 U.S.C. for officers below general and flag grades. Age 62 is also the maximum age for Warrant Officers. In general enlisted troops may, depending on the branch of service, wear the uniform until age 62.
Types Of Military Retirement
As we’ll examine below, there is more than one type of military retirement. Variations based on branch of service may apply and all military retirement eligibility rules are subject to change due to changes in federal law, mission requirements, and other variables.
These rules are current at press time but should be considered a reference for further research:
- Regular Retirement: Applicant must have at least 20 years of active service to be eligible.
- Reserve Retirement: Reservists who have reached age 60 with 20 years of active service.
- Temporary Disability Retirement List (TDRL): Service member has a temporary disability rating, placed on retirement rolls by member’s Branch of Service for a maximum of five years.
- Permanent Disability Retirement List (PDRL): The servicemember has a permanent disability rating, and is placed on the retirement rolls by member’s Branch of Service.
- Temporary Early Retirement Programs: From time to time, the DoD authorizes early retirement options such as the one authorized for those serving with at least 15 years of service between 2012 and 2025. In this particular program (expected to end Dec.31, 2025) would allow qualifying troops to apply for early retirement:
- Based on force readiness goals
- Based on salary and service information submitted by member’s Branch of Service
- Based on the legislation governing this special program
- Offered at the discretion of the service secretary
The Road To Military Retirement
Getting a military retirement is not automatic. You have to “drop papers” or notify your command support staff that you intend to retire unless you have been informed that you are being involuntarily or medically retired.
The option to apply for retirement requires your application within a certain window of time based on your remaining time in service and this requirement will vary depending on the branch of service.
When you are ready to begin the process, it’s a very good idea to begin by exploring the DoD Transition Assistance Program official site. DoDTAP can help you on your journey toward becoming a civilian.
In the meantime you will need to schedule your initial transition counseling and pre-separation appointments–this must be done one full year in advance of your retirement date. You can schedule this as far in advance as two years.
You will also need to schedule a final physical and dental examination and make an appointment to meet with a VA representative to help you file claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs for any service-connected medical issues you may have. The final medical and dental visits must be done 90 days before you retire.
Moving Household Goods And Retiree IDs
Another thing you will need to do in order to prepare for retirement is to schedule a final military-paid move where applicable. Your command support staff will have the information you need to make this appointment.
While you’re working on this it is also a very good idea to contact your Pass & ID office or the appropriate customer service office on base to learn what you will be required to do in order to trade your Common Access Card for a military retiree ID that will allow you on post or on base to use the Commissary, BX/PX, and other amenities open to retired military members.
A Most Important Document
One of the key documents you must complete in your journey toward military retirement is DD Form 2656, Data for Payment of Retired Personnel which asks you to select:
- Retirement pay options (direct deposit, etc.)
- Beneficiaries in the event of your death
- Federal/State Tax Information
- Survivor Benefit Coverage choices
You will need bank routing numbers and other sensitive data; be sure you have your bank account details handy when filling out this form. You will be required to submit DD Form 2656 to your personnel center or orderly room.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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