So, you’re finally to the point that you can’t hide your medical problems from your unit anymore (yes, people actually do this, sad to say). A fit for duty board has reviewed your issues and has determined that you’re unfit for continued service in the military. “Great,” you say. “I don’t have twenty years yet. I’ve just lost all of the retirement benefits I’ve been trying to earn.”
Am I right? Is this what’s going through your mind? Well, there is still hope. Do you have at least fifteen years of qualifying service yet? If the answer is yes then you haven’t lost anything. Here’s how things actually work.
As I’ve already implied, there is a vesting point (a point at which you have earned something through your service which cannot be taken away) before you reach the twenty-year mark. If you have at least fifteen “good years” by the time you are found to be unfit for continued service and awaiting discharge, you can receive an early notice of eligibility for retired pay (in the National Guard, we call this a “fifteen-year letter”) and still receive retirement benefits at age sixty (or earlier if you have qualifying active duty time).
This fact has come as quite a surprise to a great many reservists who thought they had lost everything. For example, just two weeks ago, I was giving a class to a group of Army Reserve soldiers and mentioned this little tidbit of information. I noticed a great deal of increased electricity in the room and took a moment to scan the audience. I then asked if this applied to anyone in the room (of course, I said they didn’t have to acknowledge me if it did). No one made it plainly obvious by raising their hands, but I saw several heads nodding. That was enough, though, to get several of them to ask additional questions which is exactly what I wanted.
One of them asked, “Why is it called a fifteen-year letter? I have seventeen years of service.” The answer, simply put, is it’s just a term we use based on the fact the service member has at least fifteen qualifying years, the minimum needed to get this notice of eligibility published early.
“How is pay calculated if you get one of these letters?” another inquired. “Is pay prorated as if you did complete twenty years?” No, I replied, it is not prorated but it is based on the total number of retirement points you have earned at the time you are discharged. Other than the obviously lower number of points used to calculate pay, though, most of the other retirement benefits are exactly the same as if you had completed twenty years. The only exception would be for concurrent disability and retirement pay (or CRDP, I’ll cover that in a later article in this series on medical retirements) for which the member would not qualify.
“Do the medical problems have to be in the line of duty?” asked someone else. No, they do not. You could get injured in while coming back from the grocery store or working around the house. As long as the medical problem is not due to negligence or misconduct (such as drunk driving), it does not matter what caused it. The primary factors are medical disqualification and fifteen years of qualifying service (remember you need fifty points per year for that time to count for retirement purposes).
After a few other questions which I don’t recall, it was obvious this fact came as quite a relief to these selected soldiers. I asked how many of them were concerned about losing their retirements. At this point, several people in the room raised their hands … even some who had not nodded their heads earlier. Since such a worry is common in the National Guard, I was not surprised to see it was present in the USAR, as well.
So, what does all of this mean to you if you’re having medical issues. It means, dear reader, if you have at least fifteen good years and want to travel this path then stop trying to push through the pain and present your medical problems to your unit. They will send your medical documents through channels and, at some point, your records will be reviewed by a fit for duty board (you may be asked to go to your primary physician or a military doctor during this review).
If the board determines you no longer meet the medical retention standards then you will be recommended for discharge. At this point, your service will generate the fifteen-year notice of eligibility. When you receive this letter, remember to make a reserve component survivor benefit election (just as if you had received a twenty-year letter). You will have ninety days from the time you receive the letter to make this choice. Be sure to read my other articles on the survivor benefit plan to learn more about how SBP works.
Be sure to request transfer to the retired reserve and not to be completely separated from the military. Your branch of service should know to do this but some (like the Army Reserve) will only do this if you request it (otherwise they’ll discharge you completely from service). Once you have your transfer orders, you will be good to go until retirement age.
Has this helped you to better understand the options available to you? I hope so. If not, please be sure to comment below or send me an email with your questions. Of course, comments are welcome even if you do not have questions.
If you think this information would be useful to someone you know then please be sure to share this article with that person. Let’s get this into everyone’s head so they can make informed decisions. As the cliché says, knowledge is power.
Thanks for being part of this audience today and, of course, thank you for your service.
Related YouTube Episodes:
YouTube Episode 0003 – The Basics of Reserve Retirement
YouTube Episode 0004 – The Notice of Eligibility for Retired Pay (Twenty-Year Letter)
YouTube Episode 0005 – The Basics of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan (RCSBP)
YouTube Episode 0006 – The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
YouTube Episode 0009 – So, What is This Reduced Retirement Age Thing Anyway?
YouTube Episode 0014 – Calculating Retired Pay Under the Current (Legacy) Retirement Plan
Related Podcast Episodes:
Podcast Episode 0002 – The Notice of Eligibility for Retired Pay (Twenty-Year Letter)
Podcast Episode 0003 – The Basics of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan (RCSBP)
Podcast Episode 0004 – The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
Podcast Episode 0007 – So, What is This Reduced Retirement Age Thing Anyway?
Podcast Episode 0012 – Calculating Retired Pay Under the Current (Legacy) Retirement Plan
The Basics of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan (RCSBP)
When Do I Make an Election for the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan?
How Much Will the RCSBP Pay to My Beneficiaries and What Will It Cost Me?
Should I Buy a Life Insurance Policy Instead of Choosing the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan?
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan?
What Are the Coverage Options for the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan?
Who Can Be Beneficiaries of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan?
How Do I Enroll in the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan?
The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan
How Do I Enroll in the Survivor Benefit Plan?
Should I Pay for SBP or Buy a Life Insurance Policy?
Calculating Retired Pay Under the Current (Legacy) Retirement Plan
The Notice of Eligibility for Retired Pay (Twenty-Year Letter)