I spent the last ten years of my husband’s active duty gathering every single tip and trick that already-retired folks told me that they wish they had known. Now that we’re 6 months past retirement, I’ve made a few updates to this list based on our personal experiences and more things that retirees have shared. Take advantage of their (our) experience!
This post is part of The Comprehensive Military Retirement Checklist. Be sure to read all the other posts that go with the checklist, too!
The Transition Assistance Program
- The in-person Transition Assistance Program class is your primary source of information about the process. Use it. I recommend you work through the program twice, once more than a year out and once in the six to nine-month time frame. Spouses should attend, too. 70% of your questions will be answered in that class, but you’ll also discover another bunch of questions that will require research (or asking me to write an article about it.) Two heads are better than one for this monumental change.
- Most installations offer stand-alone classes on specific subjects. Topics might include Survivor Benefit Plan, salary negotiations, Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, or accessing educational benefits. Check out nearby installations for even more topics.
- You can also take the official training online. This is a great option if you can’t go in person, or if you want to review the material, refresh your memory, or see how information might be presented differently.
Medical, Dental and Vision
- You may have Tricare options, or you may not. They may include Tricare Select, Tricare Prime, and/or a Uniformed Services Family Health Plan (USFHP). Everyone has access to Tricare Select, but both Tricare Prime and USFHP have geographic limitations. You can learn more about the options available to you here: Military Retiree Medical: Tricare Prime, Select, or USFHP?
- This one is tricky because there is a rule, and then there is an exception to the rule. Rule one is that you have to enroll/re-enroll is Tricare Select or Tricare Prime within 90 days of retirement, or you won’t have Tricare coverage until the next year (you have to enroll during the fall open season.) You will still be able to use Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) under the direct care provision. HOWEVER, there is second rule that says that you have up to 12 months from retirement to select a plan, and it will be retroactive to the date of retirement as long as you pay the premiums retroactively. In some places, it implies that the 12 month exception may be temporary, but in other places it makes no such implication. I think the safest option is to plan on enrolling within the 90 days, and then you have the 12 months as a back-up if something happens.
- You may need to pay your Tricare Prime premium up-front, for at least a couple of months. The same may be true for vision or dental coverage purchased through the FEDVIP program.
- You may want to purchase a Tricare supplement. Many supplements waive the pre-existing condition clause if you enroll in a specific amount of time from retiring, and that’s a good benefit.
- Your Tricare catastrophic cap will increase to $3,000 per year, per family. (Higher if the sponsor entered the military after 1 January 2018 or if you have a family member on Tricare Young Adult.) Anything paid towards the $1,000 active duty catastrophic cap will count towards your new $3,000 catastrophic cap. **The catastrophic cap for retiree families using Tricare Select will increase to $3,500 in 2021.**
- If you’re currently seen at a Medical Treatment Facility (MTF), you may have to find new providers out in town. It depends on your MTF. Not every MTF accepts retirees as patients. And even if you do get to stay with your provider now, you may get “kicked out” of the MTF if your provider leaves.
- Your dental insurance will change. The active duty and AD family dental program will end at retirement, automatically. You can purchase dental insurance through your new employer, the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP), or self-insure.
- If you have vision coverage through FEDVIP while on active duty, and you want to enroll in the FEDVIP dental or vision coverage after retirement, there is a trick. On retiree coverage, the sponsor is the primary member. But, the sponsor can’t open a new plan after retirement until their Social Security Number is cleared off the spouse’s FEDVIP vision insurance plan. You can’t cancel the vision insurance until retirement, and that takes a month to process. Then you start the new plan(s) and that also takes a month to process. So you might go up to two months without vision and dental coverage.
- The active duty member remains attached to medical at their final duty station regardless of where they are during terminal leave. Plan accordingly.
- If you wear hearing aids, or think you might need them, get them while still active duty.
- If you think you might need a CPAP machine, or other similar device, get it while still active duty.
The Disability Process
- Have the service member’s medical issues thoroughly documented. Thoroughly. Make paper copies of all records. Make electronic copies of all records. Upload copies to the cloud.
- A Veterans Service Officer (VSO) will help make the VA disability process a lot easier. VSOs usually work for veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or Disabled American Veterans (DAV.) If you can’t find a VSO, ask at your installation’s family service center.
- Disability claims can be slow, and starting payment can be even slower. Don’t count on this money as part of your budget!
- Log into https://www.ebenefits.va.gov and check to make sure that all your dependents are listed correctly. This will ensure that you get the right disability payment.
Records and Paperwork
- You need to be your own record-keeper. Track down copies of every citation, award, or certificate that has been earned. Organize them, and make electronic copies.
- Make sure you know how to log into your TSP account without a Common Access Card, and that it has your correct civilian email and physical mailing addresses.
- Make sure you know how to log into myPay without a Common Access Card. Resetting is harder once you’re a retiree. Not horribly harder, but a little bit harder.
- Create a DS Login to access other website and systems.
- Military email account won’t be accessible – make sure everyone important knows your civilian email address. This includes myPay!
- Make paper and electronic copies of everyone’s medical and dental records. If you’re a worrier, like me, make two copies.
