Whether you're active-duty military, active reserves or a National Guardsman, you are eligible for some form of retirement benefits when you reach 20 years of service. This benefit is based on your length of service, rank when you retired and the age at which you begin collecting benefits. You aren't just eligible for a pension, either. Military retirees can also continue using many special military benefits, such as commissaries and Space-A travel.
Overview of Benefits
Retiring military members are eligible for a number of different benefits, the core of which is the pension. In addition to the pension, retiring veterans continue to be eligible to shop at all commissaries and PX/BXs. When traveling, they can stay at military hotels, take advantage of MWR recreational discounts and trip planning, and fly free on space-available flights. Most retiring veterans also can take advantage of health coverage offered by VA hospitals. Military rank is retained upon retirement, and any honors accrued by the member continue to be recognized.
Understanding the Pension
Military pensions are calculated in a variety of ways. In general, a retiring military member is first eligible for a pension when he has served 20 years on active duty, and can collect that pension as soon as he retires, even if he's only 37 years old. Many military members choose to enter government service upon military retirement, collecting two pensions when they retire a second time. The pension is calculated at a percentage of the average of the last three years the military member served; higher rank means more money. Service past 20 years also earns the military member a higher pension.
National Guard members and active reservists are also eligible for pensions when they retire, but benefits are calculated based on how many days the member served actively.
Because the rules and regulations controlling military pensions are complex, any military member planning for retirement should speak with his career counselor well in advance of his retirement date.
Retired military members are eligible for free health care at VA hospitals. Retirees are also eligible for Tricare Prime insurance, paying only an enrollment fee and any co-pays that are incurred. Retirees in Tricare Prime can always receive treatment at any military treatment facility (MTF) for free, provided their treatment does not deprive active duty members and their families of timely treatment. You will also be eligible for Tricare Extra and Tricare Standard at no fee, which provide somewhat reduced services.
Retiring military members will also retain the right to shop at military commissaries and BX/PX stores, as well as any other shop run by the military for military members. Depending on options you chose upon enlisting, you may also be eligible for a variety of educational benefits. Retired members are eligible for several burial and memorial benefits through the VA, in some cases covering all burial expenses.
In many states, additional benefits are available to veterans through state and local governments. You may also find benefits for retired veterans through a variety of nonprofit organizations and clubs.
In many cases, retired veterans will find benefits accruing to them that private citizens and organizations initiated. For instance, some restaurants extend military discounts to retired veterans as well as military members. Also, a number of social and charitable organizations are open only to veterans.
There are also unspoken benefits that accrue to retired military members. In some cases, companies go out of their way to recruit senior enlisted officers because of their unique experience. It never hurts to let people know that you are a retired military member.