Deciding to Retire

The decision to stay in the military until retirement or get out and go to the civilian world can be a difficult one.  Situations are different for everyone so what might be best for one individual may not be the right choice for you. Be sure to involve the entire family in the decision as well.  All members of a military family are affected by the military lifestyle and its demands.  Other family member’s opinions could be a large part of the deciding factor. 

There are counseling sections and classes available for you and your family members to attend to help with the decision of staying in the military or separating.  These classes and counseling sections are offered through your installations Transition Assistance Program Office.  There are a few things you want to consider when thinking about make a career out of the military and retiring, or exiting military into the civilian world.  Important things to consider in your decision to retire are what benefits will I receive after I have retired, what are the changes that I'll experience after leaving the military. Also look at your financial options and see if it's a feasible step to leave the military before retirement. Keep in mind the reserves is also an option when leaving active-duty military.

Retirement Benefits

One of the major factors that enticed military members to stay until retirement are the benefits they will keep or receive after they separate from the military as a retired servicemember.  If you choose to make a career of the military and opt to retire here are some of the benefits you have to look forward to.

Medical and dental benefits can be extremely pricy in the civilian world.  Military retirees and their families are eligible for coverage under TRICARE.  If you would prefer to be enrolled in TRICARE Prime, you must sign up for this upon retirement.  If you do not enroll in Prime you will automatically be enrolled in TRICARE Standard.  For more detailed information on the TRICARE plans available visit their website at  Retirees are also available for dental coverage under Delta Dental for a low monthly premium.

Another benefit available to military retirees is a final relocation allowance which authorizes a final move to anywhere within the United States, or home of record if outside of the United States that is good for up to one years after retirement separation.  In special circumstances extensions may be granted.

Only those members of the military that retire are eligible to retain their commissary and exchange benefits. 

Education benefits, either Montgomery GI Bill or Post-9/1 GI Bill are available for use by eligible retirees for a period ranging from 10 to 15 years after retirement, depending on your specific program.  

Retirees have the benefit of continued Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance for 120 days after retirement which can be switched over to Veteran’s Group Life Insurance within that 120 with no proof of good health. 

The Survivor’s Benefit Plan is another benefit given to retirees.  This allows a portion of the retirement pay to go to a surviving spouse or other eligible designated person of the servicemember’s choosing.  All retiring servicemembers with an eligible spouse or child will automatically be enrolled in the Survivor’s Benefit Plan carrying the maximum level of coverage unless otherwise indicated before retirement pay commences. 

How Will Things Change

Deciding to trade in military living for civilian life comes with a wide range of life changes.  Leaving the military life can have a great emotional effect on you and your family that you might not have anticipated. The following are some changes to consider when making your decision to leave the military.

While in the military, your coworkers and family support group members become close friends.  Leaving the military can cause feelings of grief over lost friends and support structures.  The military is a tight knit family who have common issues they face and similar paths in life.  It can be very difficult to adjust to new social situation and create new friendships outside of this comfort zone. 

Jobs outside the military can often have an unfamiliar feel to them.  The environment is different, not as close and structured.  The level of discipline usually is lacking in comparison and that laid back atmosphere can be strange and alien at first.  In the military it is essential for you to rely on your fellow coworkers for not only success in missions but your safety as well.  Too often in the civilian workplace, it is a cut-throat, everyone out for themselves attitude that can be difficult to adapt to. 

Another thing to prepare for is the instability of income.  In the military you know what your income will be as well as what benefits you are entitled to.  There is no salary to negotiate and no benefits to bargain with.  Your pay increases are predictable and pay increases are known ahead of time.  If for some reason your job is eliminated or overfull and they no longer need you in your current position, you are not laid off, you are simply moved to a different job or station with no lapse in income. In the civilian world, you must prove yourself to obtain the highest possible income and will be at the mercy of the job and job market.  If layoffs occur, it could be you out of a job.  There is no guarantee for salary raises and benefits are constantly changing.  If considering leaving the military have a financial plan in place.  Make sure you will be able to live off the income you anticipate to receive and pay for any benefit premiums you have not had to pay for while in the service. 

One benefit of the civilian life, however, is your ability to choose at which location you would like to live.  If you want to start your own business you have that ability.  You can be close to friends and loved ones without the constant relocation that often accompanies military life. 


Remember that joining the Reserves after leaving active duty is always an option.  This choice ensures you will have the option of retirement income security as well as health benefits specific to Reserve members. 

Be sure to take your time and do your research when making this decision.  Consider all family members opinions on the subject and weigh the pros and cons of each choice available to you.  This decision will affect you and your family for the rest of your lives and should not be taken lightly.  There are benefits to all of the options.  Choose the path that fits best for you and your family.  Once you have made the decision, stick by it and make it a successful decision for you and your loved ones. 


Once you have made the decision to be a career servicemember and will be retiring from the military, it is time to start preparing for retirement.  There are some areas of interest that you will need to be aware of regarding retirement. 

These areas include:

  • What factors determine your pension?
  • What types of retirement systems are offered?
  • How do you calculate the amount of retirement pay you will receive?
  • What is a multiplier and how does it affect your pay?
  • What is the cost of living adjustment?
  • Do I take a bonus or a higher percentage of monthly pay?

The wonderful thing about military retirement is that the pension payments as well as benefits are affective starting the day of retirement.  It is not dependent on age.  Also, adjustments are made annually to compensate for the increases in cost of living. 

How pensions are determined

Currently there are four categories under which retirement pensions can fall. These categories are determined by the date in which you entered the service, with the exception of the fourth retirement system which is the disability retirement system. 

Those servicemembers who entered:

  • Prior to September 8, 1980 you are eligible for the Final Pay retirement system
  • Between September 8, 1980 and August 1986 you are eligible for the High-36 retirement system
  • After August 1986 you are eligible for the REDUX retirement system.  This system gives the participant the option of going with the High-36 system or the Career Status Bonus/REDUX(CSB) retirement system.  If you do not submit your choice, you will automatically be enrolled in the High-36 retirement system.

There are some unique situations that can make it difficult to tell which category of retirement you are eligible for because circumstances make it tough to determine what to consider your date of initial entry to military service, or DIEMS. 

These situations include:

  • Academy graduates who entered the Academy with no prior service should consider the date they entered the Academy as their DIEMS, not the date of graduation. 
  • Members beginning an ROTC scholarship program or enlisting as a Reserve in the Senior ROTC program should consider the DIEMS as the day the scholarship program or enlistment begins, not the graduation or commissioning date.
  • Members who entered the military and then separated and then rejoined the military should consider their DIEMS date the date in which they first entered the military initially.
  • Those members who joined the Reserves and later joined active duty components should consider their DIEMS date the date they joined the Reserves. 

All of these retirement systems are similar in that if you have put in 20 or more years of service you are eligible to receive a pension based on a percentage of your base pay.  However, if you served 40 or more years you will receive 100% of your base pay.  They are different in the following ways:  the basis in which the highest earnings are determined, the multiplier, the Cost of Living Adjustment and the Career Status Bonus.  It is important to understand these differences so you will know exactly what to expect in retirement pay.

    This decision is not to be taken lightly. Watch the following USAA video to learn more about this important decision.

    Please note: We don't get paid from USAA for showing this video.  Instead, we genuinely endorse them as most of us here at Warrior Lodge have had great experiences throughout our military careers in dealing with USAA.  No matter how far out your retirement is, we highly recommend speaking with a USAA retirement adviser.  Good Hunting!    

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