- Go into myPay and download and/or print all your past W-2s and LES. You will only have access to your active duty myPay account for 12 months, and DFAS has been known to “discover” overpayments years later. It is a lot easier to have all your ducks in a row ahead of time than have to get DFAS to find those documents for you.
The Paperwork Of The Retirement Process
- You will have to make a decision about the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) as part of the retirement paperwork process. Take the time in advance to become educated so you’re making the right decision for your specific situation. I get a lot of emails from folks who were unhappy with their SBP decision. The one key factor is not WHAT they decided, but HOW they decided it. People who did not do research and thoroughly understand the program are unhappy with their decision. People who did research and understood the program are happy with their decision. It’s possibly the most important financial decision of your lifetime. Don’t screw it up.
- You need to go get retired IDs within a couple of days of retirement. Depending on your location, you may be able to make an appointment, and you can make the appointment months in advance. You almost always need to have the DD-214 before you can get retired IDs, so you can’t really do it in advance. You can go to any ID issuing location to get your new IDs.
- If either spouse is looking for a new job, LinkedIn is your friend. Set up a profile and get assistance making it great. Connect with everyone: old co-workers, neighbors, that guy you sat next to on a flight last year. Network, network, network.
- The service member and the spouse can each get a free year of LinkedIn Premium.
- The Veteran Mentor Network on LinkedIn is a great resource to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise have a way to find.
- Get a professional headshot in civilian clothes to use on your LinkedIn and other social media accounts.
- The services at your family support center remain available to you after retirement. This includes resume help, financial counseling, and other transition services. Use them.
- There are great certification preparation and testing programs offered through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. They are available to veterans and spouses!
- There are resume and network programs specifically for veterans. These include:
- The average veteran changes jobs at least once in the first two years after leaving the military. Make decisions (like buying a house) based on the idea that the first job won’t stick, and be pleasantly surprised if it does.
Finances During Transition
- Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) remains at the location of the last duty station during terminal leave, unless you were overseas.
- Your last military paycheck will probably be delayed. It’s usually only a few days, but it can be months. Have enough cash to cover your essential expenses for at least several months.
- There can be a lot of surprise costs at retirement: re-registering vehicles and getting driver’s licenses if you don’t retire to your state of legal residence, deposits for a new house, that additional Tricare catastrophic cap amount, plus all the usual costs of moving. You might need new clothes for job hunting or the new job.
- You need to update your withholding with DFAS, or you won’t have the right taxes withheld from your retirement pay. Be sure that your withholding on all jobs reflects all income, including your retirement income.
The Thrift Savings Plan
- When you retire, you can leave your money in your TSP account, move it to another qualified plan, or cash it out. Don’t cash it out – you’ll pay a penalty, get hit with taxes, and hurt your long-term financial stability.
- You can’t contribute directly to TSP once you’re retired. (Unless you become a federal employee, then you can open a civilian TSP account.) There are some ways to do back-door TSP contributions by rolling over from other retirement plans.
The Final Household Move
- The regs for final moves can be a little confusing. You get one year of storage, and then you can request extensions. Stories about extensions being denied or approved come in all over the place – you should assume that your extension will be denied and then be pleasantly surprised if it is approved. Do not build a plan around your extension of storage being approved.
- Even if you aren’t executing a move now, talk to your transportation office to be sure you know how to reserve that move for possible later use.
- Long-term storage occurs at the place of your final duty station (or wherever that place stores its things.) If you have your things moved to another location, that’s now your home of selection.
- You should request written confirmation of the weight of your household goods, and request a reweigh if they tell you that you have exceeded your weight allowance. There’s no way to reweigh once stuff has been delivered!
- Your final moving claim will be filed with your last base or directly through DFAS, regardless of where you retire. Make sure you understand the process for your branch before you leave your last duty station, and get all the contact information for the filing office.
- You can’t file your final moving claim until your move is finished.
- You also can’t finalize your moving claim until you actual retirement date.
- You don’t get temporary lodging or dislocation allowance on your final move.
- If you want to buy a house, you have to state whether you are within a year of retirement. If you are within a year of retirement, or recently retired and haven’t been working long, the mortgage company will want to qualify you off of retirement income alone, or they will want a written job offer in a field that is similar to what you did in the military. While exact details may vary, this is pretty universally true. Don’t plan on buying a house based upon a job that you plan to get. For that matter, rent at first.
- Unless you are covered by a disability extension, Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage ends 120 days after retirement.
- Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) does not require a medical review as long as you enroll within 240 days of retirement. VGLI might be a good choice if you are uninsurable, or if you have short-term needs. VGLI does get very expensive as you age – be sure to consider that when figuring out what insurance coverage is right for you.
- If you are going to purchase a civilian life insurance policy, get it into place before you start your retirement medical processes and the VA disability process.
- Your parents are eligible for the Federal Long Term Care (LTC) insurance program while you’re still on active duty, but they lose that eligibility when you retire. LTC insurance can be a good choice for some people in some situations. Do your research and make a thoughtful decision before the options go away.
I have no doubt that I have missed a TON of useful information, so PLEASE, please, share your juicy tips in the comments or email them to me at kate at katehorrell dot com. Let’s help out the next batch of new retirees!
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