You’re retiring from the military and thinking about what comes next. One thing’s for sure: Life is going to be a lot different. The civilian sector is much less regimented than the military sector. You’ll have a lot of personal responsibilities spanning all areas of your life. Here are 7 things that you should do before you retire from the military to help you with your transition.
1. Plan Your Finances
One of the primary concerns you must address before retiring from the military is your financial planning. While in the service, you receive your pay each month, along with housing, medical, and other benefits. Once you retire, you have to budget accordingly.
If you are retiring from the military after 20 years, your financial situation is likely going to be a lot better than if you are retiring from the military after 4 years. With 20 or more years of service, you’ll get retirement pay, but with only 4 years you’re going to be on your own unless your discharge is due to a disability.
Either way, you have to have a good projection of your monthly financial requirements in order to know how much income, after taxes, you’ll need. Don’t forget to budget the following items:
- Medical/dental appointments
- Health insurance (see also the TRICARE service, detailed momentarily)
- Rent or mortgage, including renter’s insurance or home owner’s insurance
- Car, including insurance
- Unexpected events
Many of these are provided directly while you are in the military. Once you retire, these responsibilities are largely on your shoulders. For example, you may find assistance with Veteran’s Administration for medical services, but you may want to budget for having your own private practitioner.
2. Address Any Medical Issues
You’ll want to schedule your final in-service medical and dental exams to be 90 days before leaving the military. After you leave, you have some additional options for healthcare.
You’ll be eligible for the Military Health Service, including TRICARE. You’ll be enrolled in TRICARE Standard unless you choose a different option. You can also get dental care through Delta Dental via TRICARE for a monthly charge.
If you want to opt for your own private health coverage for you (and your family), it’s a great idea to get started early in inquiring about who the best doctors are for your specific needs.
Many military service members have seen so many different doctors during their service that any new doctor will do fine for them. But it may be different for family members.
3. Understand Your Survivor Benefit Plan
You also have to plan ahead for contingencies, including what may happen if you pass away. Retirement pay stops after you pass away. That can mean a significant loss of income for your surviving spouse. One option you may consider to help address this concern comes in the Survivor Benefit Plan.
The Survivor Benefit Plan is an insurance plan that pays your surviving spouse (or other eligible person) a portion of your retired pay monthly should you pass away. This payment is protected against inflation and extends for the lifetime of your beneficiary. Payments start generally within two months after the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) is notified of the death of the retiree.
Unless you make some other designation, you are enrolled automatically in the Survivor Benefit Plan at the maximum possible level. To decline the service, you’ll need to have your spouse’s written consent. So you should discuss this with your spouse and ensure that you make the selection that’s right for you collectively.
At full coverage, your surviving spouse or other beneficiary will receive 55 percent of your full retired pay. Otherwise, the payment will be 55 percent of whatever you elect as your “base amount.”
If you don’t have a spouse but do have children, you can elect to have your children be the beneficiaries of the program. Be aware that benefits will extend to your children up to age 18, or up to age 22 if they are full-time students. In certain cases, you can elect to have an “insurable interest” be the beneficiary, which, for example, could be a business partner.
As with other annuity programs, there is a cost to a Survivor Benefit Plan and you should perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine the best approach for your particular situation.
The Survivor Benefit Plan comes with many options, and each option has different pros and cons. It’s crucial for you (and your spouse if you have one) to be well informed about each of these options and what contingencies apply to each choice. For more information you can call customer service at DFAS at 800-321-1080 (choose use option 1), Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern Time.
In addition to the potential benefit of the Survivor Benefit Plan, retired service members should know that their Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance continues for 120 days after separation from the military. That insurance can be converted to a Veteran’s Group Life Insurance policy, depending on a health exam. It’s best to do this as soon as possible to have the best options within the policy.
4. Learn How to Transition to the Civilian Sector
Before you retire from the military, it’s important to give a lot of thought to what career path you will follow in the civilian sector. If that “career path” involves walking 18 holes on your favorite golf course every day, you can focus on the choice of a new bag of golf clubs. But if you’re going to seek employment, you have to ensure you have the proper job skills and interview preparation.
Fortunately, the military offers two programs that can help. One is called the Transition Assistance Program and the other is the Transition Boot Camp.
