Military Retirement Prep

Transition to civilian life smoothly.

mil-retirement-2Retirement can be a bittersweet transition for a service member as they integrate back into the civilian sector, typically following a total of 20 years of military service. Statistics show that approximately only 17% of those who enter the military reach this pinnacle in their career, so it is something that should be celebrated. Retiring from the military is a testament to the selfless sacrifices made by the service member—and their family—and many dread having to walk away from their military friends and position. But whether you’re retiring or leaving the service at the end of your obligated time, it is important that everyone carefully prepare for and take advantage of the benefits afforded to them to make sure the transition back to civilian life is a successful one.

For those who have been through the process, there’s a common theme that resonates through their experiences: you can’t start preparing early enough! The standard advice is to begin planning a year in advance.  Here’s a guideline of things to accomplish as part of your final year of service:

24 Months Out

  • Discuss decision to retire with family
  • Devise a post military plan for employment or education

12 Months Out

  • Decide date of retirement and submit a Request to Retire to the Chain of Command.
    • There are specific regulations for each branch but as a general guideline, maximum time is 12 months prior to desired retirement date or a minimum of 9 months.
  • Attend a Retirement Planning Brief
    • Attend a Pre-Retirement Brief offered on base. These are of significant benefit to the service member for a multitude of reasons: They help to get the person organized, introduce them to all key points of contact they will need during the process, and also provide professional counseling including resume writing, TRICARE and other services and benefits you will be eligible for.
    • The requirements may differ for eligibility to go to those courses so it’s important to inquire with your command’s leadership early on. If more than one class is offered, attend them all. The more information collected, the better the opportunities will be presented down the road.
    • These courses may be attended prior to the year window and are highly encouraged.
  • Calculate Retirement Pay
    • Find out what your Date of Initial Entry into Military Service (DEIMS) is. This will be used to calculate retired base pay and may be different than different than pay date.
    • Decide which plan applies to you (Final Basic Pay Plan, High-36 Plan, REDUX Plan, or Disability Plan)
    • Calculate retired pay based upon years of service.
    • Since most service members continue to work after retirement, it’s HIGHLY advisable to make an appointment to speak with a financial planner to help assist with ways to maximize retirement annuity.
  • Attend Transition Assistance Program (TAP) or Transition Goals Plans Success (Transition GPS) classes offered on base. These courses are designed to help service members organize and convert their skills acquired during their time in the military into civilian equivalents in a resume. School application process, Resume writing, interviewing skills and more are some of the topics covered during these courses.
  • Conduct a retirement physical           
    • Must be done no earlier than 4 months and no later than 1 month prior to retirement.
    • This will assist with any claims for VA service-connected disability.
    • It’s highly recommended to make a couple of copies of both your entire medical record and service record. Even though the majority of this information is available electronically, some may not have been entered correctly. Having a copy resolves any issues before they arise.
  • Start working on Veteran’s Administration disability claim paperwork as soon as possible. The VA is has historically always been undermanned which means there is typically a significant backlog to get claims processed. All separation physicals, required documentation and copies of medical records should be made during this time. This will provide a cushion should there be any complications medical or otherwise that will require additional time to resolve.
  • If education is part of the retirement plan, it’s important to become familiar with the Post 9/11 benefits. If not using those benefits directly, they can be transferred to a family member but certain criteria must be met.  Talking with VA representative a year out before retirement will help set the course correctly.

6 Months Out

  • While not required, a retirement ceremony is a good way to not only celebrate leaving the service, but also a way to say “thank you” to the family and friends who have supported you. A six-month window is ideal for planning for a retirement ceremony for a service member. This will provide ample time to make decisions on venues, letters of appreciation from elected officials, command award submission, ceremonial flags, and what refreshments will be required. If you’ve elected to have a ceremony, here are some of the basic things you’ll need to get accomplished:
    • Submit a Ceremony Plan for your Chain of Command to review to enable them accommodate any special requests, and to ensure any necessary resources can be earmarked for the event.
    • To allow ample time for those who might be coming out of the area, invitations for the event should sent out no later than four months prior ceremony.
    • Work with the coordinator designated in the Ceremony Plan to ensure that the retirement gifts outlined in the plan will be received on time to be displayed which may include:
      • Shadowbox
      • Plagues from Units & Organizations
      • Flags flown over specific venues
      • Letters of appreciation from military and civilian leadership

Final Month

  • Just like when entering the military, flexibility and change are part of the experience. Being prepared for last minute adjustments will help ease tensions.
  • Retirement ceremony script should not change within the last week before the event. Minor changes in people are ok but large changes will create additional stress for the individual and their family. The idea is to enjoy the last day without any anxiety.

While everyone’s transition experience is as unique as his or her service involvement was, preparing early for the retirement transition process can be a fruitful and encouraging activity to successfully integrate them back into society as a veteran and a civilian. Organizations and groups in the local community are ready to assist those in transition, as are the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion.

Some additional resources for military retirement preparation:


About the author: David Khan

David Khan is the Social Media Strategist at Pioneer Services who is also a 20 year Military Veteran. He has interesting insights on the military life, world travel, aviation and is an avid technophile.

Contact: David Khan


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