If you are retiring or separating from military service while assigned to an overseas location, there are several issues you should consider before making the jump from your military career to the civilian job market.
Some of the information you need will be given to you during out-processing and transition assistance (TAP) briefings, but other details may not be as evident or talked about until you are in the middle of your transition. Here are some important questions to ask as you plan your next move in your life after the military.
Retiring Or Separating From Military Service Overseas: What’s Your Final Destination?
If you are planning to return to the United States as part of your separation or military retirement, there are important issues to consider such as the delivery of household goods and personal items shipped from your last military base, finding a home to live in, employment issues and VA compensation issues.
But there are just as many important things to consider in these areas if you are getting out of the military and staying overseas. How will you use your terminal leave (also known as Transitional Leave) overseas to find housing and employment?
Do you know where you will be able to take advantage of healthcare options provided to you if you are a military retiree?
Using GI Bill Benefits Overseas
If you are separating from the military and want to use your military education benefits from an overseas location? Do you know how to apply?
Believe it or not, there are ways to use military education benefits at approved foreign colleges including the GI Bill. It will be necessary to contact the school at the overseas location to see if they are approved for GI Bill benefits or have other options.
Getting VA Help With The GI Bill As A Veteran Living Abroad
If you plan to retire/separate overseas and stay there, you may need to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs for assistance with your GI Bill from the overseas location where applicable. You can get help from the VA Regional Office in Buffalo, New York:
VA Regional Office
PO Box 4616
Buffalo, New York 14240-4616
Telephone/fax: 716-857-3196 or 716-857-3197
Learn more at the VA official Education Questions and Answers website.
Taking Terminal Leave And/Or Permissive TDY Overseas For House Hunting
If you are separating overseas and staying there, it’s still important to consider the advice given to those who are doing the same thing in the United States. Use any terminal leave, permissive TDY, or accrued leave to find a new home before you are required to vacate your military housing or housing paid for with BAH.
It is entirely possible that some living off base overseas may be able to negotiate an arrangement with their current landlord to remain in the off-base housing they used for their last military assignment but much depends on whether that landlord or real estate company has an agreement or contract with the base to provide that property to Department of Defense personnel only.
Selling Accrued Leave: A Way To Put Extra Money In Your Pocket
Some planning to retire or separate choose not to use their accrued leave but sell all or a portion of it back depending on circumstances. This can be a way to put extra money in your pocket as you leave the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, but it’s important to know that you will be paid only your basic compensation for this leave and it will not include BAH, BAS, or other allowances or special pay.
Choose wisely when deciding whether or not to sell back unused leave; you may need this extra time to house hunt, job hunt, or travel from the overseas location in ways you might not be able to do once stateside.
Retiring Or Separating From Overseas: Taking Permissive TDY, Terminal Leave / Transitional Leave For House Hunting Back In The United States
Each branch of the service provides a specific set of procedures to help those who are getting ready for military retirement or separating from the military. You may or may not be offered permissive TDY to go back to the USA to start house hunting-permission to do this will depend on the needs of the mission and other factors, but you can still use any accrued personal leave to do this as a last resort.
The most important thing to consider when deciding whether or not to use leave, a TDY or Terminal Leave is to have a specific area back home in mind-where do you want to start house hunting?
Start House Hunting Early
Begin your search using local Internet listings and other online resources long before you actually board a plane to return to the USA to find a home, and to be mindful of possible Craigslist scams or fraudsters using similar internet services.
Wire fraud is a potentially major issue with certain real estate transactions. Beware of third parties asking you to wire money to them without discussing the situation specifically with a landlord, real estate agent, lender, title company, etc.
Ask your First Individual, Orderly Room, or Transition Assistance Office on what options might be available to you from your specific military installation for Terminal Leave, Permissive TDY, or accrued leave for the purpose of house hunting.
Depending on the branch of service, mission requirements, and other factors, a retiring or separating service member may be permitted to take Transitional Leave and Terminal Leave together with Permissive TDY for a longer amount of time to house hunt and/or job hunt. Consider this option when discussing your plans with your supervisor or First Individual.
VA Claims For Service-Connected Injuries, Disabilities, And Medical Issues
It is best to consider making a VA disability claim as soon as possible, and if you are able to begin the VA claims process as part of your out processing appointments from the overseas location, you may be much better off than trying to arrange this stateside. The VA has a specific term for VA compensation claims made 90 days prior to discharge from the military; this is known as a Pre-Discharge Claim.