The Transition Assistance Program provides training and information in a variety of important transition issues. These include:
- Managing the changes in your life
- Researching industries, occupations, and trends
- Learning about job search assistance programs
- Setting your own goals
- Putting your resume together
- Learning about federal hiring programs
- Practicing being interviewed and negotiating job offers
In 2011, Congress passed a law called the Veterans Opportunity to Work and Hire Heroes Act of 2011, also known as the VOW Act. This law requires all separating service personnel to attend a presentation of the Transition Assistance Program. Be sure to make the most of the counseling you’re offered as part of this program.
With regard to boot camps, the Army offers the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP), which is a two- to four-day program for soldiers. ACAP helps position them for the transition to civilian employment.
If you’re retiring from the Army, ACAP holds job fairs, career events, offers specific counseling and presents opportunities for online job searching. Each branch of the military has a similar boot camp service. If you’re leaving a branch other than the Army, ask about the program that’s best for you.
You can also consider working with someone to shape your military resume into something that will be maximally attractive to a civilian employer.
5. Know Your Options for Going Back to School
The GI Bill®¹ offers tremendous opportunities for military retirees to advance their education. The Post-9/11 GI Bill® can cover up to $21,084.89 per academic year at a qualified private school. You’re eligible for this Bill if you’ve served a minimum of 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001.
The amount of coverage is on a sliding scale that increases from the minimum 90 days (40 percent) up to 36 or more total months (100 percent). The Post-9/11 GI Bill® also offers a monthly housing stipend, and a stipend for books and supplies.
Getting a degree can be tremendously beneficial when competing in the civilian sector. Typical degree areas that are in demand include specialties in information technology, healthcare, business, legal, and trade.
When considering a classroom environment, look for hands-on learning and smaller class sizes, as found at Vista Military. You’ll also want to find a facility that offers schedules that fit your needs, treats you individually, and offers the opportunity to learn from experienced instructors.
Many employers value employees who have served in the military. Employers know that retired military service members can work diligently, stick to a schedule, work under pressure and generally work with guidance to complete a task.
It’s an extra bonus to have a service member with a college degree. It shows an ability to work toward a long-term goal and acquire a specific skill or trade.
6. Be Prepared to Make Multiple Transitions
Seeking out counseling ahead of your military retirement transition is a great idea. Many retirees find themselves in the position of “I’m retiring from the military. Now what?” The time to figure out the “now what?” part should start well in advance of your separation from the military.
Regardless, once you separate you should be prepared to make multiple transitions in your life in the coming years. It’s possible, or even likely, that the first job opportunity you land won’t be the perfect opportunity. It might only be a stepping stone to some other objective.
If you are laid off from a job, don’t take it personally. Remember the saying that as one door closes another door opens. Learn from your experiences and take that knowledge with you to your next opportunity.
For some retired military service members, multiple transitions can be challenging. The regimen of military life is very structured as compared to civilian life, where transitions are the norm. The average person holds between 12 and 15 jobs in a lifetime. So it’s likely that your first move isn’t going to be your last move.
7. Create a Personalized ‘Retiring From Military’ Checklist
Checklists are a great way to ensure you don’t overlook any facet of a mission. The same applies to your separation from the military. Here are 8 items for your checklist that deserve your attention:
- Learn about education assistance and the GI Bill®
- Explore the Department of Defense Online Academic Skills Course, which helps you assess your strengths
- Visit with a Transition Counselor
- Ensure you have a financial plan in place
- Know your Survivor Benefit Plan options
- Participant in your Transition Assistance Program
- Work on your professional network
- Get a Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) (DD Form 2586), which provides you with verification of your military training.
There are other aspects of your retirement from the military that deserve your attention as well. One often overlooked aspect is taking a little time for yourself. You can use some of your terminal leave to get yourself set up in a new location or take a vacation. Taking a break can be just the thing that sets you up to take on the rest of your life with an invigorated passion.
You simply can’t be too prepared for what comes next after your military retirement. Review the checklist and the information provided and be proactive in reaching out to others who have made the transition from military to civilian life. You’ll find many will be more than happy to help, and some may even provide you with networking connections that may lead to that first civilian job.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.