By Carla Olivo, USMC Spouse

You will hear a lot of different things when it comes to military retirement. There will be those who will tell you, “You just kind of know when it’s time.” Others will tell you to get out when it’s no longer fun.

It is not an easy decision, nor is it a solo one. The active duty service member, of course, has the final say in whether they stay in for twenty, stick around until twenty-five, or hang on for thirty. As with active duty service, retirement also affects the entire family. Having your spouse on board with your decision will make the transition easier.

Over the next few Sundays, we will explore active duty retirement and many of the decisions that come with it.

Thoughts About  Military Retirement

Before you drop your papers, get out your military retirement calculators, or hang up your uniform, there are some crucial questions you need to ask and answer for yourself and your family.

#1 What do you want your post-military life to look like?

You really can’t answer this question, until you answer all the questions to follow. Give some thought as to what you want daily life to look like, not just for yourself but your spouse and children too. You have been living the active duty lifestyle for many years and retirement will offer a huge change in your daily life. Unlike the last two decades, going forward, you decide where you will live and how you will live.

#2 Will you stay in your current location? If not, where do you plan to settle?

Many retirees head ‘home’ to be near extended family. Others, having spent the better part of two or three decades moving with the military, don’t feel they really have an emotional tie to any specific area. Still, others decide to stay in place when they retire to allow their kids to finish school or their spouse to continue in the workforce. If you plan on working after coming off active duty, where is the best place to try to land a new job? Is being near a VA hospital important to you?

#3 Decide if you HAVE to work after Military Retirement.

There is always a bit of sticker shock when it comes to military retirement. Many military retirees are a bit disappointed with their first pension check. Depending on where you decide to live, it may or may not be enough to live on. Many military retirees HAVE to continue working to pay college tuitions, home purchases, and to cover monthly bills.

#4 How long can you afford to be unemployed?

If you decide you need to continue working, do you need to start working right away? Some service members like to take a few weeks or a couple of months off before starting a new job. Others feel they have to continue drawing a paycheck and can’t afford any lapse. You need to decide this before you retire.

What is the state of your savings? Maybe your spouse’s pay will cover your expenses for a few months. Figure out the financials to determine what makes you most comfortable. Only an honest assessment of your financial status will give you the clarity and peace of mind to make these important decisions that will impact your family for years to come.

#5 Do you want to go back to school to earn a degree or certification? How long will it take?

Some service members have G.I. Bill funds available. Others will apply for grants through various veterans’ programs. If you make the decision to go back to school, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Will you attend full-time or part-time?
  • How will your new status as a student affect the rest of your family?
  • Do you need to work while you attend school?

It is a good idea to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page and share realistic expectations.

Before reaching for Your Military Retirement Calculator

Giving some serious thought and answering these basic, but essential questions with your spouse will provide you with the clarity you need to begin the retirement process. And it is a process. For example, you will need to give notice, schedule your final physical, and sign up for the Transition Assistance Program. And that is just for starters. There are insurance and other financial decisions to be made.

Once you’ve decided you are done, you will want to begin the planning process about a year before you actually take off the uniform. Involve your spouse through all of it. There are family decisions to be made about benefits and rights which affect the mil-spouse as well.

Military Retirement Changes

There are always military retirement changes on the horizon which you need to keep on top of, so you can be prepared for how it might affect your family.

Check back next Sunday when we look at tackling issues such as:  getting a disability rating, the TSP Decision, and transitioning from SGLI to VGLI.

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Carla Olivo is a veteran milspouse who has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children.

Carla Olivo

Director of Strategic Communications