What do military retirement planning and golf have in common? Simple.
Both can bring much joy or much frustration.
Both can be very, very difficult to master.
Both require starting with the basics to become an expert.
We can’t help you become an expert at either retirement planning or golf, but we can get you on the right path to learning about what military retirement benefits are available to you, a fine place to start.
“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.”
Jack Nicklaus, World Golf Hall of Famer and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient
Looking for information on a specific benefit? Click the link to jump to it!
(1) Military Retirement Pay/Military Pension
(2) Veteran Health Care
(3) Veteran Life Insurance
(4) Veteran Housing Benefits
(5) Retired Military Spouse & Family Benefits
(6) Veterans Discounts & Free Stuff
(7) Veteran Death & Burial Benefits
(8) Bonus Tips: Retirement Hazards to Avoid
1. Military Retirement Pay / Military Pension
This can get complicated very fast because there are different systems that each have pros and cons, eligibility requirements, and more. We’ll try to keep this as simple as possible!
Here are three better-known veteran retirement systems:
Legacy High-36 System
Also known as the “High-3” because the three highest years of base pay you earned before retirement are used to create an average. Then, your military pension will be 50–100% of that average, depending on how long you served (with a minimum of 20 years).
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
This is almost like having a military 401(k) or IRA, except the employer (in this case, the U.S. government) doesn’t match any funds that you invest. “Invest” is the key word here: Unlike High-3, where you can almost predict what you’ll receive after retirement, with a TSP, your money can grow or shrink.
Blended Retirement System (BRS)
This is the newest system, and as its name suggests, it blends the High-3 and TSP.
You might have some choices in which retirement plan you can use. It all depends on when you joined the military and how long you’ve served. You are eligible to choose between the High-3 and the BRS if, as of as of December 31, 2017, you are:
- An active duty member with less than 12 years of service
- A reserve-component member in a paid status with fewer than 4,320 retirement points
Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)
Military retirement pay, survivor benefit plan annuities, and VA compensation and pension, are adjusted for inflation every year. The cost of living adjustment for recipients of these benefits is tied closely to those of the SSI but is not done automatically.
While the annual COLA adjustment to SSI is automatic, congress must separately approve an increase to the benefits listed above. COLA is determined by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of the last year as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor.
2022 Cost Of Living Adjustment
You will see a 5.9% increase to your entitlements going into 2022.
If you want to know more about the 2022 changes to COLA and other benefits, you can click here.
Is your financial security on your mind? Explore ways to build wealth with your military pension & VA disability to have a better retirement!
2. Veteran Health Care
As veterans and their spouses age, medical problems and related health care costs can quickly disrupt even the best military retirement plans. Fortunately, retired service members and qualified dependents have access to various military medical retirement benefits.
TRICARE is the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families around the world.
- Dental plans
- Health plans
- Special programs
Veterans Administration (VA) Health Care
VA Health Care is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, serving an estimated 9 million enrolled veterans each year.
The level of VA benefits and services available to you is determined by your rating for a service-connected disability.
3. Veteran Life Insurance (VGLI)
There are various reasons for why you might want to have life insurance—or how much for which you want to be insured. That is an important conversation you should have with your family, financial advisor, and so on.
If you decide you should have a life insurance policy, Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) is one option to certainly consider. It is an especially important option if you don’t want to have to prove that you are in good health to enroll in life insurance.
4. Veteran Housing Benefits
Whether you want to make upgrades to your current home, downsize to a smaller home, or even buy your dream retirement home, you have some excellent options as a veteran.
VA Housing Assistance
Most VA home loans offer 100% financing with no down payment, and do not require you to pay for pricey private mortgage insurance (PMI).
Qualification requires 24 months of active-duty service, as well as at least with an honorable or general discharge.
No-Cost Moving Benefits
This is a very unique military retirement benefit! Do you know that when you move to your post-separation “home of selection,” the U.S. government will pay your moving expenses in the United States?
The government will also pay some some of the costs for international moves, too.
The benefit is only available during the first calendar year of your retirement (although you can request up to five extensions).
Obviously, you’ll want to book your move as soon as possible for the best chance to get your preferred dates. Contact your installation’s Personnel Support Office for more information.
Believe it or not, BAH isn’t just for active duty personnel. As a veteran or GI Bill beneficiary, you can receive BAH benefits, too! For you, it’s referred to as an MHA, or Monthly Housing Allowance. As a retired military member or GI Bill beneficiary, you’ll receive the same BAH as a military member of rank E-5 with dependents. The amount of money you receive will be tied to your GI Bill, which means your allowance will be dependent on where you or your beneficiary is located.
5. Retired Military Spouse and Family Benefits
Military retirement benefits aren’t only available to those that served, but also to their family members! Here are some to explore.
Veteran Spouse Benefits
MySTeP (the Military Spouse Transition Program)
Stepping Beyond is for spouses preparing for the transition to civilian living. It is self-directed with videos, fact sheets and links to tools and programs designed to inform and build confidence in a successful transition.
Military OneSource is an excellent resource for pre-transition spouses to learn a lot about retired military spouse and veteran spouse benefits, health care, finances and more. This is available at no cost for up to a year after military service ends.
Retirement can provide the extra time that might not have previously been available for education and training!
Spouses are eligible for GI Bill benefits to cover the cost of education and training programs, including undergraduate and graduate studies, vocational schools and technical training. A housing stipend and $1,000 a year for books and tutoring are available.
Use the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool to learn more and compare school benefits.
More like this: Veterans Benefits for Spouses: What They Are & How to Get Them
6. Veterans Discounts and Free Stuff
There is no shortage of awesome ways to save money with veteran discounts and related benefits. To name a few:
Commissaries and Exchanges
Did you know that retired military and their spouses can still enjoy the same active-duty commissary and exchange privileges you had after retirement? That means a lifetime of access to tax-free and discounted goods!
MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation)
MWR facilities and programs are another military retirement benefit you can continue to enjoy after separation.
Click here to learn about how to get free access to national parks year-round!
You can also continue to take free “Space-A” flights.
7. Veteran Death and Burial Benefits
Veteran Burial Benefits and Memorial Services
These benefits include a gravesite in any of 136 national cemeteries, as well as a government headstone or marker, burial flag and presidential certificate at no cost to the veteran’s family.
Consider completing the pre-need determination of eligibility for burial in a VA cemetery to make the planning process easier for your grieving family members when the time comes. Qualifications are based on the veteran’s service history.
Military Survivor Benefit Plan (SPB)
This is a U.S. DOD program that provides up to 55% of a deceased veteran’s military retirement pay to an eligible beneficiary, as well as other benefits.
It is the only way to leave any portion of military retired pay to your surviving family members.
If you have an eligible spouse or child, you’ll automatically be enrolled at the maximum level unless you make changes. Contact your installation TAP office or the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for details.
8. Bonus Tips! 5 Military Retirement Benefit Hazards to Avoid
Along with giving you basic advice about which military retirement benefits you should explore, there is also some advice for what not to do. Here are five:
- Don’t misplace or not keep multiple certified copies of your DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) in a fireproof safe (or another secure location).
- Don’t forget to update the VA if you ever change your phone number, email address or mailing address.
- Don’t miss the deadline to enroll in Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) without a health evaluation.
- Don’t overlook registering for the VA’s burial pre-need program.
- Don’t miss out on Military OneSource’s resources for at least the first year after your transition.
What other military retirement benefits do you think veterans should be aware of? Do you have any tips or advice for military retirement planning? Please share them in the comments section!
Last Updated: 12/15/2021