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Preparing for Military Retirement: What to Know Before You Go

military retirement

By Jennifer McDonald

Barring something unforeseen, my husband will retire from over 30 years of military service next year. There’s a lot to do between now and then, tons of information to process, and it seems that everyone’s got an opinion about what’s most important to accomplish between now and military retirement.

At times, the advice can seem a bit contradictory.

Should we downsize?…or purchase a home with enough space for upcoming grandchildren?

Buy a permanent home after all the PCS’ing and living in military housing?…or take some time to figure out where we want our “forever home” to be before making a commitment?

And what about after retirement life? Aside from being the couple that blocks the commissary aisle while we rifle through our coupons (we look forward to being those people), what will that look like? A new career, starting a business, or simply taking some time to rest and regroup after years and years of TDYs and deployments?

Something I’ve discovered through research and the shared experiences of others is the obvious reality that every situation is different, so there will be no one right answer to any of the above questions (well, other than the coupons!).

Still, I’ll share the resources and advice that have been offered to me in hopes that some of it may help you if you’re facing your own retirement. And while it’s impossible to distill such a big transition into one post, here are a few things to consider as you take the next steps.

Preparing for Military Retirement:What to Know Before You Go

First Things First: Where Will You Live?

After all the years of nomadic leaving and dreaming of settling in one location, the answer to this may not be as simple as you think. Weigh the options of living close (or perhaps, not too close, depending on your preferences!) to extended family and the availability of new job opportunities, if you’re looking for a second career. Personally, we are debating the pros and cons of finding a home and settling into an area right away vs. touring the U.S. in an RV for a time!

In addition to the above factors, you’ll want to consider taxes, cost of living, community safety, access to health care, and climate. In the article Planning Ahead for Military Retirement, MilitaryByOwner writer Mary Eckberg notes,

Beyond just favoring the weather or climate, when visiting a potential spot, ponder lifestyle questions, such as:

  • What is the “walkability” level? How far is it to walk to shops, coffee houses, and cafes? Are local parks and trails within walking distance?
  • Does the town have a church of your faith, a library, or a Senior Citizen center?
  • Could you find employment or a volunteer opportunity in the area?
  • If you’ll be tending to repairs or taking up a woodworking hobby, are there home improvement/hardware stores nearby?
  • If you plan to spend time on the fairways, what are the local greens fees?
  • If you heed the call of the water, what are the local slip fees?

You Must Downsize! Or…Maybe Not!

The jury is out on this one. While the conventional wisdom is to get rid of any excess belongings so you have the freedom to travel or move into a smaller space, you may find you need extra space for your extended family and guests. You also could be caring for aging parents or have young adult children living with you. Or perhaps you simply want room for those visiting grandkids!

And what about new work or hobbies? Will you need a craft room, an office space, or a large garage or area to store grown-up toys like motorcycles or boats? If so, downsizing may not be for you.

If You’re Planning to Buy a Home

Many veterans count on using their VA Home Loan benefit, the government backed home loan with competitive interest rates which requires no money down or private mortgage insurance. But it’s important to have a firm grasp of your benefits before you start house hunting!

My friend David Greene notes, “There is a certain population that has never purchased a home and getting smart on that is crucial. I had never been a homeowner and had to learn on the fly about what I was entitled to and when.”

The experts at Veterans United remind us,

Even if you’re positive you meet the VA loan eligibility requirements, there’s only one way to be certain you have access to VA home loan benefits: Obtain your Certificate of Eligibility..

If you’d like to get an early start, VA Loan applicants can fill out a Certificate of Eligibility (VA Form 26-1880). The form can be downloaded through the Veterans Administration Web site and mailed directly to the VA. More information about Certificates of Eligibility can be found at the VA website.

For more detailed information about using your VA Home Loan, see Chris Birk’s excellent article,Getting Your Certificate of Eligibility: Let a Lender Do the Heavy Lifting.

Paperwork, Paperwork…

As retirement looms ever closer, the servicemember will be hammered with checklists and appointments.

The folks at MilitaryOneSource, an official DoD website, have a great checklist with information regarding military retirement benefits, reminders to attend pre-separation counseling and the TAP employment workshop, as well as reminding you to schedule medical and dental checks and other important appointments before retiring.

As well, if you have medical conditions or injuries incurred on active duty that would affect your VA disability compensation, it’s important to get those documented before retirement.

Regarding health coverage after leaving military service, my friend Christine Alkhoury reminds us to be sure to document service-related injuries or illnesses:

“We chose to stay Tricare Prime for the first year to see if we need that….in a year we will reevaluate to see if Standard will be better.

It’s important that any prior injuries before retirement for future coverage are documented. People may never go to the doctor for those [problems], and later other things may develop from them.”

For the most accurate information on VA disability compensation, visit  the VA disability compensation page.  

>>>Continue reading the article at MilitarySpouse.com

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