What is the Gray Area?

Let’s start off with a little easier topic.  This week’s topic is, “What is the Gray Area?”  You’ve heard me say in the past a gray area retiree, reserve retiree, retiree awaiting pay, things like that. Well, this week I’m going to explain just what is.


Now, for an active-duty retiree, someone with the required amount of service, when they retire they get

retired pay and all the benefits that go with retirement right away.  We reservists are on a slightly different plan. When we retire, if we are under age sixty, we go into what is called the “gray area.” The official term is being put in the Retired Reserve but that’s a lot of syllables so we say gray area.


The reason we say that is it is kind of a gray area. You’re retired but you’re not. In in a really official, technical category all that has happened is you’ve been transferred into another component in the Army Reserve.  They call it a control group.  You’re in a different status but you’re still in the military, not fully retired.


The Retired Reserve is essentially a holding cell, a waiting room, waiting for you to reach the age at which you can receive your pension, but that is not without benefit.  There are several benefits to being in the Retired Reserve.  One of them is, since you still have a military status, then you are still accruing longevity of service.  Anyone familiar with the military pay scale knows that the longer you’re in service, the more money you make up to a certain point per pay grade. The farther along that scale you go and as your length of service increases, the more money you make. So when you are in the Retired Reserve you still gain longevity for pay purposes.  You also still maintain the cost-of-living increases that go along with still being in the military.  If you’re discharged completely, you would not get those cost-of-living increases. Your pay will be based on the pay scale in effect when you separate.  Those two little things are actually quite big when it comes to the money that goes in your pocket once you hit the right age.


What about other benefits there are, things beside just the cash that make being a military retiree so unique?  Well, let me go through a quick list of what some of those are.  For those interested you can find in the notes a chart that I’ve made. I actually borrowed it word for word and just reformatted from the Human Resources Command website just for full disclosure. I didn’t write this myself but there are some provisos, some slight changes I’ll make verbally as we go along because this isn’t entirely accurate.  It technically is but there are a few exceptions, to some of the things here. Let’s just go along so on some of these hits some of the major topics and see what we can make of it.


Let’s take a look at the first and most obvious sign of being a gray area retiree,  your military ID card.  You no longer have a common access card (or CAC).  You have a teslin – or paper-based and laminated – card.  For people in the gray area, that card is pink in color.  There is a separate card for their dependents – spouses and children –This card is tan.


That is the most obvious time of being a gray area entirely and actually it’s the key to everything else.  If you do not have a Retired Reserve ID card then please go and get one.  In fact, I’ll post in the notes a link to a site locator for DEERS at ID card sites. If you don’t have an ID, card make use of this and find the closest ID card facility to you.  In fact, in the future, I will do an article on the types of ID cards and how you can get the proper one for yourself as well as the documents you would need to do so.


Now before I go into the rest let me talk about the other type of ID card.  Once you’ve actually hit age sixt,y once you actually start receiving your retired pay, you actually are eligible for a different type of ID card.  This one is blue and has a few key differences over the pink card.  The most important one is on the back.  There’s a section that says, “Medical,” with two sub-clauses.  The first says, “Direct,” which means on-post medical care and the other says, “Civilian,” which means civilian providers who accept Tricare.  Both of those will say, “Yes,” on them.  This means you were Tricare eligible and your blue ID card is actually your Tricare health insurance card, as well. Your dependents will also have new cards with the same statement on the back.  This is the primary difference other than color from the Retired Reserve card.  For Retired Reserve ID cards for Tricare eligibility, it says, “no.”


Like I said, the ID card is the key to unlock all of the other benefits I’m going to describe.  Let’s go through a few of those.  Obviously, the most important, for people who have military installations in their states, is access to those installations.  There are a lot of facilities and benefits that can be utilized if you can just get on post and your ID card is the way to get on post.  That proves that you are eligible to make use of everything there and if you are not in uniform, which you wouldn’t be if you’re retired, then obviously when you are in these facilities and trying to make use of them you’ll be asked to show your ID card.  This is the most common and most easily understood by those of us who make use of commissaries and post exchanges.  If you’re in civilian clothes, they ask to see your ID card and after that it’s just another transaction.  You’re good to go.


So we have military installations and all of those goodies, that’s the most obvious benefit of post access but there’s a lot more than simply the PX (or BX if your Air Force) and the commissaries.  There’s also theaters, shoppettes, recreational facilities, bowling alleys, libraries, other little stores, things of that nature.  All of these are going to want to see your ID card before you come inside or when you’re actually making a purchase.  You’re going to need to present those cards in order to prove you’re eligible to make use of those facilities.


