Early Medical Retirement Can Put Servicemembers’ Pensions At Risk
Life in the military isn’t easy, but if you serve long enough, the financial rewards are generous. Military pension benefits, after 20 years of service, are 50% of the final salary, paid for the rest of the rest of the servicmember’s life.
But that same pension can vanish if a servicemember is forced out of the military for health reasons.
When a military member has a medical condition (including mental health conditions) which renders them unfit to perform their required duties, they may be separated (or retired) from the military for medical reasons.
Until recently, if military members left before 20 years of service, they didn’t get any pension benefit. This leads to what’s known as “cliff vesting” around the 20-year mark. Given the obvious dangers inherent in the service, and the stress it puts on families, attrition is steep in the early years.
U.S. Code 1176 protects servicemembers nearing 20 years of service, and retirement eligibility, from being discharged or denied reenlistment without just cause. But unfortunately, it doesn’t extend to medical cases.
Military medical retirement is intended to compensate for a military career cut short because of disability. Typically, a medical retirement is issued when a medical condition is severe enough to interfere with the proper performance of your military duties.
For servicemembers who have less than 20 years of service, to be permanently retired, they must be found unfit due to a “stable” condition rated at 30% or higher. Stable means unlikely to change enough to qualify for a revised disability rating.
Retirement pay will be the retired base pay multiplied by the percentage assigned to the disability. Retired base pay is calculated by averaging the highest 36 months of basic pay.