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3 Steps to Take When You Retire From the Military

Apr 10, 2018 3 min read Kate Ashford

Key Takeaways

  • VA benefits are plentiful, from health care to home loans to retirement income.
  • Convert your military life insurance within 120 days to keep coverage.
  • The civilian job search could take time, so start before your military retirement.


Transitioning from a military lifestyle to a civilian one isn't always easy. For one, it's probably been a while since you interviewed for a civilian job (if ever) or shopped for a home without a housing allowance. As your military career winds down, here are a few areas where you should be ramping up your prep work.



Get the low-down on available benefits

Veterans are eligible for a variety of programs and perks that can make life easier — if you know what's out there. Information on many benefits, including the following, can be found at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • VA home loans: If you're looking to buy a house, VA home loans offer a few advantages; for instance, there's no minimum credit score requirement, and possibly no down payment needed.
  • GI Bill: Qualifying veterans and their family members can receive assistance toward educational or training costs, which can be particularly helpful if you're booting up for a second career.
  • Retirement pay: The benefits you receive in retirement will depend on when, how and for how long you served. You can get more information here.
  • VA health care: You're eligible for continued coverage even after you retire — something to consider, as health insurance costs continue to rise. Coverage includes regular checkups as well as home health care and other programs. Find out more here.


Convert your life insurance

As a member of the military, you have Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, or SGLI, but that coverage lasts only 120 days after you leave the military or retire. To continue your life insurance coverage, you have the option of converting your SGLI to Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI) which allows you to keep your coverage without any medical exams or inquiries.

VGLI premiums can be more expensive, but the benefit of not having to prove you're in good health may be worth it. You must do this within 120 days of leaving the military. You can also convert your SGLI to a commercial life policy.

On the other hand, if you're free of health issues or on the younger side (or both), you should also consider term life policies, which offer cheaper premiums if you qualify. You'll be able to purchase insurance for the number of years you need (10, 20 or 30, for instance), and bump up your coverage amount — SGLI provides $400,000 of insurance as a default.

A military spouse can also convert Family Servicemember's Group Life Insurance (FSGLI); this also must be done within the 120-day deadline.

Start your job search

Many members of the military leave service decades before the typical person retires, leaving plenty of time for a second career. Finding your best job match now is a lot like looking for work out of college — except you've got years of experience and skills under your belt.

Think over what it is you want to do. Your experience may make you well-suited for positions in government or defense contracting, but you may also want to do something entirely different. Your skills may be transferable to numerous jobs, and a career coach specializing in veterans can assist you on your new journey. You can also make use of the Transition Assistance Program, which helps you tackle many challenges you might face.

Don't forget you also have access to an enormous network through the military, so use your contacts. Update your social media accounts and make sure you have a current profile on LinkedIn, complete with professional photo. Experts also suggest creating a professional email address on a modern platform (such as Gmail) to use with your job search.

It may take a while to make the shift from a military to civilian job, so start doing your research a few months before you exit the service.


What you can do next

Your military branch's Transition Assistance Office can help you plan your next steps, and it's a good idea to make an appointment at least six months before your exit date. They can offer guidance on relocation, career questions, benefits and any other assistance you may need.


Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance, work and consumer trends. She has written for BBC, Forbes, LearnVest, Money, Real Simple and Parents, among others.


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