Now let’s get into some other things. I mentioned medical facilities.  Well, if you are a reserve retiree, then in most cases you are not able to use the medical facilities unless you’ve been subject to a retiree recall and put on an active duty status.  During the time you’re in that status, you yourself would have access to medical facilities but your spouses and dependents would not.  That obviously would change once you are age sixty and Tricare eligible.  Then you can all make use of medical facilities.


Now let me mention one thing with this chart that I’m going to post.  The next thing on this list is Tricare and the chart says, “not eligible,” for gray area retirees.  There is a version of Tricare called Tricare Retired Reserve which is eligible, which is available for purchase.  It is quite expensive.  The reason for this is simply that Tricare itself is a heavily subsidized benefit for those of us who actually pay for it, but the Tricare Retired Reserve version is not subsidized.  You pay the full price of that benefit.  For a single member, the Tricare Retired Reserve rate is a little over $400 per month.  I don’t have the numbers right in front of me but I have talked about them in the past.  For a family, the monthly rate is a little over $1,000 per month.  Those premiums are only in effect while you’re in the gray area.  Once you hit age sixty, there are no premiums unless you choose a different version Tricare which is premium-based.  Some people choose to use Tricare and some choose to go with health care from other sources, health insurance from other sources, I should say.  That’s your prerogative; that’s your choice.


Another thing available to reservists in the gray area, believe it or not, is the Tricare Retiree Dental Program.  You are eligible to purchase that.  Those premiums are different based on your location.  I’m not going to give any examples of it right now.  If you’d like information on that just go to TRDP.org.  You can find the premiums for your area.  That’s also available for purchase when you are receiving retired pay.  Also, please remember, based on my YouTube episode, “Tricare Updates for 2018,” that next year TRDP is going away.  The Tricare Retiree Dental Program will not exist in 2019.  What will replace it is the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program  (FEDVIP).  That will be something in which you can start enrolling in November of this year and make use of it starting in 2019. Your status in the DEERS database –the ID card database – needs to be updated to reflect your eligibility for either Tricare or the dental program.


Let’s move on to some other goodies.  One of the biggest benefits that I have pointed out to people when they are going into the Retired Reserve and when they are signing up for their retired pay is the use of military lodging facilities.  This is a huge savings to the wallet when you are traveling across the country.  I’ve had to go to various places in my career and have chosen many times to stay on post because of the significant cost difference.  In fact, on several occasions just in my area, I was put on temporary travel orders and the cost to stay in a hotel on the economy was about $120 per night but I was able to stay in a room on post for about $24 per night and sometimes less.  That in itself is an enormous savings and you can use that while you’re serving, when you’re in the Retired Reserve, and when you’re receiving the retired pay.  Again, all you have to do is show your ID card and you’re good to go.


A little utilized benefit, one that requires a great deal of flexibility, is space-A travel.  Space-A means space available.  This means that you could, if there is space on that flight, hop onto any military flight going to almost any destination and either have a quick vacation or sightsee.  With space-A, it’s exactly what it says; if there’s space available and if they’re accepting passengers.  So if you’re going to use this, the recommendation is to have a very flexible time frame


Here’s another interesting little thing you may have heard of, SATO (or Carlson Wagonlit).  This is a military-contracted travel agency.  They can help you set up trips, as well.  You can use it just about anywhere and again you just need your ID card.  You can use them to book travel, book hotels, flights, rental cars, all of that.  You just have to give them a call.  Rather than give all kinds of conflicting information I would say just hop on your browser of choice and search for Carlson Wagonlit and you can find.


Now we’re getting into some deep stuff here, some of the more morbid things that people don’t like to think about but we need to keep in mind; survivor assistance, casualty assistance, things of that nature.  That’s actually where people like me come in or survivor assistance.  If the person was gray area or a retiree receiving pay then the assistance from survivor benefit counselors and employees of survivor outreach services are available to you.  All you have to do is ask.  In fact, specifically with the survivor outreach services people, they are not allowed to reach out and make contact with survivors.  They have to be contacted first but that is where people like me, a retirement services officer, can bridge the gap.  I can act reach out to survivors and offer services as they’re available and more often than not those services are happily accepted.


Here we’ll get into a happier note there are a great many programs out there for families and children that fall under the Family Services umbrella.  This could be anything from child and youth development programs, leadership camps, all kinds of fun activities for children.  There’s a wide array of programs out there.  There is a great deal available to the families, not just fun stuff but also emergency assistance.  There are veterans assistance programs so if you had a short-term emergency, we could find ways to step in and assist.  Resume services, survivor outreach actually fell under family programs in my area, and personal financial counsellors that I’ve described in the past are also available.  Strangely enough, funeral honors program fell under family programs (in my area, at least.  That was odd).  That’s just some of the services available from family programs so if you search for military family programs online you’ll finding a long list of very interesting little tidbits that are available to you.