Your chosen destination back home may not be located near a VA facility or military base that can help you, and if you file the VA claim from an overseas location your medical records are already on hand to assist in the process.
The VA claims system has changed a great deal in recent years and several features including the Decision Ready Claim and Benefits Ready At Discharge.
The VA Decision Ready Claim
This is said to be the fastest way to get a claim decided upon (30 days or less for qualifying circumstances) and the process is open to Pre-Discharge Claims (made within 90 days of leaving military service).
For VA Decision Ready Claims, the service member is required to work with an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) “or other accredited representative” to gather all evidence needed to approve the claim and schedule a VA claim examination.
This process may be more complicated when working with a stateside-based VSO from an overseas location unless there are VSOs available to help at the duty location.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a VSO locator page to help you find the appropriate agency to help you.
Benefits Ready At Discharge
This VA claim program allows the retiring or separating service member to submit a claim for VA disability compensation between 180 to 90 days prior to separation, retirement, or release from active duty (or demobilization). 90 days minimum are required to complete a required examination process before you retire or separate.
You must be available for an exam up to 45 days from the date of submission of your Benefits Ready At Discharge Claim.
This option is not for all service members. Certain restrictions may apply for certain injuries or disabilities including those who are terminally ill, receiving care in a VA or military hospital or treatment center at the time of discharge, or if the claim was submitted with less than 90 days remaining on active duty.
If the 90-day rule applies to you, your VA claim may still be processed under a different program such as (but not limited to) the standard process or the VA Fully Developed Claims program.
TRICARE For Those Retiring Or Separating Overseas
It is very important to learn in advance how much coverage you will have under TRICARE in the overseas location regardless of how long you plan to stay there once you have retired from the military or separated.
Some people go on Transition Leave or Terminal Leave in the local overseas area and spend much time traveling while they are still technically in the military pending their Date of Retirement/Separation.
It’s easy to forget once you go on your final leave before that date of separation that you have medical benefits open to you. Make sure you know exactly how much TRICARE coverage you have remaining, so you can plan accordingly while still overseas.
TRICARE Overseas, TRICARE For Life, TRICARE Dental, and other options are available for those still overseas but technically in uniform until your final out-processing date.
Shipping Household Goods Back To The United States From Your Overseas Duty Station
Shipping household goods back to the United States is similar to having them shipped to you at the overseas assignment. You are required to respect both inbound and outbound customs laws; if the host nation does not permit the transport of plants, animals, food items, flammables, or controlled items/substances, your household goods shipment will be required to conform to those laws.
No two host nation’s customs laws are exactly the same-what applies in one area may not apply in another. When in doubt, ask for clarification from the base officials responsible for arranging the shipment.
That includes the transport of endangered species or relics/artifacts made from with such species. Certain endangered hardwoods, animal tusks or incisors, pelts, and taxidermy may be prohibited by both your host nation and the United States.
When you have your household goods packed for shipment back to the United States, customs seals will be placed on all exterior containers. You should make a record of these seals or have one provided to you with proper serial numbers and other data.
It may be a good idea to photograph these seals in place to ensure you can file a proper claim on the other end of your items have been tampered with and the seals are obviously compromised.
The day of your household goods pack-and-ship, be sure you have all the important paperwork for your transition with you at all times rather than lying in or around your household goods. There have been many cases of leave paperwork, final orders, discharge paperwork, passports, and other items accidentally getting packed up by unsuspecting movers who don’t realize these documents need to stay with the servicemember for travel.
Shipping times for household goods are not standardized and it is best to expect several months before you see your items again. This is an important consideration not just for the time you’ll spend away from your wardrobe, entertainment center, or books; it’s also worth noting for the purpose of packing them for shipment.
It’s best to anticipate less than ideal conditions for your household goods. Extremes of heat or cold are possible in transit and if you have heirlooms or objects of high sentimental or financial value, consider having them shipped separately and properly insured.
In the event of damage, your household goods shipment may not be able to compensate for anything but the actual replacement value or current market value of the goods affected. Read the terms and conditions carefully in any paperwork related to the shipping of your items so that you know exactly what your rights and responsibilities are to report damage, when to report it, and where if needed.
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Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News