Now we go back to the darker topics, life insurance.  You are not eligible for servicemen’s group life insurance after you leave service.  You’ve got to be in actively drilling or actively serving status in order to have SGLI. That includes people in the individual Ready Reserve; by the way.  You are not considered to be in the Ready Reserve, an actively drilling status, so you are not eligible for SGLI when you’re in that status.  You have to come out, perform military duty, pay the premiums, and, if you choose, go back into an IRR status, but that coverage will maintain for at least the month for which you pay the premium. If you’re coming in and out every month, you still have coverage the whole time.


When you leave service, within 120 days, your SGLI coverage will lapse and, if you choose, you can convert that prevents that coverage to a veterans group life insurance policy.  Personal opinion forthcoming. Warning!  Warning!  I would not recommend going with veterans group life insurance (or VGLI) for one simple reason.  It is extremely expensive.  If you choose the maximum $400,000 in coverage then every five years effectively the premium doubles.  Let’s go all the way to the extreme.  If you are seventy-five years old, the monthly premium for VGLI is $1,840 per month and you can certainly find better rates elsewhere.  For the younger crowd, it is slightly better than $1,800 but it very quickly becomes excessive so you can easily find other insurance out there at a much better rate.


The last one that I’m going to cover and not even really in detail is Veterans Administration benefits.  Reservists are a funny crowd as far as the VA is concerned.  They (the VA) are in their mindset active-duty centric.  They’re used to dealing with people who were active duty.  They’re not used to reservists even though we actually outnumber the active duty folks.  Some reservists are eligible for VA benefits, compensation for disabilities, some medical care on a limited basis, home loans, educational assistance, things of that nature.  Reservists do have limited VA benefits it but it varies widely from individual to individual.  It’s completely based on your type of service.  If you were just a drilling National Guardsman your whole career then you would have some educational assistance, a GI bill of some sort, be eligible for a home loan, and, if you are retirement eligible then you could be eligible for things like a be a VA-paid marker for a grave site.


If you have had active duty experience particularly if it’s deployments, mobilizations, or active duty over a hundred eighty days and not for training purposes, then you could have a much wider set of the VA benefits.  Again, it varies wildly from person to person.  It would be best to contact a VA rep or a veteran services officer – actually that’s who I’d recommend moreso, a veteran services officer in your area – and they can explain what’s available to you.


This last item I’m going to hit just in kind of a glossing over manner.  State benefits, every state has its own set of service member benefits of one type or another.  In fact, what I’d like to know from you, the audience, is would you be interested in episodes that pick a certain state and describe all of these service member benefits for that state?  Would that be of interest and of use to you?


Like I said, I did not go over everything on this chart. You can find it by looking in the notes.  There’s a great deal I didn’t cover and I think you’ll be surprised when you take a look at what’s here.  This is just what’s posted officially.  There’s a lot more out there.  For example, during Veterans Day and Memorial Day, a lot of civilian companies offer discounts to service members and to veterans.  Very often they want to see an ID card and / or a DD-214 or NGB 22. I would recommend of course the ID card.  It’s a lot easier to carry around and it doesn’t have personal information splattered all over it.


In fact, let me throw that out there real quick.  If you have an ID card that has your social security number on it or the social security number of your sponsor, use the site locator I’m going to put in the notes.  Make an appointment with an ID card facility and get a new card.  The new cards have a Department of Defense ID number on them instead of the social security number so if it gets lost or if a copy is made then you don’t have as much of your personal information floating around out there as temptation to identity thieves. I will repeat if have a card with an SSN on it, go get a new card now.


I believe that’s quite enough for this week.  As always, if you have questions or comments please post them in the comments section of this article so I have a good indication of how many people are actually paying attention out there.  That’s always cool.  If you think this information is useful and would benefit other people, please hit share and send this to them so those people can make use of this information as well. I always enjoy comments from you.  I’ve had several just today, in fact.  That was a nice experience, as well.  Thank you for being part of this audience, thank you for your activity, thank you for your continued interest, and, of course, thank you for your service.  Have a great day.




Benefits for Gray Area and Recipients of Retired Pay
Soldier for Life Blog
RAPIDS Site Locator

Podcast Episode 0051 – What is the Gray Area?

What is a gray area retiree and what benefits does it provide for you?

Benefits for Gray Area and Recipients of Retired Pay
Soldier for Life Blog
RAPIDS Site Locator

YouTube Episode 0053 – What is the Gray Area?

What is a gray area retiree and what benefits does it provide for you?


Benefits for Gray Area and Recipients of Retired Pay
Soldier for Life Blog
RAPIDS Site Locator

Bonus Episode 0002 – Veterans Can Now Apply for VA Identification Cards


Veterans can now apply for ID cards through the VA and will no longer need to carry around DD 214s or other documents to prove their service.

Log in to Vets.gov using either the ID.me verification system or a DS log-in to apply for a new veterans ID card.